Christmas came early for North Side Malportas Pond landowners Tuesday night when the Central Planning Authority agreed to stop a land grab.
Owners of parcels of land around the pond were faced with a 17 December deadline to send letters of their objections to CPA’s plans to take in what amounts to 104 acres of private land.
The two-hour meeting at the North Side Civic Centre was filled with energy and emotion as landowners repeatedly told CPA, the Department of Environment and Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts that they thought it was wrong to take 300 feet of property from each parcel and designate it as public space.
‘I didn’t know anything about this until I heard about it from the people of North Side,’ Mr. Tibbetts told the crowd of about 45 people near the close of the meeting. ‘Because of how it has been handled there is an air of inherent mistrust. Something sensible can happen out of this.’
Pointing to a map that shows the 300 feet demarcation of where the CPA plans to take the land, Mr. Tibbetts asked, ‘Which Cabinet is going to approve this?
‘The process itself is not right. If I had anything to do with it I would start the process over. Stop dead.’
Landowners gathered Tuesday night after word got around in the North Side District that CPA had plans to take over the land. Harris McCoy, whose family owns land that abuts the pond, helped set up the meeting to get answers. The meeting was arranged by the landowners after it became obvious that Government had no plans to hold an open meeting about the land grab.
Not all landowners have received notification of CPA’s plans, still.
CPA said it needs to take in 300 feet around the circumference of Malportas Pond to environmentally protect the body of water and the animals that use it for habitat.
The issue arose after CPA approved plans for two subdivisions near the pond.
Subdivisions are required to set aside five per cent of land for public purposes.
CPA Chairman Dalkeith Bothwell said CPA took the stance that 300 feet around the pond would be designated for public space.
‘If we’re going to protect something, we have to look at it as a whole,’ Mr. Bothwell said.
‘I have no problem understanding the environmental need,’ said Mr. McCoy. ‘The majority of people in this room did not understand what you were doing and they were not properly notified.’
North Side resident and former MLA Ezzard Miller asked what the significance of Malportas Pond is and why the 300 feet is a magic number.
DoE head Gina Petrie said the 300 feet designation was set in the mid 1970s when a buffer was set for Meagre and Colliers ponds.
‘That does not mean there can’t be a discussion about the width of the buffer,’ she said.
Director of Planning Kenneth Ebanks said even if CPA does take in the 300 feet of each parcel of land ownership can stay in that person’s name.
‘What you can and cannot do…will remain somewhat restricted,’ he said.
This particular zoning is being suggested to stop development of houses, apartments, shopping centres and the like, he said.
Two things angered landowners the most: they were not all properly informed of CPA’s plans and there has never been any talk of compensation. Landowners who live overseas have also voiced objections.
Mr. Ebanks explained that property owners were to respond to CPA’s plans, discussions were to take place, the plan approved by Cabinet and then CPA would begin compensation negotiations with landowners using evaluations from Lands and Survey and from two private appraisers picked by land owners. It was not clear whether landowners had to pay for the private appraisers. It would be up to a magistrate to rule on the suggested compensation price.
Mr. Harris argued that landowners need to know what the compensation price will be before negotiations commence.
‘What you’re saying is ‘I’m going to do this and then I’ll talk to you about the price of your property,’ he said. ‘The market value depends on zoning. That doesn’t take a Philadelphia lawyer to figure out. People cannot make an informed decision about their assets unless they know what they’re giving up.’
Mr. Ebanks said compensation would be based on what the land is currently zoned.
‘Having this buffer in your backyard could add significant value to your property,’ Mr. Ebanks said.
North Side farmer William Ebanks is in danger of losing his entire pig farm if the buffer zone is approved.
He raised the issue of the stench that arises from the pond in hot weather. He predicted residents in the new subdivisions will complain loudly when summer arrives and they get a whiff of the pond.
‘The pond probably stinks now, but it could be much worse,’ Mrs. Petrie said. ‘Making it deeper is not going to help. There are places on this little rock where development should not take place. This is one of those. If you take the position that you have a right to develop to the edge of that pond, you and your families will live to rue the day.’
Landowner and legal council Winston Connolly said no Government-enforced buffer is needed.
‘The majority of the people in this room would not develop it,’ he said.
‘We, the North Side landowners have always protected Malportas Pond,’ said Coolidge Connolly. ‘I’m sure all the landowners here would want to continue to protect it. Why does Government have to come in now and protect it for us?’
The two new subdivisions are not being built by North Side residents, he pointed out.
‘What is going on there is not North Side residents,’ he said.
When asked to verbally state whether they want the Government-imposed buffer zone each landowner at the meeting said ‘no.’
‘Although we hear ‘no, no, no’ there is some avenue that people would like further discussion of the protection of Malportas Pond,’ said CPA’s Mr. Ebanks.
‘Let’s take a deep breath. Stop where you are, sit down and talk things over,’ advised Mr. Tibbetts, whose suggestion was met with applause.
Mr. McCoy has penned a letter to CPA explaining landowners’ objections and will attach a copy of the petition signed by a majority of the landowners who live on Grand Cayman and submit it to Planning by the 17 December deadline.
His letter asks CPA to indicate in writing that the proposal for rezoning has been stopped.