CPA sends mangrove condo proposal to NCC

| 17/04/2024 | 33 Comments
Map of planned site of 20 North Development (from DoE submissions to CPA)

(CNS): A controversial application for 95 apartments on very low-lying wetlands off Willie Farrington Drive in West Bay has been formally referred by the Central Planning Authority to the National Conservation Council. However, the NCC has already submitted its comments on the environmental issues with 20 North Development, pointing out that it is seasonally flooded mangrove habitat, on average no more than a foot above sea level.

As is the case for numerous other agencies, such as the National Roads Authority and Water Authority, all CPA applications on non-man-modified land are reviewed by the Department of Environment’s technical experts. This allows them to offer assistance to developers to reduce the damage that man-made structures pose to the natural world.

Under the National Conservation Act, the NCC can, based on the technical expertise of the DoE, direct a refusal only in very limited circumstances. To date, it has done so on very few occasions, usually as a result of direct threats to marine protected habitats.

Before all CPA meetings, NCC supplies the board with all of the necessary information on the environmental concerns to make its decisions. It is still not clear why the board members are interpreting the conservation law in such a way that they are nevertheless choosing to refer projects back to the NCC.

The board is using the legislation in such a way that, after questioning applicants, the members, none of whom are environmental scientists, decide whether or not an application triggers provisions in the law to consult the NCC. The CPA and other government officials, including Cabinet ministers and the development lobby, have then accused the NCC of fettering and delaying development.

CNS has confirmed that in this case, the DoE will be submitting largely the same technical advice to the NCC that it has been offering on this project since it first came before the CPA last August. These submissions were updated prior to last month’s hearing after the project had been downsized and the proposals for drainage improved.

The DoE has raised numerous concerns that have been clearly stated. While the department cannot direct the CPA to refuse the application, it has supplied detailed advice to the landowner about mitigation measures and warnings about the flooding that is likely to occur and why.

According to the minutes of the meeting, despite having a full review of the environmental issues, the CPA took several steps back. The board members did not question the applicant on information supplied by the NCC about the specific location but confined its queries to the broad scenarios set out in the legislation that would trigger the conservation law.

But because of the environmental impacts detailed by the NCC, the board members made a decision to refer the application to the NCC, ignoring the submissions that were there, in print, before them.

The CPA had previously rejected this particular application on the basis that the site was not suitable for apartments. The board had concluded that it would not be in keeping with the “character of the area in terms of mass, scale and intensity of use and this will detract from the ability of surrounding land owners from enjoying the amenity of their properties”.

Since then, however, the CPA has given planning permission for other apartment projects not far away in Batabano, which may undermine its previous position. The minutes did not outline the CPA’s thinking on other elements of the application, only its position on the conservation act. In the minutes, the members stated why they were referring the matter to the NCC, but did not explain why this was necessary, given that they already had all the necessary information to comply with the Conservation Act.

The CPA said, “Prior to a full review under the Development and Planning Act (2021 Revision), the Development Plan 1997 and the Development and Planning Regulations (Rev2022), the Authority reviewed the DoE’s response to DPA s7 consultation and determined that, as part its consideration of Section 41 of the National Conservation Act (2014) (NCA), it would review with the applicant the list of definitions of adverse effects in Section 2 (a-l) of the NCA. After doing so, it was resolved to adjourn the application and refer the matter to the National Conservation Council pursuant to Section 41(3) of the NCA as there may be potential adverse effects per s2(b) and (d).”

Although, those adverse effects have already been noted in the exiting submissions, the case has nevertheless been adjourned without a decision.

At least four neighbouring landowners have objected to the project. Several other people who have also objected cannot do so formally because they are outside the limited radius allowed, even though it could impact flooding in a much wider area than the 1000ft objection zone. However, none of the objections will be taken into consideration at this point but will be reviewed when the project returns for another hearing.

During the hearing, the CPA also said that it could not consider the accumulative flooding problems likely to occur in this area now as a result of other nearby developments.

There is no sign of any changes to the planning law to address the myriad problems development currently poses to the terrestrial and marine environment, such as an increase in flooding risks as swamp land is developed for profit, the loss of the eco-services provided by the wetlands, over-development on the coastlines, the clearing of primary habitat, the massive loss of diversity and the socioeconomic impacts.

Meanwhile, although these impact affect everyone, the law severely limits who can formally object. This is another issue that environmental activists believe the government should consider when, or if, it actually begins to modernise planning legislation to work towards a sustainable future.

See the relevant minutes in the CNS Library.

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Category: development, Local News

Comments (33)

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  1. Cayman Kind says:

    Does low-lying swamp land have a purpose? ‘Swamp land is usually in a low lying area, & is subject to flooding & has an unstable base. This would be like building on sand’.

    Most persons should be able to recall the warning of wisdom from the Good Book about NOT building lives/ livelihoods on sand. Its common sense also.

    An important reason is that ‘Building on marsh lands can be more costly than anyone might assume’.

    A useful metric for would be purchasers from sellers or realtors is the direct (and direct) cost to “fill” “sand” – soil amendment and soil strengthening for planning permission. In addition clarity and where the amount needed will be sourced (local supply being limited and restricted).

    The other major issue being ‘When wetlands are filled, the water that made them wet has to go somewhere. If it isn’t seeping back into the basement of the house built on the former wetland, the water likely is leaking into formerly dry homes of downstream property owners.’

    CPA needs to refer to a wetland strategy that safeguards owners and neighbors and the environment. A range of solutions need to be considered and agreed. Again, more action.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes, it has a supreme purpose. It stops the flow of the sea and subsequent erosion. It provides habitat for many creatures which we pretend to love and honour.

      I’m really sorry I have to tell you this. You, a professed born Caymanian, should already have been idoctrinated into the value of land, sea and ‘swamp’.

  2. Christina R says:

    Are disclosures required by real estate agents and the developer directly to would be purchasers and is it still permissable for the sellers to obtain waivers of liability? It seems to me that this low land is critical for drainage of rain waters and that if it is stopped from being a sink that surrounding properties will also be adversely impacted. If so who bears the cost for remediation?? Greater care and stringency from the CPA may be warranted here.

  3. SJames says:

    May I suggest the CPA take a look at the people who are behind this project.
    Their previous developments have led to companies going into court liquidation and investors owed millions of dollars.
    Do I see a repeated mistake. CPA be guided accordingly.

    • Anonymous says:

      Not their job.

      • Anonymous says:

        7:18 It bloody well should be…or someone else’s. It’s criminal what nonsensical proposals are coming before them and, just like the previous one under ALT, which we thought we voted in the last election to get rid of, they are passing every damn development, no matter how terrible it is for Cayman.

    • Anonymous says:

      SJames you are entirely correct however, sadly, the CPA has no say/jurisdiction regarding the developers/landowners. They have to deal with the proposed land use regardless of who’s behind it. This matter needs to be taken up with the Trade & Business Licensing Board and/or the Government itself.

    • Anonymous says:

      May I suggest the investors do their homework next time.

  4. Anonymous says:

    So in conclusion, Watermark goes ahead, blocking WBR for months, changing the look and traffic congestion level forever, while likely to contribute to the loss of sand on SMB for the sake of a dozen or so new addresses. But 20N, which is, by current Cayman standards, a relatively modestly priced inland development with many more doors, something badly needed for our home-stock, gets blocked. We should ALL be concerned with this trend.

  5. eliza harford says:

    An extremely informative article, thank you CNS

  6. Anonymous says:

    CNS or compass needs to do a proper story that’s solely about this pissing match between the NCC/DOE and the CPA. Do a story just on that without it being about a specific property.

    Because what’s happening right now is basically CPA is kicking back tons to NCC so that if something isn’t approved, or it’s delayed they can blame it on NCC and not their own failures or shortcomings. It’s also giving BCU room to breathe so they can cover up their complete ineptitude.

    Then when all the lawsuits start (and they will) they can say “we had environmental concerns so we referred back to DOE/NCC”.

    They don’t care that it costs landowners (big and small) tons of money. They don’t care about the environment. They don’t care about housing or the cost of it. The whole thing is a farce and that it’s allowed to drag out like it does is both criminal and inexcusable.

    • Anonymous says:

      The article is all there…the CPA can’t or won’t read the work already completed by the NCC. Kicking it back to the authors of the report they didn’t read, confirms they don’t know what they’re doing. As suspected by years of strange decisions running contrary to guidance and regulations.

  7. Anon says:

    The New Caymanians always on here talking about they want “Quality Visitors” over “Quantity Visitors”. Then when the”Quality Visitors” buy up all the land and try pouring concrete everywhere, they suddenly realize it would have been better to stick with the “Quantity Visitors”. At least they just spend their money and leave the island the same as the found it.

    Just look each day at all the damages these “High-Quality” people have created.

    • Anonymous says:

      Who are the “New Caymanians” buying up all the land from? Yes, you got it – the “Old Caymanians”. You can’t cash the check and then complain after the fact.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I think before persons invest millions of dollars in purchasing property, through the land owner or his /her associated Realtor should have to provide these assessments from the NCC if its the buyers intention to build. Not only for the Rich developer but also Us that would want to construct a small home on a property purchased. I would hate to know that a Caymanian buying a house lot of swamp “Wetland” these days for upward of 150k then being told i cant fill it and put a 2 bedroom on it because of causing flooding.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Is it bitterness or is it bad advice or both?

    • Anonymous says:

      It seems to illiteracy. The NCC report is already part of the file.

      • Anonymous says:

        The NCC is a group of tree huggers that have too much power in an “ advisory” capacity.
        Add that to DOE advice and bring everything to a standstill overriding established planning laws and regulations.

  10. Anonymous says:

    OMG…stop the building. Does every green spot in Cayman have to be covered with a building?

    • Anonymous says:

      It wasn’t approved, or rightly rejected – instead it was sent back to the NCC desks that had already put in their work.

    • Anonymous says:

      If you want somewhere to live as well as give the government the income it needs, then agree to pay income tax to fund government services that you seem to take for granted.

  11. anon says:

    In these controversial cases it should be a requirement that the owners of these corporate applicants be revealed.

  12. Anonymous says:

    As an optimist I am happy that this application was adjourned and not just rubber stamped the way too many have been. Perhaps if applications to destroy the environment are delayed often enough, sufficient time will elapse for sanity to prevail.

    • Anonymous says:

      It should have been rejected on the basis of the NCC report the CPA didn’t bother to read. Instead, the CPA narrative continues to be that the NCC isn’t doing their job, which clearly isn’t the case.

  13. Anonymous says:

    “the law severely limits who can formally object. This is another issue that environmental activists believe the government should consider when, or if, it actually begins to modernise planning legislation to work towards a sustainable future.”

    As others have pointed out, it was not always that way. The gutting of democratic inputs in relation to planning did not happen overnight or by accident. Over the past 25 years successive governments, with input from senior public servants, have systematically slashed democratic inputs in order to prevent the public pointing out truths that the development cartel did not like. Next election ask candidates whether they will put back the provisions that used to allow the public to object to the destruction of our islands.

  14. Anonymous says:

    so what is the difference between low-lying wetlands and swamp?

  15. Anonymous says:

    This latest deflection continues to show that the CPA doesn’t have any genuine idea what service it is intended to be providing to their true client, the people of the Cayman Islands. It’s just a sham rubber stamp Board for developers.

    • Anonymous says:

      They’re not rubber stamping much these days. Read the minutes. They defer almost every single project currently. That drags out the application process by several more months. Then they refer to the NCC then defer again. They’re costing developers tons of money.

      That said, you’re right that they have no clue what they’re doing. Regardless of what side of things you stand on, current CPA is absolutely clueless.

      • Anonymous says:

        Deferring isn’t a “no”, it’s putting that determination off on the hope of a more crooked future regime to green light (like that’s even possible). There are many developers with a long game that seem happy to wait for their bought political party to either win back or seize control by coup, and then Cabinet stamp their aspirations.

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