Developers defend projects facing public backlash

| 05/08/2021 | 154 Comments
Barkers Beach

(CNS): Local residents challenging the pace of development are no longer just committed environmental activists but increasingly include Caymanians who have been marginalized by projects that undermine the culture and heritage of these islands, but some developers are standing by their plans, despite the controversy they are causing. Matthew Wight, one of three Caymanian developers behind a proposed beach resort in Little Cayman that includes over-the-water bungalows, said he has received a lot of support for the project, and Joseph Coe told CNS he was proud of the Barkers Beach project.

Meanwhile, the largest developer of all is coming out fighting with the National Conservation Council, as Dart makes it clear it does not want to conduct an environmental impact assessment before it gets the green light for its controversial planned area development.

Despite opposition on social media and a very mixed response on CNS last month to the Little Cayman Boutique Resort, Wight said the developers (Naul Bodden, William Maines and Wight himself) were not a group of foreigners that do not respect what has made the island special and that local residents are backing the project.

“Ultimately there will be differing opinions, especially as this is a ‘change’ and not been done before in Cayman,” he said. “We are three Caymanians that have our own vision that also needs to be appreciated. This is not a group of foreigners that does not respect what has made Little Cayman special and trying to make drastic change for their own self-interests. Naul was a fishing guide in Little Cayman over 50 years ago, so there are very few Caymanians that could do a project like this proud and with Little Cayman truly at heart.”

Wight said the three shareholders have owned property on the island for over 25 years and it means a lot to them. “We very much feel this project is in-keeping with Little Cayman’s charm, will assist in diversifying its tourism product and add positively to the Island in terms of employment as well as economic stimulus,” he added.

Answering the question of climate resilience, Wight, who is the managing director at NCB Group, said that company had “led the way in sustainable development” and the bungalows were designed to sit eight feet above sea level to produce the right amount of light and shading for the sea-life to flourish and also protect them from storm surge.

The project will require a coastal works licence separate from planning permission and is likely to be subject to a good deal of public scrutiny in the coming months, given the issues it raises for the marine environment.

Another major project stirring up controversy is the first five-story project in the Barkers area. Barkers Beach Resort, if it goes ahead, will be located on land sold to the developers by the now retired politician, Captain Eugene Ebanks. It will see a block of affordable apartments bulldozed to make way for luxury condos.

Joseph Coe, the owner of COE Group Ltd, who is developing the project in partnership with the developer behind Boggy Sands, Morne Botes, said they were “very proud” of the project, which would be on Conch Point Road, west of the Villas Papagallo and Papagallo Restaurant but officially outside the area of Barkers National Park.

“Our project was called Barkers Beach Development as the beach leads to Barkers National Park,” he said. “We have satisfied enquiries by the government departments in regards to seeking planning permission, and look forward to our date with the CPA. We are excited to bring a new boutique hotel to the area that will help to rejuvenate and bring further business to West Bay.”

However, the project has been criticised because local environmental activists have concerns that such a large development is out of keeping with the area and will set a precedent for taller, more dense buildings that will encroach on the last area of untouched coastline in West Bay. Some local activists have also said the promotional material is misleading and that the project will not benefit the local community.

Meanwhile, the islands’ largest landowner all is also defending its massive new proposed project by Crymble Landholding, one of the Dart Group’s subsidiary companies. Dart has criticised the Department of Environment’s findings in its screening opinion regarding the proposed planned area development (PAD) that the company is planning in the Seven Mile Beach corridor, north of Governor’s Harbour, that will straddle the Esterley Tibbetts Highway.

In a press release last week, the developer raised objections to the DoE’s advice to the National Conservation Council (NCC) that an environmental impact assessment (EIA) must be conducted for the project before planing permission was given to the overall PAD. Despite outlining a huge amount of proposed development in the PAD that would breach current planning regulations, Dart officials claim that a PAD application is not really a planning application and so it should not be required to conduct an EIA.

The developer also said the NCC’s ratification of the DoE’s screening opinion was fundamentally flawed. Dart said the NCC had delegated their decision-making capacity to the DoE in breach of the respective law. This comes after a recent decision by the Planning Appeals Tribunal that has already undermined the National Conservation Act and opened the legal door for developers to challenge the council’s decisions and ultimately up-end the intention of the law.

Mark VanDevelde, Dart’s chief executive officer, said, “We are concerned about the inconsistency in the interpretation and application of the current law when determining at what stage an EIA is required… This inconsistency and lack of clarity in the law relating to the requirements for a PAD has led to what appears to be incorrect and unfounded conclusions, which in turn led to misinformation and confusion.”

VanDevelde called for comprehensive and synchronised legislation. “This is urgently needed to bring efficiency and predictability to the process and to balance the country’s environmental, social, and economic interests,” he said.

“On one end of the spectrum, there are lands and habitats of significant environmental importance which absolutely need to be protected, and on the other end of the spectrum, there are lands which, if developed, can provide the greatest economic benefits to the country. In the middle, where the value is not as clearly defined, having such a framework would be invaluable to guide decision making.  

“A comprehensive Environmental Management Framework informed by all stakeholders, that reflects a shared vision for the future, would provide clear guidance on how land can be developed, managed or protected, and give much-needed certainty and clarity to all parties,” the CEO concluded.

However, the public opposition to the PAD centres on several important factors. Firstly, if Dart rolls out all of the proposal in the PAD, dozens of beach access points would be lost. Secondly, over 40 acres of mangrove, the last remaining wetland habitat in West Bay, would also be lost. Finally and fundamentally, objectors are asking what is the justification for allowing such a massive development that threatens so much natural habitat as well as the loss of beach access that will provide little, if any, long term or direct benefit to most ordinary Caymanians.

The current public backlash against over-development, especially on the coast, was a key issue on the campaign trail. Many voters are now looking to PACT to address the runaway development that does not have public support, that offers no long term benefit to Caymanians, puts a strain on infrastructure, pushes up property prices beyond the ability of locals to afford them and poses adverse effects on the natural environment.

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Category: development, Local News

Comments (154)

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  1. Put a pin in it says:

    This development is owned by Peppercorn Investment which is also the owner of Macabuca and Cracked Conch. Show your support to support and boycott that business.

  2. JTB says:

    I suppose it’s quite helpful that the new government is being faced so early with several litmus tests of its environmental credentials.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Time for Planning to grow a set and start denying applications anywhere on the coast. Enough is enough. How many more beach resorts that cut Caymanian’s access to what we guaranteed to, and have started literally destroying the beaches do we need? Caymanian developers or not. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH and [Dart] needs to go as well. He should NEVER had been allowed to set up here but as the saying goes. Money talks and BS walks.

  4. Anonymous says:

    If Cabinet approves the Little Cayman development they will be setting in motion an ecological disaster.

    • Anonymous says:

      Why? Having stayed in a number of similar sounding hotels in the Maldives, I saw no evidence of ecological disaster. In fact it’s hard to imagine a less environmentally impactfull way to build.

    • Anonymous says:

      Absolutely agree. The remaining beaches need to be protected.

  5. Anonymous says:

    It was not that long ago that developers on 7 Mile Beach were demanding coastal works licenses in order to build walls telling us ‘it will be great’ and ‘what could go wrong’. We have now seen what can go wrong.

    We would be insane to allow the proposed type of any in the water development particularly in a Marine Reserve.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Building in a Marine Reserve should be prohibited without exception!

    Even outside our Marine Reserves we have no regulations dealing with building this type of development and should not permit any such development until a full set of environmentally sensitive laws and regulations are developed and implemented and appropriate monitoring and enforcement staff are on hand.

  7. Will Ebanks says:

    Come on Matthew, this has to be one of your most self serving projects to date. And as for Bill Maines being Caymanian, that statement is also self serving for you on this occasion. Also helps that he’s a billionaire.

    It’s blatantly clear that all of the projects outlined in this article are solely for the self interest of the people involved.

    And as for Dart not wanting to do a EIA?. That would be a crime against the environment. They should be made to do more than one! If you want to develop that land, then do as you do and go out to tender with your EIA’s. Get three, four, five assessments and then compare the data. With the current erosion situation going on at the southern end of SMB, stricter rules need to be applied and enforced. We need to get those who are allowing these developments to be passed, out of the pocket of those who can afford to pay them.

  8. Anonymous says:

    The number of over-water bungalows proposed is just ridiculous. The water is public property. Little Cayman ambiance should be protected at all costs.

    • Anonymous says:

      Permitting even 1 over the water bungalow would be outrageous as it would be used to justify more and more of the same all over these islands.

  9. Anonymous says:

    You presumably live in a house or apartment and not a cave? What makes you so exceptional that your place is OK but now no-one else is allowed to build?

    • Anonymous says:

      I built a house on a lot of land..You want to build multiple home over water in Little Cayman..Do you own the water? Do you want to destroy what Little Cayman is known for? Me building my house on a 100 x 100 lot is a much different situation.

      • Anonymous says:

        I want to build multiple homes over water? Wow. That’s news to me. The reply was in response to the person calling for a halt to ALL development. That said what’s so special about single family homes that they are OK but other development isn’t? ALL development damages the natural environment.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Really? Then explain why CI Govt accepted all the environmental liability in the Beach Bay agreement.

  11. LC says:

    Another issue with these ventures is you are Caymanian but is your heart in hiring and having Caymanians operate your ventures?

  12. Rone Ebanks says:

    How can the Developers defend the the damages they did ???

  13. Anonymous says:

    Beach condos used to be restricted to 3 stories. No one was unhappy then. Now they are 10 stories and most people are unhappy. I think I see a glimmer of a solution.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Caymanian or not, stop trying to turn these Islands into something they are not!

    Leave the natural environment alone!

    This crap hast to stop!!!

    • Anonymous says:

      Who started the building craze When there was nothing. Now that they have theirs it’s enough for us all so please stop building or we might have to do another march out in the hot sun.

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