Residents opposed to the Emerald Sound housing development
in South Sound will meet Thursday 21 July, to formulate a plan of action
against the project.
The project, which proposes building approximately 170
apartments and 82 houses beside South Sound Road, was first mooted in 2007 and
an application was submitted to the Planning Department in December 2009. The
Central Planning Authority will hear the application on 3 August.
A petition opposing the development that covers about
91 acres between Bel Air Road and Old Crew Road has attracted 1,100 signatures.
On 12 July, planning officer Burton Schneider wrote to
objectors of the application to invite them to the upcoming meeting in August,
but the choice of date for the meeting has brought criticism from opponents to
the development who say many of them will be off island at the time.
Katrina Jurn, who is organising the meeting of local
residents and objectors to the project on Thursday night in South Sound said,
“People are extremely concerned that the planning meeting is going to happen
when so many people are away.
It seems now the developer is ready to go before the
CPA … Now it’s set for 3 August. We are all very suspicious about the
However, chief architect for the Emerald Sound
project, Burns Conolly said the date of the meeting had been set by the Central
Planning Authority and not by the developer.
He said the application had been “sitting in Planning”
for 18 months.
“Last month we asked them to put it before the Central
Planning Authority,” he said, adding that the developer could not request a
specific date from the Authority.
Mr. Conolly said the application from developer Rene
Hislop was almost identical to the original one submitted to the Planning
Department, but some minor “tweaking” involving canal circulation had been
added following computer modelling work.
Opponents to the project have raised several concerns,
including the possibility that the development will make the area more
vulnerable to flooding in storms and hurricanes; that deep peat will leach into
the Sound through the channel that will be dug to give boat-owners access to
the Sound from the canal by their homes; moving South Sound road further inland
will ruin the view of the Sound from the road; and that a bridge built over the
channel would mean road access would be cut off if the bridge were damaged in a
There are also concerns from residents about the creation of
a marina where Emerald Sounds home owners could dock their boats.
“Boating safety is also an issue. Apparently the South Sound
channel is dangerous to navigate even for experienced seamen. If they have a
marina with people with their boats in and out of the Sound and the channel,
there are problems there,” Ms Jurn said.
However, Mr. Conolly said most of the concerns raised by
opponents to the development were based on “myths”.
“They talk about the swamp being deep, and us digging
a channel in the South Sound – we are literally digging an area the size of a
large house lot, 0.7 acres,” he said, adding that tests had been done to
determine the swamp or peat depth, canal circulation and coastal modelling.
He said an examination of the area determined the peat
was not as deep as the objectors claimed. “The deepest we found … was minus-2
feet [2 feet below sea level] before we hit marl,” he said.
As a resident and home owner in that area himself, he
insisted that he would not be involved in a project that would be destructive
to South Sound. He pointed out that the developer also had 22 lots from a
different development on the sea side of the road.
“It would be insane for him to do a project that would
be environmentally damaging to the South Sound,” Mr. Conolly said.
He said the canal walls would be 8 feet high. “There
is no area of land around these canals less than eight feet high. If water comes
out of the canals in a storm, everyone around will already be under water,” he
Mr. Conolly said that in 1970, 85 acres of South Sound
was dredged up to 10 feet deep to create Pirates Lair and other housing
developments in the surrounding area and that some of the people who were now
objecting to dredging and the relocation of the road were living on land
created from the previous dredging.
“We’re dredging an area [for a channel] that goes out
to one of the already dredged holes,” he said.
The Department of Environment, in a coastal works
review of the Emerald Sound proposal, said the department did “not recommend
that the South Sound area be modified in such a major way in order to
accommodate a single private subdivision”, as it would be the first of its kind
in South Sound and would establish a precedent for this type of development.
The Department of Environment “strongly recommends
that Cabinet should not consider granting approval for this application in the
absence of comprehensive information”. “Against the background of growing
public concern over further impacts to our fragile marine and coastal
environment and the loss of public amenities, the challenge to Cabinet is to
ensure that decisions to permit development which significantly alters coastal
environments and sets precedents can be fully justified such that a net benefit
to the country (i.e. total benefits are greater than total costs, including
costs associated with the loss of environmental resources and public amenities)
can be clearly demonstrated,” said the November, 2010 report from the
Department of Environment.
The Department of Environment recommended additional
modelling outputs to show the quality of water deposited into the South Sound
and the impacts on the system, as well as an economic impact assessment and
cost benefit analysis should be done to show the net economic benefit of the
project to Cayman.
In a separate response to the Planning Department from
the Department of Environment in March last year regarding the project, the
Department of Environment also addressed the relocation of the road, stating:
“It is the DoE’s view that government should not be relocating roads around the
islands just to accommodate developers who will obtain lucrative returns as a
result, whilst the public benefit may be minimal.”
It said relocation of the road would impact stormwater
entering the South Sound, an assertion Mr. Conolly denies, saying: “The road is
moved to allow double bicycle lanes and separate pedestrian lanes and quality
landscaping. The road will be higher and thus less susceptible to wave impact,”