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St. Croix HPC Highlights Enforcement Challenges and Legislative Needs

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The recent St. Croix Historic Preservation Committee (HPC) meeting underscored the urgent need for enhanced collaboration and legislative updates to effectively manage the territory’s historic districts.

A significant portion of the meeting was dedicated to discussing signage regulations and various violations within the historic towns of the Virgin Islands. Territorial Historic Preservation Commission Chair Kurt Marsh emphasized the immense challenge of enforcement, which is currently managed by a volunteer board with only one paid employee.

“Our responsibilities extend beyond historic districts to all National Register sites,” Marsh stated. “This includes ruins, mills, and Buck Island. Due to limited capacity, we’ve focused mainly on historic districts for the past 20 years.”

Marsh suggested that the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) recruit more enforcement officers to support historic district oversight.

St. Croix Administrator Sammuel Sanes voiced strong support for the HPC’s efforts. “Preserving our history and tradition is crucial,” he said, highlighting St. Croix’s rich historical heritage.

Shawna Richards, representing Senate President Novelle Francis, indicated the Legislature’s willingness to consider amendments to aid the HPC. “We are open to examining specific areas that need legislative updates,” she said, noting that many sections of the Virgin Islands Code are outdated.

Richards encouraged the HPC and DPNR to make a compelling case for increased funding to hire additional enforcement staff.

The HPC plans to enhance public engagement in the coming year to improve understanding of its responsibilities and limitations among residents and business owners in historic districts.

Marsh also pointed out the need for legislative education. He cited a recent bill from Senator Kenneth Gittens, which proposed allowing property owners more freedom with interior modifications—a jurisdiction the HPC does not have. “Drafting legislation that addresses powers we don’t possess is a misuse of resources,” Marsh said, calling for better collaboration between the Legislature and regulatory bodies.

Sanes expressed concern over the HPC’s lack of jurisdiction on interior modifications of historic buildings, emphasizing the historical significance of some interior structures.

Marsh acknowledged this issue but stressed the need for broader governmental support. “Developers prioritize their projects and profits,” he said. “Without genuine governmental commitment, significant changes are unlikely.”

Sanes committed to exploring potential amendments to grant the HPC jurisdiction over building interiors. Phil Condrington, the commission’s sole staffer, highlighted the daily challenges of enforcement and public inquiries, emphasizing the overwhelming nature of his role.

Both Condrington and St. Croix HPC Chair Collette Burgess stressed that the HPC’s goal is compliance, not obstruction. Burgess noted that the Committee approved all 99 applications submitted in the last fiscal year, though some required minor adjustments. “Our intent is to bring people into compliance, not turn them away,” she affirmed.

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USVI Community Pulse

How Fiction Shapes Politics in Tight-Knit Island Communities

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In small communities, politics often intertwines with personal relationships and familiar faces, making the landscape ripe for fiction to flourish over fact. The potency of fiction in such settings stems from several key factors: the close-knit nature of relationships, the impact of narratives on identity, and the rapid spread of information through informal networks.

In these communities, everyone knows everyone else, or at least knows someone who knows someone else. This interconnectedness means that personal relationships heavily influence political opinions and decisions. A compelling story, even if not entirely true, can resonate deeply because it often involves people within the community. The emotional weight of a narrative involving a neighbor or local figure can overshadow cold, hard facts. Fiction, by appealing to emotions, can quickly gain traction and influence opinions more effectively than dry statistics or factual reports.

Collective identity and belonging are paramount in small communities. Stories and narratives that align with the community’s sense of self can be incredibly persuasive. Fictional accounts that reinforce shared values, fears, or hopes can become powerful tools for shaping public opinion. These stories often become part of the community’s lore, repeated and embellished over time, further entrenching their influence. When a narrative resonates with the community’s identity, it becomes more believable and impactful, even if it diverges from the truth.

Information in small communities spreads quickly through informal networks. Gossip, word of mouth, and social gatherings are primary channels of communication. In these settings, sensational stories, even if fictional, are more likely to be shared and remembered than mundane facts. The more dramatic or emotionally charged a story, the faster it travels. This rapid dissemination can amplify the influence of fiction, making it a powerful force in shaping public perception and political discourse.

People naturally seek out information that confirms their preexisting beliefs, a phenomenon known as confirmation bias. In small communities, where people often share similar backgrounds and viewpoints, this bias can be particularly strong. Fictional stories that align with the community’s collective beliefs and experiences are readily accepted and propagated. Facts that contradict these narratives are often dismissed or ignored, allowing fiction to maintain its hold on the community’s political landscape.

Fiction often simplifies complex issues, making them more accessible and emotionally engaging. In contrast, factual information can be complicated and nuanced, requiring more cognitive effort to understand. In a busy community where people have limited time and resources to delve into detailed analyses, a straightforward, emotionally charged story is more likely to capture attention and influence opinions. The simplicity of fiction allows it to be easily remembered and repeated, reinforcing its impact over time.

In small communities, the power of fiction in politics cannot be underestimated. The close-knit nature of relationships, the importance of identity, the rapid spread of information through informal networks, confirmation bias, and the emotional appeal of simplicity all contribute to the potency of fictional narratives. Understanding these dynamics is crucial for navigating and engaging with the political landscape in small communities, where the line between fact and fiction often blurs, and stories shape the reality of political life.

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USVI Community Pulse

Kelly Pugh Named Local Realtor of the Year, Recognized for Community Engagement and Leadership

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ST. CROIX — Kelly Pugh, a dedicated realtor with REMAX USVI for the past five years, has been honored with the prestigious title of local Realtor of the Year. This recognition, awarded at the recent Virgin Islands Realtors general meeting, highlights Pugh’s significant contributions to her community and her active involvement with the Board of Realtors.

Pugh’s commitment to community service is also reflected in her membership with Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., known for its emphasis on public service. She has been a board member since 2021, serving as vice president in 2023 and president-elect the following year. As she prepares to assume the role of president next year, Pugh plans to focus on leadership, training, and increasing realtor and community engagement on St. Croix.

In collaboration with Christopher Jones, Pugh co-founded the Ay & Ay Realtor Team, under the guidance of broker Ava Gail Bourdon. The team’s name pays homage to St. Croix’s indigenous Tainos, who referred to the island as “Ay-Ay,” and incorporates the Rastafarian phrase “I and I.”

Pugh notes the dual aspects of her profession, from the joy of handing keys to first-time homebuyers to the challenges of limited housing inventory on the islands. The current high-interest rates further complicate matters, reducing buyers’ purchasing power. “It’s difficult when potential buyers qualify for a $250,000 home, but there aren’t any available in that price range,” she explained, adding that cash buyers often outbid those seeking financing.

Looking to the future, Pugh intends to expand her operations to St. Thomas and St. John, aiming to recruit new team members to tap into a broader market. Her recognition as Realtor of the Year will take her to Boston in November to attend the National Association of Realtors meeting, where international realtors will gather to celebrate the 2024 awardees.

Pugh remains accessible to new clients and colleagues via text, email, or phone at 340-725-5066. More information can be found on her website, [email protected].

For those considering a career in real estate, Pugh advises seeking mentorship from experienced professionals and underscores the need for patience. “The real estate community is full of helpful professionals willing to share their knowledge,” she said. “But it’s important to be patient, as returns on investment in this field are not immediate.”

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USVI Community Pulse

Bill Reforming V.I. Real Estate Commission Advances with Strong Support

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In a significant move to enhance regulations in the Virgin Islands’ real estate sector, Senator Novelle Francis Jr. has introduced Bill 35-0117, aimed at reforming the territory’s Real Estate Commission. This follows closely on the heels of his earlier successful introduction of Bill 35-0193, which sought to regulate the local real estate industry further.

Bill 35-0117 proposes amendments to Title 27, Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 15, Sections 421a and 422. These amendments address the qualifications, term limits, and duties of the Real Estate Commission members. Key among the proposed changes is the addition of a licensed property manager to the Commission, a move Senator Francis highlighted while seeking support from the Committee on Rules and Judiciary.

If passed, the bill will mandate geographic representation on the Commission, with three members residing on St. Croix, three on St. Thomas, and one on St. John. Additionally, it sets term limits, restricting members to no more than two consecutive four-year terms. The bill also allows for members to receive per diem expenses and empowers the Commission to appoint a secretary and a treasurer.

The proposed legislation quickly garnered support during its initial committee review on Thursday. Laurent Alfred, the current chair of the Real Estate Commission, and the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs (DLCA) both endorsed the bill. Horace Graham, DLCA assistant commissioner, praised the bill as a “progressive step forward for this industry and our community.”

A noteworthy provision in the bill requires that no more than four of the seven Commission members hold a Virgin Islands real estate broker, sales associate, or property management license. According to Mr. Graham, this ensures that decisions are informed by substantial industry expertise while allowing the Commission to effectively represent various stakeholder interests, including real estate personnel, property owners, and prospective buyers.

Mr. Graham emphasized the bill’s aim for “equitable geographic representation,” which he believes will address unique real estate issues across the Virgin Islands. He also noted that term limits would promote fresh ideas and prevent stagnation, fostering an environment of transparency, accountability, and responsiveness.

The Real Estate Commission fully supports the proposed changes, with Mr. Alfred testifying that term limits would ensure a healthy turnover in Commission membership.

Committee members echoed the support from invited testifiers. Senator Milton Potter described the bill’s provisions as “prudent upgrades” for the real estate industry. Senator Marise James, experienced in real estate law, saw no drawbacks and encouraged Senator Francis to address real estate fraud in future legislation. Senator Diane Capehart agreed, stating that the legislation offers transparency and parity.

The bill will now proceed to an upcoming legislative session, where it will be voted on by all fifteen senators.

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