We knew Tuesday’s front page story, “Development planned on edge of Smith Cove,” would generate controversy among the community. And it has.
Smith Cove (or, as many longtime residents know it, Smith Barcadere) is a national, natural treasure. For decades, the white sandy beach–flanked turquoise lagoon has been a magnet for swimmers, sunbathers and tourists in the South Church Street area.
Simply put, Smith Cove is the epitome of a beautiful public space.
Not so, however, for the property right next door. Yes, it is beautiful. But no, it is not public. It is private property, formerly belonging to the Dart Group but now in the hands of developers seeking to build 24 two- and three-bedroom condominiums.
Don’t pick up the torches and protest signs just yet. For now, the developers appear to be approaching their project in a conscientious and responsible manner, adhering to setback requirements, stating that there will be no fences and relying on existing vegetation to provide separation between the beach and the new buildings.
“We are very sensitive to the fact that that area is a very popular public beach, and we are trying to create a nice buffer so that it doesn’t impose on the beach area,” said Tim Peck of architectural firm OBMI.
In other words, the developers are saying — and appearing to be doing — “all the right things.” That’s their choice.
It is important to recognize that landowners are under no obligation whatsoever to do anything — or refrain from doing anything — with their own private property, except as it accords with their own wishes and existing law. If someone did want to build a wall splitting Smith Cove in two, and they could obtain the necessary permits and licenses, that would be their prerogative.
Not that we, personally, are in favor of barricades in beauty spots, but the protection of private property rights is so fundamental that to argue against that concept, even in the case of our precious Smith Cove, could — and should — send negative tremors throughout our society.
In the case of Smith Cove, opprobrium should be directed not toward the developers, but toward the government, namely the Progressives and their leader, Premier Alden McLaughlin.
You see, the government not too long ago had the opportunity to acquire the privately held portion of land adjoining Smith Cove — and walked away from it.
As part of the “NRA Agreement” that enabled the creation of the new Seven Mile Public Beach and the Kimpton hotel, Dart had placed the parcel of land next to Smith Cove on the negotiating table. Instead of making a deal, Premier McLaughlin and his government picked up their chips and said, in effect, no thanks.
We certainly understand if the government didn’t want to acquire the Smith Cove land amid all the moving parts of the complex NRA Agreement and its amendments.
However, if officials knew Dart was willing to part with the property, and they did place value on protecting the public space from encroaching development, why didn’t they do a separate deal for what is, in the context of the public sector budget, a relatively small amount of money?
Premier McLaughlin and the government he leads have no choice but to take ownership of this issue — since they didn’t take ownership of this beautiful property.
For better or worse, Smith Cove can now rightly be called “Alden Pond.”