Hyatt owner seeks compensation for highway

 

The owners of the former Hyatt Regency hotel want the Cayman Islands government to pay up for land taken during the 2006 extension of the Esterley Tibbetts Highway. 

According to the Lands and Survey Department, attorneys for property owner Embassy Investments Ltd., submitted a claim for compensation Jan. 25. The owner had previously submitted a notice of intention to make a claim for compensation in February 2006. Lands and Survey information manager Uche Obi said “compensation for the road is still outstanding,” indicating the government had not paid Embassy anything for the land yet. 

The Esterley Tibbetts Highway cuts through the middle of the resort property. The highway was built after the inland portion of the hotel had been shuttered after Hurricane Ivan. The seaside portion of the hotel operates as Grand Cayman Beach Suites. On Aug. 20, the Caymanian Compass published a story detailing the long-running legal battles between Embassy and one of its insurance companies since the 2004 storm. 

The Compass submitted an open records request Aug. 19 to Lands and Survey, seeking documents pertaining to any agreements or correspondence between government and the Hyatt owner regarding the highway corridor, claims by the owner for road compensation, and any payments (or other compensation) made by government to the Hyatt owner in relation to the highway. The department provided the responsive records Aug. 23, just four days later. 

However, the department did withhold records containing details of the road compensation claims, referring to “ongoing negotiations for compensation” and citing a section of the Freedom of Information Law that allows a public authority to defer granting access to records until it is the public interest to do so. Accordingly, Mr. Obi wrote, “The records will be released within 14 days from the date of payment of compensation to the claimant in full and final statement of all heads of claim.” 

Mr. Obi wrote the department does not have record of any agreement between the government and the property owner relating to the construction of the highway; however, the documents provided indicate the hotel owner should have been aware of government’s intention to build the road. 

The department provided the Compass with a 1985 letter from then-Director of Planning Patrick Bruce King to the hotel developer’s architectural firm Chalmers Gibbs Martin Joseph, outlining the conditions of planning approval for the resort. One condition is “At the time, if ever, that the proposed parallel road to the West Bay Road receives Government approval for construction, the hotel owners shall be responsible for mitigating any and all impacts such as relocation of parking spaces that would be eliminated.” 

In 1998, then-Director of Planning James W. Corcoran wrote hotel developer Ellesmere-Brittania a letter that also refers to the future road. “The tennis and parking are for temporary uses and shall be required to be removed at the time of construction of Peninsula Way,” he wrote. 

The Roads Law outlines the process for claiming compensation for land taken to build roads and technically is overseen by the National Roads Authority. The Lands and Survey Department functions as the roads authority’s agent for compensation claims. 

According to Lands and Survey instructions for filing road compensation claims, the claim can be filed anytime after the ‘notice of intention’ is submitted. The claim must be submitted within one year after the proposed road is scheduled as a public road. This portion of the Esterley Tibbetts Highway was not gazetted as a public road until Jan. 30, 2012, meaning Embassy submitted its claim just before the one-year deadline. 

The road compensation instructions also state that the
notice of intention must be filed within 90 days of the gazettal of the government’s
declaration of intent to take the land. The government officially published its
declaration of intent in May 2005 and filed an additional declaration of intent
in December 2005.

According to Mr. Obi, the Hyatt owner submitted its initial
notice of intention to claim in July 2005 and a section notice in February
2006, each within the 90-day deadline.

The land lost to the road in the vicinity of the former Hyatt is roughly an acre or more, according to the Cayman Islands Gazette and accompanying map of the highway corridor.

* This story was changed to include correct dates of when
government published its declarations of intent to take the Hyatt owner’s
property, and when the owner filed notice of intentions to claim compensation
for the property lost. 

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