Nearly three and a half hours of detailed presentations and a question and answer session last week did not convince residents of South Sound to embrace the controversial Emerald Sound development.
More than 80 people attended the sometimes heated meeting on Thursday night, 28 July, which was led by the chief architect of the project, Burns Conolly.
The architect presented results of studies done on the property, blueprints of the project, details of the realignment of the South Sound Road, the impact of building a canal system and a channel linking it to the sea and information about a bridge to span the channel that will be cut through the road.
Mr. Conolly said he hoped the meeting had dispelled many of the “myths” and misinformation he said surrounded the project, which he said would earn the government about $45 million in import duty, work permit, planning and other fees.
However, by the end of the meeting, it appeared many of the attendees still opposed the planning application of the project, which will be heard by the Central Planning Authority on Wednesday, 3 August.
Quizzed on why it was necessary to move a 2,300 feet long section of South Sound Road inland about 30 to 75 feet, Mr. Conolly repeatedly insisted the road realignment in front of the development was being done for three reasons – to create a wider road to accommodate cycle lanes; to better orient the road to a roundabout at the junction Old Crewe Road proposed by the National Roads Authority; and to allow for a single entryway for 22 housing lots on a separate development also owned by Rene Hislop’s RC Estates on the sea side of the road, rather than 22 individual driveways that would access the road.
As part of the 91-acre development, which stretches from Bel Air Drive to Old Crewe Road, the developer would raise the height of the road and restrict flooding coming into the area, the architect said.
Katrina Jurn told Mr. Conolly residents in the area would have “no problem with 22 exits” accessing South Sound Road, so if this was one of the incentives to move the road, it was not necessary. She also queried why the developer didn’t simply develop the land without canals.
Several people said they did not believe the road was being moved for the good of the community, but rather to increase the value and size of lots on the other side of the road.
Mr. Conolly said the lots on the sea side of the road received planning permission 10 years ago. “Whether we move the road or not, there will be 22 homes there. The only difference is, instead of having 22 driveways, we’ll have one,” he said.
Mr. Conolly showed a computer model of the impact of floods in the area due to sea swells in a hurricane, showing what parts would be under water as different wave heights occurred. At wave heights of six feet, the model showed the external walls of the canals holding, but with several areas of South Sound Road and inland areas already badly flooded. He said this countered the myth that the development would lead to worse flooding in the area during hurricanes.
Billy Adam asked why the Hazard Management department had not been consulted about the development when there were concerns about flooding.
He also said the Emerald Sound development, with its canal and bridge plan, was setting a precedent for developers in other parts of the island and he called for the long-awaited National Conservation Law, a draft of which has been written but is still waiting to be passed in the Legislative Assembly.
“Developers have fought against the National Conservation Law from 1975,” Mr. Adam said. “They fought against this country ever having a development plan. We do not have a development plan, we don’t even have a zoning plan and until we get those things, we’re constantly going to be fighting these little battles on each and every single project as they come up. It is a shame that this country and our legislators cannot get their act together and give this country a National Conservation Law.”Several George Town MLAs attended the meeting, including government ministers Mike Adam and Mark Scotland, Elio Solomon and Opposition Leader Alden McLaughlin. None of the politicians spoke at the gathering.
Mr. Conolly told the gathering that if the luxury canal-side homes plan did not go ahead, the other option the developer was considering was an affordable housing project, which would bring a bigger return with 1,300 apartments being built on the site, something he said would have a much bigger environmental and traffic impact on the area and which would likely bring down property prices in the neighbourhood.
He said the current proposed development, which includes building 170 apartments and 82 homes on 50 acres of the 91 acres, with the rest of the land being used for landscaping, canals and public space, was the lowest density feasible for the site.
Architect Michael Godfrey read from a report issued by the Department of Environment which raised concerns about the canals flushing pollutants from the development into the South Sound. “It won’t be the Emerald Sound, it’ll be the ‘Brownish Water Sound’,” he said.
He challenged Mr. Conolly and the developer to first address the ongoing problem of reddish-brown water appearing in the Sound before going ahead with the project. “When you solve that problem, come back and we can do business,” he said.
He said every time the tide flushed out the canal, pollution would enter the sound. He said the Department of Environment report said the dilution of pollutants should be 10 per cent after four days. “Yours is up to 75 per cent,” he said. “This is going to pollute the entire Sound. This is going to pollute people’s beaches. You are going to have a serious problem on your hands when you start polluting all the beaching going right down.”
Mr. Conolly countered this by saying the data referred to in the report was based on old information.
Peter Milburn told Mr. Conolly the precedent being set by this project was a dangerous one that “no-one agrees with”. Currently, the only part of Grand Cayman where canals have been built for housing developments is at North Sound. The Emerald Sound development, if planning application is granted, would be the first on South Sound to include canals.
“This is a precedent of South Sound …. the North Sound has so many canals …. I think one day what is going to happen is the whole island is going to get cut in two by one of those canals,” Mr. Milburn said.
He said building on the lots owned by RC Estates on the opposite side of the road would ruin the sea view along the road. “This is one of the few areas you can go along and see the sea. If people build on that, what’s the point?”, he asked.
However, Mr. Conolly said that in the area in front of the Emerald Sound site, there is currently no view of the sea.
Another attendee, Captain Paul Hurlstone said he could not support the plan to cut through the road to accommodate a channel from the sound into the canals.
Mr. Conolly said he hoped the presentation would change people’s perception of the impact of the development.
Towards the end of the long meeting, tempers became frayed as one attendee accused the opponents of the project of standing in the way of development and preventing Caymanians from getting jobs. “Every project that is put forward in this country, you people are running it down,” he said, adding that people were starving and turning to crime because they were out of work.
Emerald Sound development drawings