Development: it’s here. Get over it.

Yesterday’s posting of updated photos of the island’s major construction projects have brought comments offering real anger and frustration about Sirenusa, Grande Bay, and Pond Bay.

It’s time for a reality check.

For some time, I’ve been critical of the island development, particularly the monster homes and McMansions so different from the Caribbean cottages we found here in the late ’70s.  But at some point, you have to grow up and realize other people have found he island, too.  Get over it.

In most places, if the Ritz or Four Seasons said it wanted to build a resort in town, people would applaud and governments would rush to provide tax incentives to make a deal happen.  Development means construction jobs now, service employment later, and new tax revenues from the groundbreaking to operation.

Besides, if you’d like to see what a freeze on construction can do, remember what the sub-prime mess has done to the nation’s economy for the past 14 months.  Real estate sales are down as much as 15% (slowing on St. John, too).  The ripples of that weakness have turned into waves of pain for retailers, professionals, transportation companies, banks, and more.  We’re all feeling it.

Chances are the town where you live is different, too.  And if you’ve lived there more than 10 years, you probably say to your neighbor, "Boy, has our town changed!"  Well, it’s the same thing here.  You can’t expect St. John to stay as it was 10, 20, or even 5 years ago.  It’s not an island in aspic.

I’m also going to suggest that the folks buying these new condos and timeshares won’t get in the way of you eco-visitors or beach-and-a-book types like me.  The folks at Pond Bay, for instance, will do everything they can to keep guests on the property.  Their own beach, restaurants, gift shops, waters ports, etc.  I suspect, unfortunately, they will be successful.  It’s not often you meet someone staying at Caneel having dinner at Fish Trap or even Paradiso.  Tourists who want the kind of all-in-one cocoon experience they will find at Pond Bay are unlikely to leave the enclave.  I wish they would.  The downtown restaurants can use the business.  (Some are even closed on weekends, partly because the villa renters are eating in.) I’d like the high-end resort tourists to get out and see the beaches and the hikes, but as someone recently said when I encouraged him to see the North Shore, "You’ve seen one beach, you’ve seen ’em all."

I think that what really galls people about the island’s development is the government’s failure to exploit and manage it.  Granted, this is not Bermuda, where comfort, appearance and image are primary. Grande Bay and Sirenusa show that hearings and permits and procedures don’t seem to matter much.  The consequences are projects that are too big, too close, and too dense.

The other irritant is that those extra tax dollars don’t seem to have any effect on island.  Gifft Hill and the North Shore roads are a parade of potholes, there is no safe pedestrian path from the ferry dock to Mongoose, finding a parking space is a fantasy, and Cruz Bay Park is too busy and noisy and dirty.

Whatever it is that attracted you to St. John, chances are it’s still here.  Francis Bay has pelicans.  The Reef Bay hike has petroglyphs.  East End has Vie’s Snack Shop.  Coral Bay has Skinny’s.  Hawksnest is a great beach.

When you came for the first time, you ‘found’  St. John.  But even then, you could have found people who said, "You should have seen this five years ago."  Time does fly.

23 thoughts on “Development: it’s here. Get over it.”

  1. I here what you are saying and agree on most. The biggest frustration comes from the lack of planning and ignoring the infrastructure. The Government is inept at best and will someday ruin a beautiful place like St.John because they are shortsighted and lack vision. Ultimately what attracts visitors to St.John is the National Park.We tend to tolerate alot of St.John’s shotcomings becasue of the park. What has me thinking twice about going to St.John on future trips is crime and things like the planned casino at Wharfside, crime and gambling will lead to the ruination of St.John and the government just doesn’t see it. All we can do is pray and voice our opinion and hope that someday there will be leadership in place that “just gets it” until then we pray.

  2. We have been coming to St John for 14 years. We are there twice a year, we are staying in Blue Tang (again) in June. The development does bother me but will not stop me from returning to St John but the crime might. We will see how comfortable we feel in June and then decide about our Dec visit. By the way, we do not eat in, even though Blue Tang has a great kitchen.

  3. If you think development has ruined STJ then stop coming here, stop spending your dollars here, and stop frequenting websites that promote the island and its businesses. If there weren’t a market for Sirenusa and Grande Bay condos they wouldn’t have been built.

  4. Steve E. You sound as ignorant as the Government. Maybe you should get a job with the police force and ignore solving crimes that include brutal attacks and Murder. No one is arguing that there is “a market” for new condos. The point I am trying to make is if the Government does not address infrastructure (for the new dense condo developments) and crime St.John will not be what we all have fallen in love with. Thank God for the National Park, but ignoring the problems will ultimately turn St.John into a mini ST.Thomas with more beautiful beaches.

  5. Steve E,
    Yes, I believe poor planning with development has ruined the beauty of a few hill sides in STJ only idiots would think the opposite. Stop coming here – and how am I going to do that when STJ is my home.Your arrogance is what gives continentals the name of the ugly American, among others!
    The poor planning of Grand Bay condos and Sirenusa symbolize what went wrong with the island. How did those obtrusive monstrosities get approved by CZM? Somehow they got permission to block that beauty from those behind them, who came before them and should have some rights. Human rights, born-here rights, live-here rights.
    U.S. federal agencies which help the poor, as well as global agencies involved in “Third World” relief use a term called “Environmental Racism,” which refers to large companies that disregard the communities in which they develop their business through exploitation of whom they consider ignorant locals. Grand Bay and Sirenusa are prime examples of this exploitation.

  6. Sure, development is here, sure things change over time.
    But, development needs to be checked by government to ensure it doesn’t destroy what makes the place popular in the first place. It needs to be checked to make sure it doesn’t destroy the environment. Sometimes this runs counter to enriching individuals. Sometimes it is unpopular.
    It needs to be managed so that people don’t build huge all-inclusive “never leave the compound” monstrosities that take the majority of the money brought down and concentrate it in the hands of a few (hopefully local at least — in my experience, usually “outsiders”).
    I’ve watched foreign companies destroy Jamaica (literally, destroying endangered Mangrove forests) because they can get away with it — the government is corruptable and so in need of foreign help that they allow themselves to be walked over. And then the huge resorts take the vast majority of the money out of country — and practically enslave the locals.

  7. Development and progress are fine….BUT only if they are done RIGHT. The problem here is that they are not. These projects are eye sores. Many basic principals of planning have been lost. St J can develop, but it should be in line w/ history, environment, etc…How about charming small caribbean cottages instead of large vertical structures. How about more blending into the hillside like existing properties? Without these things, the face of the island will continue to evolve in the wrong direction. Real estate sales are down all over the mainland BUT its not due to a freeze in construction as you stated. Is due to over construction and over supply which has bought prices down and detered any more building. With less development on the island as demand increases down the road, values will again rise. But, this wouldnt be the best analysis of island real estate anyway becuase new construction is not as large a % of overall inventory as many stateside areas. The true reason for feeling slipping sales on the island is due to people having less discretionary income. But, this is all another topic for another day. Back to my original comment on the original article. The reason many people are attracted to St. J is becuase of the lack of large condo developments such as these and if many more of these continue to sprout up, rest assured, people WILL search out new destinations. The Charm of the island, is that it is NOT like every other island out there. Lets not allow its charm to be taken away and the islands identity to be lost. As the island becomes more commercialized, people will definatley care less about the trails, beaches, history, quaint restaurants with familiar faces, and they will care more about the things St J was not in the past and should not be in the future.

  8. 1. We’ve been travelling to STJ for about 12 years now and I don’t ever think we’ve said it’s because of the national park.
    2. I remember when Yosemite was less crowded 30 years ago than it is today but it wouldn’t keep me from going.
    3. I remember when the 405 frwy and the 101 were less travelled, but I continue to stay and not complain because I enjoy the climate.
    Living in the past as things were isn’t healthy. Change happens even to people’s paradise. Let go and you’ll feel better. Or change locations. So sayeth Dr Allan.

  9. There are a lot of people who loved STJ 20 years ago who hate what it’s become. There are also probably a lot of people who like STJ as it is today, but wouldn’t have liked it 20 years ago. So I suppose it balances out as far as the tourism pool. It’s feeling increasingly out of balance to me, though. There have been many changes and i don’t see many of them as being improvements. I think a lot about what’s been lost. I don’t know if we’ll be back.

  10. frank,
    thank you. an excellent moment of clarity, and exactly the sentiments on many visitors and locals minds. unfortunately, many of the people who have visited in the past and liked it best on their first visit won’t be back… but they have to remember that they are the ones who asked for places to stay, asked for places to eat, and occasionally bought property and developed [!] their own houses. they are all part of the tidal wave of people who have [in their minds] “ruined” this paradise. they’ll move on to the next “unspoiled” small spot of sand; anegada, bequia, culebra. they’ll like these new destinations because there aren’t too many people there. and the increase in tourism will bring more people, and more construction, and more noise, and… “ruin”.
    it’s akin to screaming at traffic jams; YOU are the problem! YOU are the traffic!!

  11. Thanks for “highlighting” the issue of uncontrolled development. I’ve been coming to St. John off and on for 10 years with my family. I realize that you can’t remain “static” from a development point of view. I’m looking to buy a vacation home in St. John in the next several years. But I worry about the impact of unchecked development on the island. If you take Maine as an example (and other coastal states), +20 years ago they passed laws that limited how close you could build to the ocean for new construction ( e.g., 200 ft.) and also the percentage an existing strucutre within 200 ft. of the high tide mark could be increased by … +30%. This has enabled Maines coastline to maintain its historical look and feel … and at the same time allow for development. During this time waterfront vacation homes have been able to be updated and improved & vacation activity has boomed. Allowing the “un-checked” development so close to the water (i.e., Pond Bay and certain other new villas) is not the way to be a “Steward” for future generations or properly manage the finite resouce of St. John. My view is that that the elected officials in St. John need to get off their collective butts and investigate other States and resort areas in the US that have been able to manage growth and, at the same time, allow private homeowners to improve their property and business owners to grow revenue. What I see going on now is just “out of control” development that is unsustainable. Thank God the National Part territory will limit how far this can go … as it appears as if the elected officials have absolutly no idea what they are doing. In my humble opinion.

  12. What you say about managing development so that the island reaps the economic benefits is true. However, as an island St. John has some very obvious limits in an environmental sense. The water, energy, and materials that are required for further development has to come from some place and has an associated environmental cost. And the ability of the environment to handle the development, e.g., stormwater runoff and impacts on coral, is a limiting factor as well. So it’s more than just how much more crowded it’s going to get. At some point, the island will be at risk of losing the natural features that give people a reason to go to St. John. Then it’s just another overdeveloped Caribbean island.

  13. Hi Frank,
    I read your newsletters with voraciouness and interest each time they arrive in my mailbox, and I additionally have had the privileged opportunty to talk to you and meet you by phone. Make no mistake. I am a FAN. And as such, I have to say this is one of the rare times I would like to respectfully, but totally, disagree with you. Can we agree to disagree?
    Base line is that I DO feel that what I come to St. John for has been GREATLY impacted by all the devlopment! It’s about ambiance and envirnment. Ambiance and atmosphere on the streets, on the beaches (yes beaches are impacted and different from when I first feel in love with them), and yes in the waters off those beaches … I know the reefs are impacted negatively from years and years of development, run off and over-intrusion). We feel it while trying to be comfortable in the homes we rent (recently disrupted constantly by ratta-tat banging and booming of builder’s machinery). And, I now question if I care to return within each year, as OFTEN as I was visiting.There were years when we made 3-4 trips to St. John in a year.
    So, Frank, I am sorry to say I CAN’T let this thoughtless over development go. Your second article did not have finality for me, nor sway my knowledge and thoughts of what is happening on St. John. I feel it is necessary to leave my words of disagreement on the page, so your readers who peruse the comments will not think that your word is the LAST Word.
    Even though I “can’t get over it” I will be back to read every word you print and send out… If this is the only time we disagree, I’d say we are CLOSE to batting a thousand.

  14. Frank,
    Shame on you!! Saying “Get Over It”, to anyone, no matter which position they hold. I know we can’t stop progress, but development should be planned and “fit in”.
    What has happened on STJ is ridiculous to say the least: greed, greed and more greed. with no attention to the citizens’ and island’s wants, needs and desires.
    Should the developers from off=island or the residents of STJ control what happens here? I was appaulled to read your headline!! Guess you’re entitled to your opinion, but please try to be a little more sensitive.

  15. A great reason why we love St. John is because about 2/3 of it has been protected thanks to the Rock. Sure, there will be development because we, the tourists, show that there’s a market for it. We all agree that we wish developments were scrutinized more by those in power and planned better, but unless you are an owner of land and donate it to the Park then there will be development. It reminds me of the movie Secret Beach. Once the “secret” is out the paradise the few enjoyed privately will change. Just be glad the National Park controls a lot of the island. If it wasn’t for that great donation years ago, St. John would never be the beauty that it is and will continue to be.
    Bora Bora is the same way. It isn’t the same as it was even ten years ago. Resorts are being built more than ever in that paradise because it is more accessible now to tourists then it was in the past. I’ve found another island that hasn’t been overly developed yet, and I’m not going to tell anyone about it. At least it won’t be my fault when it gets built up years from now.

  16. We have been coming to St John for 4 years now. We brought the kids and they were in heaven. They didn’t know places like this existed in the places around where we live. We stayed at Cinnamon, no tv and video games, no computer or phone, they learned that life is not all about those things. They learned to be different people because of being on the island. And when it was time to come home, no one wanted to leave. Slowly as we have come back each year, they have seen more and more stuff built and things closed. We are all sad to see our bit of heaven become the next “Florida”, all commercial and busy. We still go to Florida some, but they can’t see a huge iguana 2 feet in front of them. they can’t chase the crabs for hours, nor can they learn from Mr. Roy the fruits that are okay to eat, like ginips, and learn about the “death apples.” Soon with all the big expensive resorts and homes, it’s going to make average families like ours not be able to afford to come and stay for 2-3 weeks at a time. We ate at very awesome restaurants in town,though not expensive, did the fourth of July parade, and visited quite a few beaches and trails. We have made friends there,and are sad to see these things happen to them. We all know why it happens, but it still makes us very sad to see it happen.

  17. I have been regularly coming to St. John several times a year since 1967. I have sadly seen the changes in the coral reefs, numbers of fish, number of birds, and the addition of hundreds of homes on the once pristine hillsides. These changes have occurred mainly during the past 15 – 20 years. None of these changes would ever stop me from returning to St. John. However, the change that frightens me the most is the change in the attitude of the people who live on St. John. I don’t want to feel threatened by the crime that has slowly found its way onto this once very safe island. Do not turn this island into another St. Croix or St. Thomas. St. John is dependent on tourism and with that, unfortunately comes extra development, however, tourists can be very fickle and if they feel threatened, they will stop coming and the hotels and condos will be empty, as they are in so many other Carribbean islands where crime is apparent.

  18. I moved to St.John in 1997, having never set foot on the island.I will never forget coming across from crazy St Thomas as the sun was setting, and seeing the sight of Cruz Bay for the first time. I also spent many nights sitting on the beach between the Stone Terrace and the cemetary, enjoying the solitude. Looking at the picture you posted of the new development there, breaks my heart….

  19. I have to say i agree with Frank. Although I have only been to St. John twice, the development incredibly sadening, you just have to realize while resturaunts are closing and condos being built there will always have to be resturaunts there, so they won’t all close, and the national park won’t just disapear. We can’t complain about tourists because they help keep the island running, and if we keep giving them great service they will keep coming, and need a place to stay, so what are we supposed to do? tell them to stop coming?

  20. I agree…GET OVER IT! My wife and I first came to St. John in 1992 for our honeymoon and we have been fortunate enough to come back each year since…sometimes twice a year. We have three children who look forward to traveling to St. John each year…my 8 year old daughter goes to bed most nights and asks…when are we going back to St. John? The island does seems to change a little everytime we return….but we have no complaints….we look forward to seeing the improvements and trying a new restaurant or two.
    Yes things change, but sometimes change is good! The island is still the most beautiful place on earth, the beaches are incredible…we make it a point to hike or try to find a new beach everytime we come….that part of the fun!
    If we all take care of this special place we will be able to enjoy the island for many years to come….despite the changes…..and as long as I can swim at Gibney and get a burger at Skinny’s!

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