Plans for a 10-storey business hotel at the “tranquil” north end of Seven Mile Beach have been rejected after an unprecedented number of objections to the proposal.
The Central Planning Authority sifted through more than 200 pages of objections to the Libanon Corporation’s plan for a 129-room hotel named The Shores on the roadside of West Bay Road before turning down the proposal.
Around 60 people showed up in person to speak out against the plan at the Central Planning Authority’s meeting on Wednesday. Chair A.L. Thompson said it was the largest number of objectors that had ever shown up to one of its meetings.
Several property owners and managers of neighbouring condo developments argued that a hotel of that scale and size was out of keeping with the character of the area, which they described as tranquil and peaceful in comparison to the more developed southern end of the Seven Mile strip. They also warned that the hotel did not have direct beach access and would risk clogging public beach access paths.
Attorney Nicholas Dixey, representing owners in The Commonwealth complex, said the hotel design looked like a “grounded cruise ship”.
He said the developer had described it at various times as a luxury hotel, a boutique property, an affordable hotel and a business hotel.
“It is a nebulous concept that keeps changing depending on what side of the bed they got out of,” he said.
He said there was no obvious need for the hotel and there appeared to be no business plan behind the development. If it failed, he said, it could leave a monolithic eyesore, comparable to the old Hyatt property, in the middle of one of the most serene sections of West Bay Road.
He said the northern end of the beach was characterised by small developments that retained Cayman’s old-style charm, and allowing the hotel would “forever change the character of the area”.
Several condo owners and managers testified that they believed the development would negatively impact tourism in the area.
Dawn Ackermon, property manager at the Mandalay complex, urged the board to wait until the conclusion of Plan Cayman, the national development plan that will look at allowable building heights and styles in all areas of the country, including Seven Mile Beach.
She said the outline of that plan indicates potential to protect and preserve the character of the northern end of the beach.
Other property owners highlighted their belief that the northern end of the beach had a distinct character that needed to be retained.
Judith Lankford, manager at the Anchorage, said she had seen three generations of multiple families come to visit, year after year. She said these repeat guests were attracted to the distinct charms of the area.
If major hotel developments were approved, she said, “paradise will be lost”.
“This area is the last bastion of tranquillity on Seven Mile Beach. Let’s save it.”
Sammy Jackson, an attorney representing owners at the Mandalay, urged the board to listen to experienced voices from the tourism trade saying it would actively damage the industry.
The Department of Tourism noted in its written advice on the application that it was advocating for hotel developers to seek other areas within Cayman.
“It should be noted that the Seven Mile Beach area has reached capacity with the development of hotels,” DoT officials wrote.
Architect Michael Stroh and attorney Michael Alberga represented the developer at the hearing.
Stroh of Trio Architects said the project was within all the regulations for development within that zone. He said it was a business hotel, rather than a resort, and would not have a major impact on the beach.
He said there was a public beach access a five minute walk away that the hotels guests could use, comparing it to the Sunshine Suites – which is also on the road side of the beach.
Alberga said there was a clear need for a business hotel in Grand Cayman. He said new financial services legislation would mean more companies with a greater presence on island and more business travel.
He said the Kimpton was the only substantial new hotel built in Cayman in the last 13 years despite a large increase in tourism and improvements in infrastructure.
“I appreciate the concerns of the people in the surrounding area, but the fact is that there has been a substantial rezoning and recalculation of Seven Mile Beach to allow much greater density and much greater height.”
He read from planning minutes dating back to 2005 for the development of the Renaissance, pointing out that owners in that complex were now making the same objections that were raised when it was built.