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Virgin Islands Committee Greenlights All Projects in February Session

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Panoramic vistas of the historic Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas, captured by Getty Images.

During the recent session on February 13th, the Virgin Islands Historic Preservation Commission’s St. Thomas-St. John District Committee gave its nod to an array of projects aimed at restoring and renovating significant landmarks.

At the heart of the discussions was the proposal for the exterior makeover of BurgerMaxx located on Krondprindsense Gade, where the committee agreed on a new color palette. The Department of Tourism’s initiative to install Carnival signage along the picturesque Charlotte Amalie waterfront also received enthusiastic endorsement.

The session saw Camille Kean present her vision for the restoration of a historic residence on Garden Street. This included plans for an electric meter relocation and the reconstruction of a balcony lost to the 2016 hurricanes. Sean Krigger, from the State Historic Preservation Office, praised the project for its thoughtful integration with the architectural spirit of the neighborhood. The committee approved the proposed modifications, highlighting the project’s potential to enhance the area’s charm.

Further, the committee reviewed the Moravian Church’s updates on repairs to its manse, damaged by Hurricane Irma. The approval of new dormer and shutter designs underscored the committee’s commitment to preserving the architectural integrity of historic structures.

Akil Lewis’s ambitious plans to transform a property on Fireburn Hill, incorporating an apartment beneath its parking area, were met with acclaim. Committee members lauded the project for its embodiment of local architectural heritage, approving the preliminary design and inviting Lewis for a follow-up discussion on detailed architectural plans.

Erica Kellerhals’s initiative to revitalize the former Cable Office building in Charlotte Amalie into a commercial space was introduced, setting the stage for future deliberations on maintaining the building’s historic character.

The meeting concluded with a critique of recent legislative efforts led by Senator Kenneth Gittens, aimed at easing development constraints in historic districts. Committee members, including Kurt Marsh, expressed skepticism about the bill’s effectiveness in addressing the challenge of neglected properties, urging a focus on supporting preservation efforts through substantial funding mechanisms.

Chair Akil Petersen encapsulated the day’s achievements, highlighting the unanimous approval of all proposals. The session underscored the committee’s role in fostering the preservation and enhancement of the Virgin Islands’ historic legacy, while members expressed hope for greater legislative engagement in these endeavors.

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Development

Blackbeard’s Castle Renovation: Owner’s Admission Highlights Oversight Challenges in USVI

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In a revealing exchange during the latest St. Thomas/St. John Historical Preservation Committee meeting, frustrations bubbled to the surface over the cavalier attitude exhibited by the team renovating Blackbeard’s Castle, a landmark fraught with historical significance. Property owner Steve Sigler was in the hot seat, requesting retroactive approval for a series of alterations already completed without prior consent, including a new roof and an ADA-compliant ramp.

Sigler openly acknowledged his misjudgment, revealing he had been under the impression that the Virgin Islands’ regulatory environment was more forgiving. “I was misled to believe that oversight was minimal here, leading me to proceed with changes without the necessary approvals,” he conceded, stressing his realization of the committee’s diligence.

This incident is not the committee’s first encounter with projects advancing without the requisite permissions. Committee Chair Akil Peterson expressed a repeated concern over such practices, highlighting a pattern of disregard for the established approval process.

The situation took a turn when Sigler likened his predicament to that of a character from popular culture, ensnared in a web of island-life challenges, stressing the financial stakes involved in the renovation project. His candid admission of having been swayed by informal assurances rather than seeking formal permissions sparked a stern rebuke from Peterson, who lamented the wasted efforts in facilitating a smoother process for Sigler’s project.

The dialogue further unveiled that Sigler was not fully informed about the property’s historical significance and regulatory requirements. He expressed regret over his assumptions regarding aesthetic changes and pledged to align more closely with the committee’s guidance moving forward.

Committee member Enrique Rodriguez voiced disappointment upon discovering unapproved windows already on the property, a move that exemplified the recurring theme of preemptive action without official sanction. The committee was firm in its stance of preserving the integrity of historical sites while acknowledging the economic potential of such endeavors.

In an effort to rectify the situation, the committee suggested halting further work until a comprehensive strategy was formulated, emphasizing the importance of a collaborative approach to ensure both preservation and progress. Acknowledging Sigler’s openness about his mistakes, the committee expressed a willingness to work closely with him, contingent on strict adherence to preservation laws and proper communication channels.

The meeting concluded with conditional approvals for some of the completed work, underscoring the committee’s commitment to balancing historical integrity with developmental aspirations. The episode serves as a cautionary tale about the importance of adherence to regulatory frameworks, especially in contexts rich with cultural and historical heritage.

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Advancing Affordable Housing in the USVI: Developers Receive Specialized Training

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The drive for more affordable housing in the U.S. Virgin Islands gained momentum this week with a specialized training session for current and aspiring developers, marking the second initiative under the territory’s Housing Ecosystem Development Grant Program. The event, orchestrated by Enterprise Community Partners and the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York (FHLBNY), unfolded at the scenic Emerald Beach resort on St. Thomas.

This educational workshop, dubbed “Financing Affordable Housing Development in the Virgin Islands,” aimed to fortify the affordable housing sector by offering insights into both federal and local funding avenues. It attracted a diverse group of participants, including the pioneering grantees from the program’s first roundtable in August 2023, alongside representatives from key organizations vested in enhancing the territory’s housing landscape.

Jelani Newton, Enterprise Community Partners’ senior director, emphasized the workshop’s goal to empower local developers with the tools and knowledge needed to advance in the affordable housing arena. “Increasing the development of affordable homes is central to our mission,” Newton stated, highlighting the workshop’s role in bolstering local efforts through technical support and valuable information resources.

Peter Grof, a community investment officer at FHLBNY, pointed out the critical need for stable, affordable housing as a cornerstone for personal and community growth. The collaboration between Enterprise and FHLBNY seeks to address the Virgin Islands’ acute housing affordability crisis by fostering a more vibrant and inclusive housing sector.

The government of the U.S. Virgin Islands has traditionally spearheaded affordable housing initiatives. However, there is a growing recognition of the vital role that private sector engagement in housing and community development can play in meeting the substantial demand for affordable living spaces.

Last year, three organizations—one from each island—were awarded $100,000 grants to fuel their efforts in expanding affordable housing options for residents. These recipients, St. Croix Foundation for Community Development Inc., WMWilliams & Partners, Inc., and Adrian Realty LLC, were among the attendees at the recent training, alongside other interested parties from the development sphere.

This concerted push towards increasing affordable housing availability not only underscores the importance of cross-sector collaboration but also highlights the commitment of various stakeholders in making the Virgin Islands a more inclusive and equitable place to live.

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Progressive Developments in USVI’s Maritime and Aviation Sectors Unveiled by Port Authority Board

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The Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA) Board has recently announced a series of significant advancements in its maritime and aviation operations. The authority is taking bold strides to enhance and expand its services, reflecting a commitment to fostering growth and efficiency in these critical sectors.

In a move to boost the capacity and capabilities of the marine division, VIPA’s board has greenlighted negotiations to expand Priority Road Services’ lease at the Wilfred “Bomba” Allick Port and Transshipment Center on St. Thomas. This expansion will add over 100,000 square feet to their current operations, allowing for an increase in non-exclusive shipping services and providing much-needed space for hazardous materials storage.

Furthermore, VIPA has renewed its lease agreement with Aquatic Car Rentals for counter space at the Urman Victor Fredericks Marine Terminal in Red Hook, St. Thomas. This three-year lease, with an option for a two-year extension, ensures Aquatic Car Rentals can continue to offer crucial ferry ticketing services that facilitate travel between the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.

The aviation sector is also seeing significant developments, with the board approving a comprehensive proposal from Stantec. This engineering consultancy will undertake airfield surveys, design, and procurement documentation for a critical FAA-mandated airfield marking project at Henry E. Rohlsen Airport. This initiative, set to commence in April, is crucial for enhancing safety and operational efficiency.

Additionally, a master service agreement with Michael Baker International will bring expert construction cost estimating and technical review services to VIPA on a task order basis. This three-year agreement, extendable for two additional one-year periods, is poised to streamline project management and ensure fiscal responsibility across VIPA’s endeavors.

In an effort to preserve the territory’s rich cultural heritage, the board has also approved funds exceeding $149,000 for the relocation of a historic shipwreck in Charlotte Amalie Harbor. This initiative, essential for the upcoming dredging project, underscores VIPA’s dedication to environmental stewardship and compliance with regulatory requirements for obtaining necessary permits from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Further enhancing infrastructure, the board has authorized additional electrical and drainage improvements at the St. Croix Passenger Transportation Center and its adjoining parking garage. These upgrades are part of VIPA’s ongoing commitment to providing top-tier facilities for residents and visitors alike.

These initiatives, spearheaded by the diligent efforts of the V.I. Port Authority’s Governing Board, mark a significant leap forward in strengthening the territory’s maritime and aviation infrastructure. Through strategic investments and partnerships, VIPA is setting the stage for a future of enhanced connectivity, safety, and service excellence in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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