An oceanfront piece of land on the edge of Smith Cove is being developed into a condo complex, with 24 two- and three-bedroom homes.
The privately owned land to the north of the beach includes a grassy area and rocks commonly used by children to jump into the water, as well as a small portion of one of the sandy beaches.
Despite reassurances from the developer, the application has sparked concern that the public experience of one of Cayman’s most popular beaches could be affected.
The plot of land, previously owned by the Dart group, was offered to government, which owns the rest of Smith Cove, including the beach area, in one version of the National Roads Authority deal, but never made it into any of the final agreements.
The Dart group confirmed Friday that it had sold the land to a private party more than a year ago.
Now, a group called TFG Cayman Ltd. has applied to the Central Planning Authority to build two blocks of condos and a swimming pool on the plot.
Tim Peck of architectural firm OBMI, which submitted the plans on behalf of the developer, said the development would be set well back from the water line – around 70 feet.
He said there would be no fences or obtrusive architecture, and natural vegetation would separate the development from the publicly used areas. He said access and the experience of using the beach would remain largely unchanged.
“We are very sensitive to the fact that that area is a very popular public beach,” he said, “and we are trying to create a nice buffer so that it doesn’t impose on the beach area.
“Obviously, there will be a building adjacent to the beach, but the area itself won’t be materially altered. The seagrape trees and the shaded area will still be there and there will be a natural buffer.”
Michael Joseph of RE/MAX is involved with the project as part of the sales team. He said he learned to swim on Smith Cove and grew up jumping off the rocks to the north of the beach area.
He said he had not been aware that a section of the wider beach area was private property until the project was proposed. But he said the developer had agreed for the public areas and access to be retained, providing a 75-foot buffer between the property line and the development.
“I think it is something that people will look at and talk about,” he said. “The developer is 100 percent aware of the sensitivity. They are not going to do anything aggressive or that infringes on a beautiful site that is part of Cayman’s heritage.”
He said the land, ultimately, was privately owned, and it was better for Cayman that it was in the hands of a responsible developer who would respect the areas that had been traditionally used by the public.
“There will be zero impact on the jumping rocks and the right of way to the public sections,” he added.
He said the planning regulations permit lot coverage of up to 40 percent and up to 49 apartments in the area, but the developer was proposing to use only 23.5 percent of the site and build 24 apartments.
Nonetheless, some neighbors in the Smith Cove area are concerned.
Adam Johnson of the neighboring Webster Estates said the development would potentially destroy valuable green space at one of Cayman’s most tranquil spots.
“Preserving Smith Cove for future generations should be the obligation of all Caymanians, including developers. Once this national treasure is gone, it’s gone for good,” he said.
“For me, it represents what I have grown to love about Cayman and Caymanians – barbecues on the beach, families getting together, friends meeting for a beer – and this is what I want for my children and grandchildren.”
Despite the developer’s reassurances, he believes the site should remain undeveloped.
“A 24-unit, three-story condo complex set back 70 feet will still change the tranquil and pristine nature of this historic landmark,” he said. “Not to mention they will also put a car park below that will make the overall height 50 feet.”
Morne Botes, who also lives in the area, said there were no guarantees that the public access would be retained in perpetuity.
“As a local resident, who visits Smith Cove a few times a week, it would be a tremendous loss to see this natural beauty be developed. As a developer myself, I see the point of the landowners and their agents who want to make a profit but some things will be forever lost by this development – just think of all the weddings and baptisms that have taken place on this treasure of Cayman through the years.”
The name TFG Cayman Ltd. has been corrected in this article. — Ed.