An 18.9-acre vacant lot on Queen Mary Highway could become a mixed-use hub of affordable housing and commercial space, according to a development plan proposed Friday during a public hearing.
Clarence Browne of Design District Architects presented the possible plan to the Coastal Zone Management division of the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources as part of a request for a zoning map change from residential use “R-2” to business, “B-3” for the parcel at 136 St. George on St. Croix.
He said the applicants, Shirley deChabert Highfield and Rita deChabert Schuster, and their families “are interested in doing a mixed-use development which is not currently allowed under R-2. They would like to do a development that would fit within the B-3 zone.”
The property is located on Queen Mary Highway just north of West Airport Road in an area with “fairly scattered uses,” including residential and businesses such as Plaza Extra West and Sunshine Shopping Mall.
The project is still in the preliminary design phase, and Browne said development plans could change based on community input and discovery of any cultural resources on the site, which is currently undeveloped. The family is committed to historic preservation and “they own a lot of historic properties on the island,” including several sites at nearby St. George Village Garden, Browne said.
The entire site plan includes about 12 buildings for both apartments, and retail or office space, which is expected to be built out in three phases. The plan also calls for 384 commercial parking spaces and 129 for residential use.
The first phase of the plan includes construction of 108 rental apartments on roughly seven acres at the rear of the parcel, consisting of 60 one-bedroom and 48 two-bedroom units of about 800 to 1,000 square feet each.
A fitness center and other amenities are in discussion, but Browne said plans are still fluid, and the remaining two phases of business development would follow. A 50-foot buffer zone on the east side of the parcel would also be included to keep development at a distance from a nearby church.
“They’re hoping to break ground on the affordable housing end of 2021, to early 2022. The rest of it depends largely on when resources become available. Some of these funding sources take some time to develop,” Browne said. Financing would come from family resources “as well as low-income housing tax credits and new market tax credits, and debt as required.”
In terms of the business side of the parcel adjacent to Queen Mary Highway, a “base building” is planned that could adapt to potential tenants’ needs, “multiple people over the years” have “voiced interest and have been fairly aggressive in reaching out to look for proposed space” on the property, Browne said. “The brother of the applicants, he’s developed the adjacent lot with a strip mall that’s kind of starting to create somewhat of a kind of commercial destination there, and there is interest here in building something that would start to respond to some of those requests that they’ve gotten over the years.”
The public may submit additional comment until Nov. 23 to Territorial Planner Leia LaPlace at Leia.LaPlace@dpnr.vi.gov.