Demolition of old-time houses causes public outcry

| 09/08/2022 | 191 Comments
Demolition of old Caymanian houses August 2022

(CNS): The sudden demolition of two historic Caymanian homes on the waterfront in George Town over the weekend stunned the community and lit up social media. Both houses were built in the 1930s and are listed on the Nationals Trust’s Heritage Register. Benny Bodden’s House, which was recently home to Da Fish Shack restaurant, and Ainsley Bodden’s House, both on North Church Street, were bulldozed on Sunday to make way for a new commercial development.

According to planning documents from November 2016, JIL Construction Ltd was granted planning permission to build a commercial building at the site, which will include retail stores and two restaurants with decks extending to the ironshore, despite being too close to the ocean.

The proposed development was refused planning permission by the Central Planning Authority in September of that year because the plans didn’t meet the minimum high water mark setback requirement and there was insufficient parking. The application indicated that the two historic buildings on the site would be relocated.

The application went back before the CPA in November 2016, when Carolyn Johnson, Ian Kirkham and architect Rob Johnson appeared before the panel and presented slightly revised plans. Although they still didn’t meet the high water mark setback, the new plans included additional offsite parking and the project was given the green light.

But for a long time nothing happened. Signs were reportedly posted at the site several years ago about a potential new development and CNS understands that no objections have ever been raised. While we have been unable to confirm the timeline of the project, there is some indication it had been due to start in 2020 but was delayed by the pandemic.

News last month that Da Fish Shack had closed was the first indication that the project could be back on track. The owners of that restaurant reluctantly closed down after they were told that they must vacate the premises by 31 July.

It is not clear if the project ever went back before the CPA for further modifications in the intervening years or if other changes are planned with a new application, but it seems that planning permission granted more than six years ago is in effect until November of this year.

On Saturday, messages and videos of the demolition were shared hundreds of times on social media platforms and messaging services, and many expressed shock at the speed with which it happened. Two buildings that were around 90 years old were lost in a matter of hours without any notification of the planned destruction, which fuelled calls for demonstrations among some local activists, as people said how powerless they felt in the face of the continued loss of heritage for commercial development.

It is not clear if the National Trust was given the option to preserve any elements of the two traditional buildings, which instead of being moved were crushed and taken to the dump, regardless of their historical significance. CNS has contacted the Trust and we are awaiting a response. However, it seems the non-profit was likely aware of the pending destruction as Ian Kirkham, one of the representatives for the developer, is a member of the National Trust Council. He is also on Planning Minister Jay Ebanks’ local district council in North Side.

The Trust formally established a Historic Preservation Fund in January specifically for donors to directly support the preservation, protection and promotion of Cayman’s built heritage throughout the Cayman Islands. There are no laws in Cayman or grade listings to protect old buildings. Hundreds of traditional homes and buildings remain under threat but buying and maintaining them can be costly.

When the new fund was launched, Trust Executive Director Annick Jackman said, “It is of the greatest importance that efforts are made to reach out to the public for assistance at this time, as Cayman’s culture and heritage have never been so at risk by the rapid pace of development and a deficit of general knowledge around the area of Cayman built heritage.”

Recently, a cottage that is more than a century old was moved from the site of Foster’s supermarket in West Bay. While there had been discussions about the grocery store owners being required to maintain the old home at its site, they were given planning permission for a proposed expansion on the grounds and the cottage was moved.

Work on that began last month and the oldest part of the property is expected to be taken to Frank Sound, where a traditional home enthusiast will be working to restore the old-time house.

See the minutes of the CPA’s meetings in the CNS Library
(scroll down to JIL Construction)

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Category: development, Local News

Comments (191)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    The Trust needs to explain if they were made aware of this destruction prior to it happening. Or Mr Kirkham needs to explain to the Trust and it’s members why he didn’t inform them if this was the case. He is soneone who supposedly cares for the environment, clearly feels less passionate about Caymans built heritage, in which case he should NOT be sitting on Trust Council. Disgrace!

  2. NWisdom says:

    There is good news on the horizon. Due to public interest in preservation the Minister of Hapiness is seeking a preservation order on the Glasshouse. On contacting him he said that it represented a true Architectural masterpiece and the building should be preserved forever as a tribute to Cayman heritage.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Don’t worry Donald Trump coming build several condos and hotels. He going buy up tons land.

    • Anonymous says:

      What a great idea. Let’s get The Donald to redo Nicole the Trump Corporation in Cayman and give him status. He can renounce his US citizenship and no longer be troubled by all those pesky IRS demands for tax returns and investigations but to how honest they are. And we get some competition for Ken.


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