Cabinet will get new powers to waive some planning fees to encourage development under amendments to the law passed last week.
New provisions to help facilitate hotel projects in Planned Area Development zones and changes to the appeals process for planning decisions were also approved by legislators.
A proposal to allow 10-story hotel development in a tourism zone in Beach Bay, Bodden Town, is also under consideration among proposed changes to the regulations accompanying the law.
A five-star hotel project is in the early stages of the planning process for that area.
The Legislative Assembly passed the amendments to the Development and Planning Law on Thursday afternoon following a two-day debate. The new regulations – detailed guidelines for implementing the law – have yet to be approved.
One change to the law, which drew significant criticism from some legislators, is a new clause allowing Cabinet, or a delegated minister, to waive certain planning fees.
Premier Alden McLaughlin said the amendment was designed to give government a legal framework to offer concessions to developers in times of economic necessity.
“The bill seeks to regularize what every Cabinet that has ever been here has done – to give concessions, whether it be a waiver of planning fees, import duties or whatever else – to encourage a developer to do a development,” he added.
“We do need to grant certain concessions to developers to get projects started now – not in two to three years’ time. It would be different if the economy was motoring along.”
Another change to the law will prevent anyone who is not directly affected by a development from appealing decisions of the Central Planning Authority.
Currently, only people who live within 1,000 feet of a planned project can object to a planning application.
But in what officials describe as a procedural anomaly, anyone in the Cayman Islands can appeal the authority’s decision on an application. The legal change means only those who were involved in the initial application can be involved in the appeal.
Minister Kurt Tibbetts said the change would eliminate “frivolous appeals” that cause “lengthy delays” to developments.
“I am told and reminded that it will prevent certain busybodies from being busy when they shouldn’t be,” he said. A further amendment to the law, in combination with a proposed amendment to the regulations, removes an existing requirement for “polling” to take place when hotel developments are planned in a residential zone.
Under the current legal framework, would-be developers are required to get explicit approval from a minimum of 51 percent of neighboring landowners.
The change was designed, according to government, to sync the law with the Planned Area Development process, which allows for large mixed-use developments, including hotels, that may be out of step with existing zoning.
Ezzard Miller, legislator for North Side, said that, if passed, the amendments and regulations would allow for a 10-story hotel to be built at the end of Beach Bay Road in Bodden Town, without polling.
He also raised concerns about the new power to waive fees for developers.
He said, “Any investor must meet requirements – it can’t be right for us to pass legislation and the possibility or probability exists that the elected arm of Cabinet can change them to suit a developer.”
He said developers who want fee waivers should be told to “go on their merry way” until they could come up with a development that did not need concessions to make it profitable.
He said he was concerned at the amount of provisions that were being moved out of the law and into regulations, suggesting the intent was to allow Cabinet to waive them to entice developers.
Government, however, approved a Committee Stage amendment to the bill requiring any changes to the regulations to be approved through the full Legislative Assembly.
Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush said it is sometimes necessary for government to have the means to prevent important applications from getting “bogged down” by appeals and red tape.
“If there is some national imperative to expeditiously undertake a project then government ought to have the flexibility to do so, subject to reasonable consultation,” he added.
Other changes in the law were characterized principally as legislative housekeeping, designed to make the process more efficient and for the wording of all aspects of the law and regulations to be in sync.
Mr. McLaughlin added, “These are proposals put forward by the technical team to bring changes that they see are necessary to improve the whole development and planning process and to make it more viable in some instances to attract the kind of development projects the country will benefit from.”