At Tuesday’s opening of Dart’s Kimpton Seafire Resort, comprising Grand Cayman’s first pair of 10-story buildings, Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush floated a big (actually a very big) idea – allowing developers to construct buildings two, or even three, times as tall as the new Kimpton.
While ambitious proposals are readily available currency at the beginning of political campaign seasons, Mr. Bush’s suggestion is bold, attention-grabbing and utterly serious.
Remember, Mr. Bush, during his tenure as leader of the government, was never a man of small ideas – or initiatives. He championed the building of the Ritz-Carlton resort, Health City Cayman Islands, Cayman Enterprise City and, of course, the Kimpton Seafire resort itself.
To be clear, the Compass is not endorsing the construction of 30-story buildings in the Cayman Islands – not right now and certainly not until much more thought and deliberation informs such decisions. That being said, we are opposed to closed minds and in favor of open debate.
The idea itself is sure to be contentious. Indeed, the initial response to Mr. Bush’s suggestion from some quarters has been, predictably, a knee-jerk “No, never!”
If the country were to move forward with allowing such towers, it would be a truly transformational decision for Cayman, one that would demand sober consideration from a number of different perspectives, including developmental, economic, planning, social, environmental and engineering. Just think, for example, of the implications that those projects would have on transportation infrastructure, airlift requirements or demand for basic utilities such as water, electricity and solid waste disposal.
The architects of the policy should consist of a broad-based group of highly regarded people, with a key focus of the conversation to be the fundamental question “What do we want Cayman to be?”
Delving deeper, that question should be reframed for each district and community in Cayman. Is the kind of development that is good for Seven Mile Beach the same for Savannah, or for North Side, or for Blossom Village in Little Cayman? Of course not.
What we don’t need is a politically driven referendum, or, just as bad, a continuation of the current course of lawmakers approving “line-item” amendments to development and building laws as a series of reactions to individual projects. (For example, in the span of about a decade, Cayman’s maximum allowable building height doubled from five to 10 stories, with the construction of the seven-story Ritz-Carlton, the nine-story WaterColours and now the 10-story Kimpton.)
Allowing buildings to get significantly taller should be contemplated within the mindset of flipping Cayman’s high-density development paradigm, not on its head, but on its side – in other words, going from “horizontal” to “vertical.”
As we have witnessed over the past decades, limiting the height of buildings (even to a “mere” three stories) has not preserved ocean views along the Seven Mile Beach corridor. It’s geometry: A short, wide building takes up more square footage on the ground than a taller, narrow building.
In Grand Cayman, there is very little prime land (i.e. “sand”) available for development. In some key plots with pre-existing structures, the only direction for developers is skyward.
However, proper execution would require a far more advanced and sophisticated legal and regulatory framework than Cayman currently has in place.
Again, for clarity, the Compass is not advocating either for or against Mr. Bush’s proposal. Think of us still on the Ground Floor – not yet pushing the elevator’s “up” button.