Caribbean
A drawing shows the plan for a three-story multifamily home in Est. Contant, St. John. (Image from an online CZM meeting held Nov. 30)

Carib - St. John Property Owner’s Permit Request Raises Housing Issues for CZM Committee

At a public hearing on Wednesday, the St. John Committee of the Coastal Zone Management Commission faced a tricky question: Does the need for more housing on St. John outweigh other infrastructure issues that may lead to problems literally down the road?

More specifically, should a property owner be allowed to build additional housing units – which are badly needed – if density is already a problem and access to the property is far from ideal?

The St. John CZM Committee has a month to decide on the issue, which is likely to arise again as the island’s long-term housing shortage continues.

Property owners Lynthia and Alton Phillip, who own Parcel 1K Estate Contant on St. John, were already in the process of building a two-story multifamily residence when neighbors kept asking when the four units would be available to rent.

Alton Phillip realized he could add a third story – with two additional units – to the construction already underway if some modifications were made to the plans for the water and sewage systems.

o build a two-story structure, Phillip only needed to secure a minor Coastal Zone Management permit, which he did. But in order to add a third story in his neighborhood zoned R-4 (high-density residential), Phillip had to apply for a major Coastal Zone Management permit.

That involves presenting the case for the modification at a public CZM meeting – with the risk that the request can be denied.

When Phillip and contractor Julio King presented their case to the committee on Wednesday, there was general agreement that additional housing units would be welcome.

St. John has been suffering from a dire shortage of long-term housing, especially since Hurricane Irma rocked the island in 2017. It wasn’t just that many housing units were destroyed by the storm – many were, but they have since been rebuilt.

It’s more that many homeowners have chosen to convert their units from long-term to short-term rentals. With the Westin Resort’s shift to a time-share structure and Caneel Bay owner’s reluctance to rebuild the storm-damaged resort, the demand for vacation rentals has skyrocketed in the past five years.

Nowadays, hundreds of short-term units on St. John are available on Airbnb and VRBO, while long-term units have vanished. Vacation rentals may be more profitable for homeowners, but this disruption in the housing market has led to a crisis: Business owners can’t find employees because there’s no place on island for them to live.

Phillip assured CZM committee members he will keep the units in his new building in the long-term market. He said he owns other properties and has never been interested in managing short-term rentals.

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