Governor’s Bird Sanctuary faces development threat

| 24/05/2022 | 56 Comments
Snowy Egret at Governor Michael Gore Bird Sanctuary (photo from TripAdvisor)

(CNS): The Governor Michael Gore Bird Sanctuary, a well-known natural beauty spot in Savannah owned by the National Trust, is the latest piece of scarce and unique local wilderness threatened by development. An application for an apartment complex on an adjacent piece of land across from the wetlands and pond is expected to be heard by the Central Planning Authority this week, raising concern about the growing encroachment on even the rarest and most important remaining natural habitats in Cayman.

As the neighbouring landowner, the National Trust is allowed to formally object. The non-profit organisation is worried about the direct threat developing so close to the Sanctuary will have on its survival unless the landowner is required to preserve a significant vegetation buffer. This would help protect the pond, which is central to this small natural oasis in the middle of a suburban residential community.

The parcel on Meadowlark Road in Lower Valley proposed for development is ecologically a part of the Sanctuary, the Trust explained in its objection letter. “Due to our porous limestone terrain, areas of surface water such as this are very rare in the Cayman Islands,” it said, noting that this freshwater wetland is a home to over 60 bird species — a quarter of all the native bird species — and a stopover for migratory birds.

“These disappearing ecosystems are vital for migratory birds to rest and feed before completing their long journeys. Butterflies congregate in this area and the native freshwater turtle, the Hickatee, has often been spotted among the reeds. The endemic freshwater mosquitofish (Cayman gambusia) is also found here. This pond can be critical during the dry season when it may be the only substantial body of fresh water in the area,” the Trust stated.

As well as being a much-loved park and natural environment for the community to enjoy for its own sake, this small wetland also helps with water quality by protecting groundwater, prevents flooding, improves air quality and provides a buffer to the existing development.

The application is for seven units (five apartments and one duplex) on the half-acre site, which exceeds regulations. The plans call for the removal of all the vegetation and the laying of asphalt parking all the way to the boundary line of the Sanctuary.

A septic tank is currently proposed to be just 10 feet from the National Trust land, which officials said is likely to impact water quality. Leakage can lead to eutrophication (nutrient overloads), causing algae to grow, which will kill the fish and could have health implications for nearby residents and visitors to the Sanctuary.

Without a significant buffer, the clearing of the forest will likely mar the view from the boardwalk, and undermine the peace and serenity from the location. As a result, the Trust is asking the CPA, if it does grant permission, to require a 25-foot natural buffer to shield the pond and its beauty from the effects of the project.

“This buffer will also protect the developer from all too common mistakes by heavy equipment operators,” the Trust said, pointing out that it is an offence under the National Trust Act to deface its property. “Contractors, especially when clearing land, often have difficulty ‘staying within the lines’ and inadvertently clear beyond a landowner’s property boundary.”

The Trust said it was severely concerned about accidental impacts as well as the effect of construction on the serenity of the Bird Sanctuary.

“We feel strongly that the preservation of this sanctuary which benefits our community should not be sacrificed for the benefit of just one landowner,” the Trust wrote in its submissions, adding that it has offered, and continues to offer, to buy this parcel from the landowner at fair market value, including the expenses incurred so far in the planning and development process.

“Governor Gore’s Bird Sanctuary provides a valuable amenity to the neighbouring community and to our overall tourism product. We cannot allow incursions into our irreplaceable and rapidly disappearing national environmental assets,” the Trust said.

The Department of Environment echoed the sentiments of the Trust and stressed the importance of protecting the Sanctuary. It also pointed out that the parcel proposed for the development is predominantly seasonally flooded mangrove habitat, all of which will be cleared if this project is given the green light. The DoE said that if the CPA grants planning permission, it should at the very least ensure that a 20-foot vegetation buffer is retained.

At least one local resident has also objected to the development, articulating the support in the community for the Sanctuary and their concerns that the area is already overdeveloped.

The threat to the Bird Sanctuary is a further illustration of how unchecked development in Cayman continues to pose a major threat to the rapidly dwindling natural resources and dispels hope for the rewilding required to put Cayman on track for a more sustainable future.

But in this case, the application is seeking a number of waivers and variances on technical planning regulations, such as setbacks and an increase in the number of apartments for the size of the site.

The application has been made by Fabian Whorms (not the CEO of Cayman Airways but another family member), who told CNS that because the application is before the CPA he did not want to comment at this time.

See this week’s CPA agenda in the CNS Library (scroll down to Whorms).


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Category: development, Land Habitat, Local News, Science & Nature

Comments (56)

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  1. Say it like it is says:

    This will open a can of worms and I guarantee the Whorms will win.

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  2. Unhappy Caymanian says:

    LOL

    Panton sells Caymans natural resources for carbon offset to the world.

    Roper publishes a report about climate change risk assessment.

    Govt. talks about environmental and developmental sustainability.

    The only environmental concern for Cayman is that there is enough paper to print $$$$$.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    Cayman gone. Welcome to a sh*t South Beach.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    It would be good to see a proper ecological and independent report on this property and its affects on the bird sanctuary, and possible mitigation methods etc. rather than adhoc opinions about overdevelopment. A fair and balanced analysis considering the rights of both parties should be encouraged.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Three grounds for why it exceeds even the current lame planning laws and you are asking for an assessment to show that it is not overdevelopment?

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  5. Anonymous says:

    Flats Rebel – we had a pretty good Marco organism which we tried to sustain but GTC voters nixed that idea in favour of a different kind of organism.

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  6. Anonymous says:

    Never heard of so much garbage since this CPA new board.

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  7. Anonymous says:

    ????so now we can’t build near or next to ‘protected wetlands’….zzzz. you might as well ban development in cayman
    please expalin how this development contravenes planning rules?
    will wait for a non-hysterical answer or response.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Since you asked, the ways that a development contravenes planning rules are published on the CPA minutes.

      “Specific Issues
      1) Lot Size

      Regulation 9(8)(e) states the minimum lot size for a duplex is 12,500 square feet and Regulation 9(8)(f) states that the minimum lot size for apartments and townhouses is 25,000 square feet. Combined, the required lot size is 37,500 square feet.

      The subject parcel has 21,235 square feet of area. The applicant has submitted a variance letter and the Authority should determine whether a variance is acceptable in this instance.

      2) Number of apartments
      As noted earlier, the applicant is proposing a detached duplex as well as apartments. In the LDR zone, a duplex requires a minimum lot area of 12,500 square feet. When this area is subtracted from the overall parcel area, it leaves 0.2 acres of land for apartments, which translates into 3 apartment units. In this instance the applicant is applying for 5 apartments. The applicant has submitted a variance letter and the Authority should determine whether a variance is acceptable in this instance.

      3) Number of bedrooms
      Similar to item 4 listed above, there is 0.2 acres of land that can be devoted to apartments on this site. This translates into a maximum of 4 bedrooms in the apartment building and the applicant is seeking permission for 10 bedrooms.

      4) Rear setback
      Regulation 9(8)(i) states that the minimum rear setback is 20 feet. The proposed duplex is setback 15 feet from the rear boundary. The applicant has submitted a variance letter and the Authority should determine whether a variance is acceptable in this instance.”

      To answer your question:

      (a) the lot is smaller than allowed in the planning rules,
      (b) the number of apartments is more than allowed in the planning rules,
      (c) the number of bedrooms is more than allowed in the planning rules,
      (d) the duplex is not far enough away from the boundary.

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      • Anonymous says:

        so it is a variance application which could be approved….it happens all the time…..how does this contraven planning laws again?

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      • Anonymous says:

        9:10 EXCELLENT ANSWER….and exactly why the application was refused.

      • Anonymous says:

        The application was submitted for 7 apartments but due to the irregular shape of the land, the buildings were designed as 2 apartments in one building and 5 apartments in another building.
        This development is proposed by Caymanians who are passionate about the eco systems and sustainability of the Cayman Islands and proactively had a discussion with the National Trust to ensure future generations can also enjoy the green, eco friendly development, next to one of our Island’s finest natural attractions. Thank you.

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        • Anonymous says:

          8:26 pm Check a map. The lot is not so irregularly shaped that they needed to apply for so many units that signoficantly exceeded the allowable density. Caymanian or not, this is not acceptable.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Banning development in Cayman would be an excellent move.

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      • Anonymous says:

        I couldn’t agree more. I also agree with the person who says that Cayman is becoming a sh*t South Beach. Cayman is losing its charm, which is why we chose the Brac.

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        • Anonymous says:

          Ha….see you back in GC in 12 months!

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        • Anonymous says:

          Further to your choice of the Brac: The Development Control Board (DCB) that controls development on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman has consistently been a bigger farce than the CPA could ever be.
          In several places land right to the boundary of National Trust land has been flatted. No buffer, no tree preservation, no nothing except devastation. Owners/developers routinely do illegal *hit and break the law when preparing building sites or developing. When caught they apply for and are granted after-the-fact permission, or given a pass if they develop improperly, no problemo. The prevailing mode of preparing land for construction is to flatten it all–boundary to boundary–maybe leave a tree or two standing in rare cases. Illegal use of machinery to clear land is usually winked at. An artist on the Brac was prosecuted for what was certainly not obscene art (was acquitted and may have cause to sue). But I do not recall one solitary prosecution with guilty verdict for illegally raping the land on Cayman Brac. Seems the churches are way more concerned and righteously ruffled about an abstract statue’s allegedly bare breasts than land rendered bare, or the shameful desolation inflicted upon God’s creation. They are all for stewardship of money (Put more in the plate brothers and sisters!) but you hear crickets from the so-called God’s people about stewardship of the land created by the God they so ardently claim to worship and serve. The only reason that Cayman Brac has not become a “sh*t South Beach” is not because the average Bracker really gives two flips about the environment. The Brac appears comparatively untouched because heretofore, there has been little inward investment and correspondingly little development. Where development takes place, interior land, waterfront, beach ridge, Bluff, all, the land is left as flat and bare as a dinner table. I’m a Bracker but I say in shame that Brackers have no meaningful interest in preservation of the island’s environment. The unspoiled island that has so enchanted you can and will lose its charm rather quickly if meaningful legislation is not forthcoming to preserve the Brac’s precious ambience.

    • Anonymous says:

      Putting the breaks on development in Cayman would definitely be a good thing

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      • Anonymous says:

        You foreigners need to go somewhere else. You already fleeced us and are reaping in all the big money but want to stop us poor people from getting a job. Thank goodness for Mr Dart and his company.

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  8. Danny says:

    Does Cayman has an opposition government?

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  9. Anonymous says:

    Cayman please stop this aimless development now.

    It is madness for the sake of money.

    @Cookie please don’t build on your dad’s old property that he gave you before he passed.

    Hold it tight and reflect on him a bit more that area is so sensitive and you all already own acres of farm land.

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  10. Anonymous says:

    Damn those foreign developers.

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  11. Anonymous says:

    Just put the “No More building on Cayman Islands” sign up. Unless your part of the tribe of course.

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  12. Anonymous says:

    Obviously getting angry as depicted in the symbols below the story is not enough to stop the destruction of this beautiful oasis. We need to stop electing jackasses! Stop voting for people vithout vision and passion for our beloved Cayman Islands instead of nimbies who can only see and chase after shiny objects?

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  13. Unhappy Caymanian says:

    LOL

    Panton tries to sell Cayman’s natural resources for carbon capture.

    Roper has a climate change risk assessment paid for.

    PACT claim to be heading towards some sort of sustainable development for future Caymanian Generations.

    There is only one environmental concern in Cayman:

    Is there enough paper to print $$$$$$$?

    Cayman continues to go down the sewer.

    There is no hope for my children or their children here.

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  14. Alissa says:

    When will someone realize how much Cayman is loosing??? Please help protect some areas!

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  15. Anonymous says:

    I’m sure this property is very important to the Bird Sanctuary. I’m also sure the National Trust,DOE/NCC was aware of this fact for a long time. Why weren’t they pro active and try to purchase/lease the property instead of being reactive after the owner (who has every right to do so) attempts to develop it

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  16. Anonymous says:

    So what, these birds can not stand in the way of progress. Our developers are helping Cayman so much, just look at all the jobs being created as well as the vast amount of imports which bring more money to government. Thank goodness our planning minister and the CPA know what is right and will keep our boom going. Mr Dart, please build that 50 story building!

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  17. Anonymous says:

    Say no, grow a backbone.

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  18. Anonymous says:

    I’d hardly call a few trees and a puddle a bird wildlife sanctuary.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Troll.

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    • Flats Rebel says:

      There is such a massive disconnect with you people. My god. That area supports a lot of LIFE!!! Micro and Marco organisms. Who the hell are we to wipe out an entire ecosystem. Ignorance can no longer be and excuse.

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      • Anonymous says:

        Not sure what a marco organism is, or why it was capitalised but suspect you’ve never actually been to this so called bird sanctuary. There’s about 24 trees, a puddle and a dilapidated viewing deck.

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