DoE urges rethink of oceanfront setbacks

| 15/09/2021 | 23 Comments
  • Cayman News Service
  • Cayman News Service
  • Cayman News Service

(CNS): The Department of Environment has said the current blanket approach to planning applications to build on the oceanfront needs to be reconsidered because it is not climate resilient. The experts said the current high water mark setback rules are based purely on beach or ironshore and take no account of the variety of coastlines around the islands, the impact of the ocean in different places or rising sea-levels.

In comments on an application for a house in North Side due to be considered by the Central Planning Authority today (Wednesday), the DoE said this plot is perched beach and not ironshore and treating it as such will have serious implications.

The experts said this application shows the need for “site-specific consideration of setbacks” rather than the treating all applications either as ironshore requiring a 50ft setback or beach, which has a 75ft setback, and allowing everyone to use that as a maximum rather than a minimum requirement.

“Given the climate change predictions for the region, including sea-level rise and increased intensity of storm events, including storm surge, coastal setbacks should not be reduced but instead should be treated as a minimum,” the DoE said, adding that taking a different approach can help with climate resilience, a current stated policy of the PACT Government.

“Setbacks are one of a number of ways of enhancing the resilience of properties against the inevitable effects of climate change, such as coastal flooding and erosion, by ensuring that hard structures are not located in vulnerable locations susceptible to these hazards. The subject parcel’s coastline highlights the need for site-specific consideration of setbacks instead of an overall ‘blanket’ setback approach for the generalised categories of beaches, ironshore or mangrove coastlines.

“Coastal setback recommendations should also be informed by other factors such as the off-shore marine environment, historic erosion rates or extreme water levels, rather than adopting arbitrary distances that are not representative of erosion and coastal flooding threats,” the experts warned.

In this case the applicant has submitted plans using a minimum coastal setback of 50 feet, even though the land in question is a perched beach, not a typical ironshore coastline, which presents some issues for the developer.

“This site is unlikely to experience the substantial wave attenuating benefits of larger ironshore bluff coastlines,” the DoE said. “The application site is also located on an exposed coastline and lacks the protection of a reef offshore.”

The department said this application should be handled as a beach coastline, which would require a minimum coastal setback from the high water mark of 75 feet for all structures and buildings, including ancillary buildings and walls. “This would likely render the parcel undevelopable,” the DoE said.

This illustrates the legacy problem Cayman now has after successive governments have failed to increase setback distances before climate change has begun to have a significant effect on coastal properties. This has been compounded with the precedents sent by the Central Planning Authority by waiving high water mark setbacks for pools, decks, walls, cabanas and other hard structures. Landowners now expect to be able to develop small oceanfront lots to maximum coverage leaving no room for the now increasing impact of climate change.

“The DoE strongly recommends the applicant reduces the size of the development in order to relocate it further away from the sea. The applicant should also consider building in a more climate-resilient manner incorporating elevated structures or a wash-through ground floor,” the technical experts advise.

“It is clear from Tropical Storm Grace that the incursion of the sea went all the way to the vegetation line,” the DoE explained in the submission, as it pointed to the photographs taken at the site just a few weeks ago. “Although it was not as rough on the north coast as other areas of the island, the rack line from Tropical Storm Grace which occurred on 18 August was visible when the DoE visited the site.”

Pictures from 21 August at low tide show the distinctly visible wet sand and dry sand as well as the individual wave run-up lines showing the incursion of the sea. “The Department is unable to reconcile the submission’s High Water Mark survey with the coastline visible in aerial imagery and the DoE’s site visit photos. Much of the boundary of the survey line appears to be in-water,” the DoE added.

The experts raised a number of other concerns about this application made by Don Ebanks for a 3,456 sq.ft house and pool, as it is adjacent to a Marine Protected Area and close to critical turtle nesting habitat.

In addition to giving advice regarding the high water mark setbacks, the DoE has directed a number of conditions for the development of the property, since the CPA is almost certain to grant the application, despite the climate issues that will affect the house once it is built.

Given the site is by a marine park and turtle nesting habitat, the DoE has directed that all construction materials must be stored 50 feet from the high water mark to prevent runoff into the water which threatens sensitive marine resources. No lights from the property can directly, indirectly or cumulatively illuminate the critical habitat for sea turtle nesting.

The department also asked the CPA to impose conditions on the movement of sand from the site and for the developer to retain as must native vegetation as possible.

See CPA Agenda in the CNS Library.

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Category: development, Local News

Comments (23)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Too little too late. Should have been 100 ft setback from the beginning of development not after all of the Seven Mile Beach, roads and development opposite is a done deal. Should have been beach, pedestrian walk, road, development like many other beach communities. Please don’t take anymore of our waterfront away!!!

    • Anonymous says:

      Now that all the beachfront on WB road is gone, they want to enact these restrictions along the eastern side where nose of the shoreline is Ironshore. SMH.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Why did Michael Ryan build Fin within 43ft of the sea?

  3. Anonymous says:

    Do not worry Cayman as foreign developers carryon as usual and the CPA rubber stamp everyone of their applications, mother nature will still rule.

    Unfortunately after the land has been exhausted then upwards of more than the present 10 floors will be the next push. High rise condos for the rich investors, as no Caymanian can now or in the future be able to buy them, will come in in droves and the laws are going to continue to be manipulated to feed the wishes of these foreign investors and the government’s creed.

    If the government do not institute a plan to put a stop in foreign ownership, then no one, be them Caymanian or residents, will have anything to buy or be able to buy within the next 5 to 10 years or even less.

    Each member of the government, past and present, will be made accountable for this sellout and the only result will be social unarrest for which the dominoe effect will be more and more suffering for the hard working citizens and permanent residents.

    It is really the path to the downfall of these three once gems of the Caribbean and the wider world.

    It is a pity this is the case here. But as the saying goes “money is the route of all evil.”

    • Anonymous says:

      Th dude is not a foreign developer. He’s one of yours building himself a bwach house.

      • Della Watler-Marte says:

        And that is why he should know better….Or is he building it for the sea to take it?

  4. Anonymous says:

    That’s ironshore there. Still, it do appear that survey line is out in the water about 15 feet.

    • Anonymous says:

      That’s the Registry Map line (indicative only) and should not be confused with surveyed lines which are shown on a survey plan.

  5. Hopeful says:

    We need a new CPA. About time DoE speaks up!!

  6. Anonymous says:

    We should NOT even be discussing the high water mark, period.

    Corruption caused that change in Cayman’s legislation, and global sea level rise will cause the mark to drastically change in the future.

    We should INSTEAD be talking about 50 and 75 feet setbacks from the natural vegetation line, which will also change over time BUT at least it’s better place to start.

    • Anonymous says:

      There is an uncomfortable fact that many landowners cannot seem to fathom – not all land can and should be developed – the regulations should not be expected to accommodate that.

      The Environmental Protection Fund should be used to buy that land from those landowners – and with all of this recent development that Fund should have been significant by now.

      Now that’s a different story, corruption.

      • Anonymous says:

        You are thinking about the Infrastructure Tax/Fund, which is based on development fees. – Ask a politician if it exists.

        The Environmental Fund is a fee that was added to the departure tax so everyone – tourist, resident, developer – pays it because the environment is for everyone. Though it hasn’t taken in that much money in the last year I expect.

        • Anonymous says:

          What are the facts on the Infrastructure Fund?

          As an insider, you will be able to help us understand.

  7. JTB says:

    I don’t know why the DoE bothers.

    It’s very clear nobody on the CPA pays a blind bit of notice to anything they say. It’s just filed in the bin while they pull out the big red ‘APPROVED’ rubber stamp.

    Remember when Wayne tried to kid us he cared about the environment?

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s not Wayne, It’s Jay..He handed Al’T’s rubber stamp to Ian Pairadeau who was one of alden’s biggest supporters in unbridled development of the country. Then there is Handel, a DART appointee. When these are the top two leading the charge, what do we expect?

      I think though that Wayne as the Premier needs to let Jay know that he needs to reel in the CPA board or change them if necessary. We cannot have another 4 years that mirror the last eight.

      • Anonymous says:

        Ian Pairadeau and Handel Whittaker, 2 ‘stellar’ Caymanians leading the continued plunder of Cayman’s natural resources and doing so at a quickening pace.

        Never thought that I would wish for ALT to be back!

      • Anonymous says:

        Wayne is not that powerful.

        If he tries that he will be ousted in a heartbeat.

        This is Mac’s government that Mac put together.

        Wayne is a mere sideshow that’s looking more lost with each passing day.

        • Anonymous says:

          4.57am Unfortunately you’re correct on the ousting which is sad. Wayne can’t trust his own Govt. Meetings being held in W Bay regularly. I guess the hold-up is who’s going to be Premier, Kenneth or Chris.

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