Precarious situation for South Sound cemetery

A developer has removed sand from along the South Sound Community Cemetery as it prepares the site for new luxury condos. – Photo: Taneos Ramsay

A luxury condo development under construction on South Sound Road is raising concerns among residents who believe it is too near the adjacent South Sound Community Cemetery.

Graves appear precariously close to a drop-off of sand, in places more than 10 feet deep, that has been cut out by the construction crew.

The developer and an official with the planning department said the approval for construction of The Tides did not include a retaining wall to keep the neighboring cemetery site stable, but they hope the sand wall will hold as the company, NCB Development, finishes preparing the site.

Speaking Monday, NCB’s Matthew Wight said his company applied recently to add a retaining wall along the property line with the cemetery as part of the development, but it would not be installed until later during construction.

“There are graves there that are at risk,” Mr. Wight acknowledged, but he added that there is an “adequate buffer” keeping the sandy hill intact.

Paul Hurlston, who calls himself the “unofficial caretaker” of the South Sound cemetery, has many members of his family interred in the cemetery and has his own vault set aside in the hill overlooking the sea. He said the developers removed seagrape trees that helped stabilize the site and the sand as they cut into the hill.

He said the way the developers treated the site was “very disrespectful.”

“Just because you have a lot of money doesn’t mean you can do this kind of thing,” he said. Between late last week, when Mr. Hurlston contacted the Cayman Compass with concerns, and Monday morning, it appeared that those working at the site had added more sand to the wall along the property line with the cemetery.

The headstones have familiar names – Bush, Hurlston, Hinds – and many in the seaside cemetery date back to the middle of the 20th century. The oldest headstones still standing date to 1910 and 1912.

Sir Vassel Johnson, one of the architects of Cayman’s financial services industry and Cayman’s first knight, is interred on the hill overlooking the sea and Sand Cay.

But many of the graves are unmarked since Hurricane Ivan, which wreaked havoc on the site in 2004 and unearthed vaults, according to Mr. Hurlston. Many of the caskets and vaults are not anchored, so they are essentially floating in the sand. Mr. Hurlston, a retired seaman who was born and raised in South Sound, said he was concerned about what could happen to the private cemetery if a big storm hit the island.

“I can’t figure out how planning gave them permission to do this,” he said.

The Central Planning Authority gave the developer permission in January to build the 24-unit building, described in marketing materials as luxury oceanfront condominiums.

Planning Department Deputy Director Ron Sanderson told the Compass that the planning board did not require the developer to include a retention wall during construction. “The time frame is pretty quick,” Mr. Sanderson said.

If something did happen to the site, he said, the developer “would have to take corrective measures” to stabilize the site and re-inter any vaults that came out of the sand.

“They will have to put a retaining wall in, but that is later down the road,” the deputy planning director said.

Mr. Wight said the original plans did not call for a retaining wall, but his company has applied for planning permission to include a wall along the property line with the cemetery. He said the site will be five feet below the ground level on the cemetery hill, making a wall necessary once the construction is well under way.

Mr. Wight said construction is progressing on schedule, with wells to be dug this month. If construction for the Tides continues as planned, the project will be completed by the end of 2017. He said almost half of the million-dollar-plus units have already sold.