The Cayman Islands Cabinet has approved the purchase of property adjacent to Smith Cove public beach for US$5.4 million (CI$4.4 million), Planning Minister Kurt Tibbetts said Wednesday.

The price is about US$1.2 million more than a private developer bought the same parcel of land for in 2015.

The purchase, made with money from the government’s Environmental Protection Fund, had been approved via a Cabinet paper and a draft contract was being prepared for Cabinet Secretary Samuel Rose to sign.

Once the purchase is made official, the land would be rezoned as “public open space,” Mr. Tibbetts said.

The government agreed “in principle” last month to purchase the property on the northern end of Smith Cove, also known as Smith Barcadere, on South Church Street in George Town to prevent the long-time public beach area from being partially developed.

Mr. Tibbetts told an audience of Progressives party supporters gathered at the George Town Seafarers Hall Wednesday night that he was contacted by Central Planning Authority chairman A. L. Thompson about the application to develop the property and that he had discussions with the developer shortly afterward. Mr. Tibbetts said it was “a myth” that other entities had convinced the government to make the land purchase following a public outcry on the issue.

Minister Tibbetts said the government has looked “several times” at purchasing Pageant Beach but that the offering price was “three to four times” what the property was worth.

“I told the developer [at the time of the meeting] that this was in the country’s best interests,” he said.

Premier Alden McLaughlin said in October that the purchase agreement with Bronte Development Ltd. would not exceed the cost the developer incurred in the property purchase and the costs of planning the development.

Publicly available property transfer records show that a company named TFG Cayman Ltd., which was behind a planning application to build condominiums at the north end of Smith Cove, bought the property from a firm controlled by the Dart group of companies last year for US$4.25 million.

Although the developer said the buildings would be set well back from the popular beach and its adjacent public areas, the application led to the establishment of a Save the Cove group and a petition that gathered 3,000 signatures in four days.

The National Trust also joined calls to protect the area.

Pageant Beach

During Wednesday night’s public meeting, members of the Progressives party questioned whether another George Town waterfront property might be purchased via the Environmental Protection Fund – Pageant Beach – located along Seven Mile Beach just north of The Wharf restaurant. One attendee at the meeting said residents were concerned about the property “being sold off.”

The beachfront property is thought to be worth considerably more than the land adjacent to Smith Cove. Estimates put Pageant Beach’s worth at more than US$20 million.

There would be enough money in the government environmental fund to make such a purchase, but it would significantly deplete that fund.

According to the 2016/17 government budget documents, the Environmental Protection Fund contains more than $59 million.

Minister Tibbetts said the government has looked “several times” at purchasing Pageant Beach but that the offering price was “three to four times” what the property was worth.

Former MLA Lucille Seymour said during Wednesday’s meeting that she was aware of a private citizen who had offered US$30 million at one stage during the former Progressives administration (2005-2009) to “keep the property,” but she said that deal never went through.

“It would be a good idea if the same good-hearted people who fought for the Smith Cove could do the same for Pageant Beach,” Ms. Seymour said.

Mr. Tibbetts said government would look at the potential purchase again to “see if it is possible.”

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