A pair of planned resort properties are setting the spotlight on the southernmost tip of the Seven Mile Beach area … and on the Cayman Islands’ powerful National Conservation Council.
On the front page of today’s newspaper, we report on a 5-story, 60-unit boutique hotel the NCB Group intends to build on the site of the old Treehouse restaurant across from Kirk supermarket.
The news follows on the announcement in late March that the Howard Hospitality Group plans to construct a 10-story, 450-suite resort on the former site of Cayman’s first tourist hotel, the Pageant Beach Hotel.
(The same developer, HHG, is behind the revamped Margaritaville Beach Resort and the already built but yet-to-open 42-room boutique hotel at the three-way intersection at West Bay Road and Lawrence Boulevard.)
Our initial reaction is “applause, applause.” The two planned resorts – as well as the two others from HHG — aren’t just “new projects”; they are all revitalizations of old projects that were either vacant, abandoned, rundown or burned down.
It is particularly pleasing that the projects are planned for relatively underdeveloped (or overlooked) tracts on the Seven Mile Beach corridor, verging south into George Town proper.
As NCB Group Managing Director Matthew Wight said about his company’s Treehouse project, “As far as I know, this is the first new hotel in George Town for a very long time and we hope it will be part of a wider revitalization.”
We do, too. And we can think of only two things standing in the way of the realization of the developers’ visions: market forces and the National Conservation Council.
Hopes are that NCP will break ground on the Treehouse project this year, and HHG will start construction on Pageant Beach next year.
However, readers should approach proposed time lines for any major project with salt shaker in hand because the Conservation Council (created by the National Conservation Law, 2013) has the power to mandate that developers undertake lengthy and costly environmental impact assessments before planning permissions can be granted.
Case in point: In March, the Conservation Council voted to require an environmental impact assessment for a planned five-star resort by Dart Real Estate on the northern end of Seven Mile Beach, near the company’s Kimpton resort.
The sticking point in that situation is Dart’s request to remove beach rock from the waters off its property, a plan endorsed by Dart’s consultant engineers (which studied the issue for more than a year), but categorically opposed by the Department of Environment (which aired its views before the completion of Dart’s study).
Hanging in the balance is the possible fate of Dart’s planned 225-room, 80-residence development … and the associated employment and economic activity (estimated at more than US$600 million).
Versus some rocks.
Dart is Cayman’s largest and most environmentally conscious developer, whose dazzling projects never fail to check “ecological boxes” and incorporate lush local and regional vegetation. (The Dart family is responsible for planting more trees in the history of Cayman than any other human beings.)
The proposed site is in the heart of Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman’s most-developed stretch. (What’s left to conserve?)
If the unelected Conservation Council, led by Director of Environment Gina Ebanks-Petrie, can stymie or maybe scuttle such a project from Dart … they can do it to anyone.
Worse, perhaps, is if they don’t. All laws, even ill-conceived ones, should be applied equally to everyone.
With the new Progressives-led coalition government in power (and the conservationists’ champion, former Environment Minister Wayne Panton, out of office), the temptation might be to deal with the Conservation Law like the previous government did with permanent residence legislation … simply fail to enforce it. That would be the worst course of all.
In a recent letter to the editor, new House Speaker McKeeva Bush said the coalition government was committed to addressing a number of issues, including “Reviewing the Conservation Law and identifying and implementing necessary changes ….”
That’s the only honest strategy to deal with the problems created by the Conservation Council.
We add our voice to that proposal: There is no better time than now for a serious review of the Conservation Law, with the goal being to unshackle small and large developers from unnecessarily burdensome – at times even foolish – rules and regulation.