Major changes for development in Cayman

Higher fees, speedier process proposed

Cayman
Islands Premier McKeeva Bush has proposed sweeping changes to the country’s
Development and Planning Law and regulations that will relax some rules for
developers and aim to make the planning process faster for applicants.

Those
proposals were presented Friday for debate in legislative assembly.

The
plan also calls for significant fee increases, particularly for developers
working on new projects in higher-density, upscale areas such as Seven Mile
Beach, South Sound and central George Town.

The
proposals have been under review for nearly a year, having been drawn up by a
public-private sector committee led by local architect Burns Connolly.

Mr.
Bush said many of the issues addressed in the amendments to the planning law
have plagued the Cayman Islands for years. He said government sought to address
delays and difficulties in the process that led some developers to simply “give
up” on projects in the past.

But
with improved services come higher fees; a proposal for which the premier said
he expected to “take his licks”.

“I
can see the headlines that people complain,” Mr. Bush said. “Well, I could see
why some developers will complain.”

“But
good development is going to continue to come here, and there are some things
we are going to have to chase away.”

Some
of the changes proposed under the amended law include a reduction in the
distance requirements for development of certain commercial projects. Right
now, developers have to “poll” everyone within 1,500 feet of a development
prior to obtaining planning approval. That distance is shortened to 1,000 feet
under the new proposal.

There
will be strict requirements for individual property owners and commercial
properties to clean up and maintain their land. Fines of $5,000 per day for
derelict properties are proposed for scofflaws under the new bill. That fine
rises to $25,000 in tourism centres where property owners have ignored Central
Planning Authority orders to clean up.

The
law also introduces measures that allow government to take those individuals to
court for ignoring the orders.

“We
can no longer continue to leave rubbish and abandoned buildings on our
properties,” Mr. Bush said.

The
law would allow planning permits to be extended from one year to five years, an
increase that would allow enough time for building inspections and the like.
Right now, Mr. Bush said some permits are expiring before all the regulatory
work for a property is completed, forcing planning applicants to re-apply.

The
law would also require appeals of planning board decisions to be heard within
six months.

Under
the new proposal, changes to planning regulations only need be approved by
Cabinet. Right now, those have to be voted upon by the full Legislative Assembly
– one of the few government regulatory documents that have such a requirement.

Planning
definitions have been changed to include ‘planned area developments’; these are
large, 40 acres or greater properties that are of ‘mixed use’ – typically
meaning both residential and commercial.

Mr.
Bush said some effort has been made in the amended law to minimise the effects
of these larger developments on the surrounding community.

Also,
planning permission will now be formally required for interior development of a
building that changes the use of the property or which has some impact on the
surrounding environment. Mr. Bush said this has been informally enforced
already, but that government wanted to cement it within the law.

Fees increased

The
current planning law and regulations section Cayman into three specific development
areas; they are referred to as ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’ areas – with ‘A’ being the
highest density or more costly and “C’ areas being the least expensive.

Under
the planning regulations, certain areas along the coast of South Sound in
George Town have been added to the ‘A’ planning areas, along with the Seven
Mile Beach corridor and central George Town. Infrastructure fees for those
upper echelon parts of the Islands are now set at $2.50 per square foot.

The
amendment bill, if approved, would change infrastructure fees assessed based on
type of development.

As an
example, for newly built industrial buildings and single-family homes in the
‘A’ areas, the new law would not change the current $2.50 per square foot infrastructure
fee.

But
for houses greater than 5,000 square feet that fee goes to $3.00, for
institutions it would be $3.50, and for commercial buildings such as hotels and
condos it would go to $4.50 per square foot.

Similarly
in the ‘B” category areas, the current $1.50 per square foot infrastructure fee
would go to $2.00 for a 5,000 square foot house, and $2.50 per square foot for
a institution, hotel or other commercial development.

New
development in the ‘B” areas would also pay a single, one-time charge to
support the country’s affordable housing projects.

Mr.
Bush said ‘C’ development areas would not increase their current $.50 per
square foot cost for new construction.

“Government
was careful not to impact the local developers across the Islands at this
time,” Mr. Bush said.

The
premier said the idea with the increased fees is partly to support affordable
housing, as well as infrastructure projects that are required when new
developments are built.

“The
developers have to expect…when you go and build a building that is built next
to the government administration building, that is going to have a huge impact
on roads,” he said. “Now, we have to go and spend $2 million to fix the roads?”

The
government is also proposing a way of staggering planning fees for projects, so
that only 50 per cent of those would be due “up front” – when blueprints are
submitted for approval of any project. Mr. Bush said he hoped this would allow
developers to plan better for upcoming costs.

According
to figures presented Friday at Legislative Assembly, applications for new
construction projects in Cayman were down significantly in 2009 compared to
previous years. However, Mr. Bush said he didn’t believe Cayman had “missed the
boat” with regard to collecting on development.

“Cayman
will go through another phase of development and this time we must be ready to
get from it…more than we have in the past,” he said.

Debate
on amendments to the Development and Planning Law was expected to continue
Monday.

 

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