On Wednesday, Dinah Powell videotaped the demolition of her husband’s family home, a structure that has stood at Manse Road in Bodden Town since 1957.
It wouldn’t seem to be a particularly happy occasion at first glance, but for Mrs. Powell and her family, it was cause to celebrate.
“Some unlawful persons … are doing drugs over there and you could smell it from up here,” Mrs. Powell said from her home across the street. “It is a relief.”
The problem with the property, close to the intersection of Manse and Shamrock Road on one of the more attractive sections of oceanfront land on Grand Cayman, is that it was damaged in 2004’s Hurricane Ivan and never repaired. It took nearly nine years for the structure to be demolished and that only occurred at the property owner’s request due to ongoing crime-related concerns.
Bodden Town representative and Health Minister Osbourne Bodden admits it’s been a slow process getting the “Ivanised” homes – as he calls them – in his district knocked down. There are still a handful of derelict homes on prime beach front property that have never been touched since 2004. The demolition on Wednesday was done by Watler’s Metal Products, which agreed to perform the work in exchange for aggregate collected from the demolition site.
“[The Manse Road home] is about the fifth one torn down since the hurricane,” Mr. Bodden said. “There’s [another derelict home] right next door and another two around the corner.”
In a way, Wednesday’s demolition highlights a difficulty in the Cayman Islands Planning Law and regulations that existed for more than a decade.
“The problem is that we don’t have minimum property standards,” Mr. Bodden said. “We don’t have anything to force owners [to clean up or maintain their properties], we can only encourage them.”
The issue was brought before the Legislative Assembly in early 2007 by Mr. Bodden, who was then a backbench member. He said at the time that, if an owner did not wish to fix or maintain a property, there was little assistance provided to government in the law.
The process at that time involved abatement notices that could lead to court action. However, even if a property owner is convicted under the law, the penalty amounted to a $200 initial fine and $10 per day if the offence continues. Since then, penalties against derelict property owners have changed. Under the Development and Planning Law 2010, fines for derelict properties are $5,000 per day from the date an abatement notice is given, or $25,000 per day in a hotel-tourism designated zone.
Still, he said going to court is difficult and time-consuming.
“Sometimes it’s not even a building, it can be a case of a really overgrown property in the middle of a nice development. You have to be able to say to the owners, ‘if you don’t keep the place looking nice, you’re going to face the penalty’. I think it’s only fair.”
Some success … at a price
A 2007 demolition of a home adjacent to Bodden Town’s Coe Wood Public Beach highlighted some of the legislative gymnastics government had to go through to demolish “Ivanised” homes.
According Mr. Bodden, the woman listed as the homeowner purchased the property right before Ivan struck in 2004. Mr. Bodden said she lived in Taiwan and did not appear to be spending any time on island.
A road construction company teamed up with government departments in 2007 to clean up the area around the house, but Cayman Islands law prevented the home from being torn down.
A few months later, a decision was made to buy the land using government’s compulsory acquisition powers. Those allow the taking of private property for public projects. Since the owner has never been identified, Mr. Bodden said money from the sale would be held in escrow until such time as she could be located. It’s unknown if that ever occurred.