Senators override veto of Sirenusa

The Senate voted Tuesday to give the developers of Sirenusa what they want: an OK to build beyond the 40 condominium units that were originally approved. 

Governor John deJongh vetoed that request 10 days ago … but the Senate overrode the it – giving the OK for construction of an additional three buildings and seven more units,

The St John Source’s story has quotes from lots of folks … many of whom, like the former island administrator Julien Harley, didn’t know what to say – they were so shocked and disappointed.  A spokesman for the Governor implied the senators had not listened to what people on St. John wanted – there were 1,100 petition signatures against expanding Sirenusa’s plans. 

The project’s developer, Carlo Marzano, told the Source the Senators had cut through what he called the BS … to evaluate the financial and legal impact of their vote to let the development continue.

If there is a good side to this story it is that Marzano will complete the project.  He’d been quoted saying he was out of money and the banks wouldn’t give him anymore unless the project was expanded with the possibility of generating as much as $10 million more in sales of units.  The prospect of Sirenusa sitting unfinished is not one anyone on the island wanted.  Marzano would likely have sued the VI government if he’d been stopped – which could also have stalled the project.

12 thoughts on “Senators override veto of Sirenusa”

  1. Is it the case that St. John does not have direct representation in the VI Legislature – that even though one of the Senators is required to live on St. John, that he/she is elected “at large”, i.e. Territory-wide and therefore not directly by the residents? Makes you think a little bit – maybe this has become an issue… I can see how the Senators from the bigger islands could be swayed by the jobs argument. (though I certainly can’t understand the blind eye to the apparent blatant disregard for zoning laws – why have them in the first place?)
    I would also be curious to see how much tax revenue is flowing from St John vs. what is provided back in services…

  2. Wake up call!!! For all those that thought that the new governor was going to be a force for change will have to reevaluate his power. Not much it seems when it come to change.
    To all my good friends on STJ, good luck and God bless. We’ll be down for a couple of weeks at the end of June……BUT WE GET TO LEAVE.

  3. St. Johnians are incensed by this! There is no way that the Bank would allow this project to stay unfinished. That was just a scare tactic. Read the comments of the Builder in last weeks Tradewinds. He has insulted everyone who lives here.
    This vote is the proof that we need to show that St. John has no representation…and yet we pay more taxes than St. Croix. This has to stop.

  4. Lonnie, of course it was a scare tactic. Anyone knows that a project that size would be finished. No bank wants to own a building.
    So what is your alternative? Hold back on taxes? High priced lawyers? It’s unfortunately symptomatic of your local government.
    The proverbial rock and hard spot.

  5. Like many folks, I have thought quite a bit about this situation. However; I simply can not understand the number of Senators who so readily voted to ignore their own legal and government departmental recommendations…as well as the Governor’s. Instead, they worry that he is “usurping their authority.” It is reflective of some thing, but I don’t know what. If only they were so decisive about fixing the shambles our public schools are in. Now here we are about to embark on a constitutional mandate. My fear is that this body will be required to have a final say about that…

  6. It’s very sad to see St. John being commercialized like every other place in the world. This is the place that taught me to relax, I have been coming there for the last 5 years and feel like a piece of it is home to me. I am willing to do whatever I can to help my friends save my island from the nasty commercialization monsters. Please leave nature the way it was intended, beautiful, peaceful, and relaxing.

  7. Putting the development in the burgeoning metropolis of Cruz Bay is exactly what zoning is all about. Allowing long- term residents to develop property is what government aspires to. Mr Marzano has been here since grade school or longer, at least 25 years that I know of personally.
    If people didn’t buy these condos,no one would build them.If real estate sales people who live on St John didn’t sell them they themselves couldn’t afford the St John Lifestyle they rave about to clients.
    If the newcomers to St John have anything to say about it the island would be a gated community.If the people who own the most expensive property there were VI residents and paid their income tax here to the IRB, St John would be generating huge revenue for the VI.If their villa rents went to our economy here instead of the stateside mortgage holders all residents would benefit.
    Go to the website http://www.ditleffpoint.com to see a real travesty and read the accompanying real estate Co.’s ad that says it all—“St John for the select few”.
    I abhor the sight of the Cruz Bay changing landscape,but it is the attitude of St John NIMBY’s that has and will continue to drive the destruction of paradise as we knew it.

  8. In regard to the governor’s veto and subsequent senate override, I’m reminded of “Deep Throat”s advice during Watergate, “Follow the Money”

  9. What most people on St John don’t understand, including developers, is the real estate market has been silently crashing for a year and a half. Condos are not selling (neither are homes) – there are currently over 60 condos on the market and last year only 6 sold! Out of those 60+ very few have positive or neutral cash flow.
    In the next couple years, between Grand Bay and Sierenusa (don’t forget about Pond Bay which starting clearing land last week) there will be an onslaught of short term rental units bringing down short term rental prices.
    In addition, 2006 property taxes with re-assessed values are due to come out this fall. When a property is barely paying for itself and the taxes go from $2K to $10K, the owner is not going to have many choices but to unload it or continue to eat the costs.
    In the early 2000’s St John was given a false sense of demand from low interest rates, investors fleeing the stock market after the dot com crash, credit bubble mania, EDC program, low inventories, etc. The demand is no longer there, especially at current prices.
    For the last several months I laugh at the RE brokers advertisement for Sierenusa – “Sales Brisk, only 18 remaining”…there have been 18 remaining for several months. Adding seven more units is only going to excaberate the real estate problem on St John. The senators should have voted against the project from the fact that it is not economically feasible. Maybe they will keep that in mind in the future.
    Many local folks believe the people buying these units are wealthy. In most cases, this is simply not true. They may have “paper wealth”, but with real estate, leverage is often used and as long as the “investor” has positive or neutral cash flow, they are okay. Remember, in many cases, you only need $25K deposit (or so) to “buy” one of these units. When the rest of the contract comes due, it is going to get interesting.
    Without a doubt, tourism is the main source of income for St John residents, but in the last few years, many residents are highly dependent on construction related jobs. Recent discussions I have had with many in the construction field have noted slow downs. But, with the time it takes to build, many won’t feel the real effects of a slow down until their current projects (1-3 years off) are completed (which actually means more inventory to the bottom line still years off). I don’t even want to think about the consequences of down and out, unemployed, and some cases, illegal day laborers.
    The US economy is slowing, there is a housing bust locally and in the states, the inventories of homes/condos at an all time high on St John, property taxes rising, revenues from those properties falling, insurance costs growing, interest rates are rising and the government is cracking down on EDC program. Sounds like the perfect real estate storm is upon us.God forbid if we have a hurricane or some other event that stops tourism for a season or two!

  10. Matt, I agree that the RE market is very soft now, but I think it’s for different reasons. We are seeing an increasingly stratified US economy, and there is still a ton of discretionary tourist/property investment money out there – the hedge funders are “earning” unprecedented fortunes, mostly concentrated around the biggest cities. Problem is, St. John is for a variety of reasons not the destination of choice for those who have the most money to visit – Turks, St. Barths, Barbados, Bahamas are, I think, still going strong. Don’t get me wrong, I have loved St.John since my first visit in 1984, and its physical appeals are hard to duplicate. But there are other places in the Caribbean where you can find a gorgeous beach and, that are a LOT easier to get to, and that offer more in the way of what the rich people are looking for – service, pampering, safety, non-surly help, and really high-end, well-maintained villas. It is common on some of the other islands to rent a villa with a full staff. This is difficult on St. John. Now, before you jump down my throat, and say, screw that, who needs those people, well, think about it – you NEED to keep those villas full with people who will return year after year and tell their friends and spend copious dollars at your restaurants and gift shops, and respect your beaches, which they have now come to view as their own, and sometimes, will then follow up with a purchase of property. Like it or not, high-end tourism and development are inextricably linked. Now what happens if people decide there are better places for their money? Well, you’re seeing the beginning of it now, and how far it falls is anyone’s guess. Vacant villas and condos are not generating tax or tourist revenue for the island, and give a bad impression to visitors. This can have a downward spiralling effect, which I can remember seeing on St. Thomas and Puerto Rico in the mid-80s. What you probably also don’t want is for St John to become a destination only for the cruise ship daytrippers and (with my apologies to them) the eco-tourism folks who don’t usually spend as much. Sure, we can all wish for 1983 again (or 1995 or 1927 or whatever), but the fact is, that ship has sailed. I don’t know that you can just stop development in its tracks, because the island’s economy depends on attracting new money, new visitors, new investment in housing. This is not to say that development should continue unchecked – far from it, because the one thing St John really has going for it is the lack of development on the beaches. But Cruz Bay could probably stand to become a little bit more dense, because then population growth can be absorbed in the lowest-impact way possible, rather than spread out on the hillsides. There are a few other things that might work. One is the seaplane service from San Juan. Another thing is the zoning for and construction of real affordable housing, not something that can be speculated on by island insiders, but housing for actual working people who can earn a decent living keeping the villas in good repair and providing high-end services to the renters. All communities need economic diversity to thrive – this is a basic fact, and St. John doesn’t have enough resident working people. Third, focus on developing Coral Bay as a destination for the BVI yachting crowd, even if this means increased density in “downtown” CB. i believe this could be achieved in an ecologically sensitive way. Of course, there will always be those who will lament the loss of the old Coral Bay (myself included), but again, I think development is inevitable there, why not accept this and try to guide it in the most sensible way? St John may be at a crossroads right now, but I am hopeful that the appointment of a new planning commissioner for St John will go a long way toward setting things on the right course.

  11. It’s sad to see so much of St. John being developed — and not in ways that would support working people and their families. My family and I visit every year and love that it is an island with no big cruise ships, no Starbucks, etc. We live in Washington, DC — where we have our own lack of self-government. Most recently, Louisiana senator Mary Landrieu held up a bill to overhaul the DC public school system, a plan that was created by our mayor, who just went into office after winning every precinct in the city. I am never surprised by the audacity of legislators — or their shameless deals.

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