Contentious Mafolie Plan Seeks Zoning Change

A St. Thomas man will try again to have his residential property zoned commercial. Neighbors fear traffic congestion and loss of privacy. (Photo: Source staff)

The would-be developer of a gift shop and scenic lookout in St. Thomas will present his case for a zoning change, according to the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.

Lionel Warrell wants to change a parcel in Estate Elizabeth, just up the road from Mafolie Hotel, from its residential zoning to allow for a commercial business, according to DPNR.

Similar plans have been reviewed and dismissed by the Senate at least three times. In 2018, neighbors worried about traffic congestion from the enterprise, and in 2020, Sen. Myron Jackson chastised Warrell for presenting essentially the same plan they’d turned down in 2015.

The 2015 effort was met with fierce opposition by neighborhood residents who said, in addition to the zoning issue, that the roadway was far too narrow to accommodate existing parking needs much less those of an additional business.

A grey shipping container marks where a would-be developer wants to build a gift shop and scenic look out. (Photo: Source staff)

137 people signed an online petition asking DPNR to block plans for the development. They cited the area’s residential ambiance, which they said would be forever changed by allowing commercial enterprises in the area. They also pointed out several long-existing lookouts with similar amenities nearby: Drake’s Seat, Mafolie Hotel, the Skyline Drive lookout, Mountain Top, and Sibs Bar and Restaurant.

The petition also alleged Warrell had cleared the land in an improper fashion, allowing boulders and other runoff to wash across a neighboring property and clog a nearby gut.

“If he wanted to go into business, there are any number of commercially zoned properties that he could have purchased. With this piecemeal rezoning, are there to remain any true residential areas where one can enjoy some peace? Please protect the remaining residential areas of this neighborhood as this commercial venture will greatly reduce the quality of life and cause further issues for the residents of this area,” the petition read.

Warrell has denied any code violations. A grey shipping container with a hole cut in the side has sat on the 1.251-acre plot for at least the last seven years. At one point Warrell used it to sell drinks despite the area being zoned residential until the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs pulled his business license.

The virtual public hearing will be held Oct. 19 at 10 a.m. Anyone wishing to listen in or comment can email [email protected] with the subject line “Application ZAT-22-16 virtual hearing registration.”

WAPA Executive Director Smith Says Solar Would Save Big Bucks

BMR’s solar farm on St. Croix (Source file photo)

Andrew Smith, executive director of the Water and Power Authority, is trying to streamline the process to get major solar production in the territory because he says it will save the Authority a great deal of money. Members of WAPA’s Governing Board Tuesday expressed encouragement for the efforts of his team but questioned whether the process had flaws.

Anthony Thomas, who is commissioner of the Department of Property and Procurement as well as a member of the board, questioned whether the team was comparing “apples to oranges” in its presentation at the board meeting. The firms making proposals were making different types of proposals. He asked whether it would not have been best to give the details of a development to the firms and then have the firms respond with proposals within WAPA’s parameters.

Instead of following that traditional request for proposals, in April the WAPA team reached out to local and international solar developers for indications of interest in terms of price and project scope. Smith said that WAPA being a semi-autonomous agency was not bound to the RFP process as long as it was open and public about what it was doing.

The firms, at one time seven were involved, came up with the proposals they believed were best in terms of scale and battery storage. Smith said battery storage was imperative to keep the grid stable. He pointed out that when Hurricane Fiona passed some areas of the territory did not see the sun for three days. He also said that even with battery storage the Territory would probably always need some fossil fuel backup.

The proposals that came in were consistent in supplying just half of the power generation needed in St. Croix. Smith said the process was not intended to result in a power purchase agreement immediately, but he was hoping to come up with one by mid-October. He and his team presented the same details to the Public Services Commission earlier this week.

Andrew Smith has been before the PSC and the Governing Board with the solar proposal this week. (Source file photo)

At that time, he said the most attractive proposal was being made by Leeward Energy which reportedly is now applying for Qualified Facility designation from the PSC.
Board Hubert Turnbull asked what the fate of BMR Energy would be. It operates the 4-megawatt solar farm in Spanish Town on St. Croix and is redeveloping the 6.4-megawatt solar farm at Donoe on St. Thomas. Smith said it would still be part of the grid.

In a phone conversation with the Source after the meeting, Smith explained some of the numbers. St. Croix’s peak demand is 40 megawatts. However, Leeward Energy’s proposal for an array of 60 megawatts of panels and 60 megawatts of batteries would supply the island with only half of its power needs.

The solar panels don’t generate full capacity early in the morning or late in the evening, and they don’t produce any power at night. He also emphasized as he did at both meetings that the process was not over. “We are all ears,” he said if anyone comes in with better pricing and shows the capacity to be able to do the job.

In other action during Thursday’s meeting, the Governing Board approved extending its contract for its underground hazardous mitigation projects at no extra cost and approving the purchase of 600 composite poles. The two are related, both are designed to harden the grid. The composite poles, which are advertised as hurricane resistant, are installed where putting electrical service underground is not feasible.

During the meeting, Kyle Fleming, Director of the Energy Office, was chosen to remain chairman of the board for another term. Board members Juanita Young, Joel Lee, Cheryl Boynes-Jackson, and Elizabeth Armstrong also attended the meeting.

Photo Focus: Visionaries Thanksgiving Turkey Drive

The Visionaries gave away between 50 and 100 turkeys at the event to share kindness for the Thanksgiving holiday. (Nathan Dowell photo)

Nearly 100 community members headed to Emile Griffith Ballpark Saturday morning for a turkey giveaway organized by The Visionaries, an entertainment group operated by young V.I. adults.

Event organizer Nathan Dowell said the Visionaries started as an entertainment group among talented friends in 2020 and has evolved as a way to give back to the community. Last year, Dowell hosted a small-scale turkey giveaway where he distributed five turkeys but pitched the idea to his friends to do it on a larger scale this year.

The event featured entertainment by DJ Regg, while barber Bookthedubb gave away free haircuts. The Department of Health also had a free pop-up vaccination clinic on-site.

Related link: The Visionaries Will Host a Turkey Give-Away at Griffith Ball Park