Changes to the Development and Planning Law are set to be tabled at the next sitting of the Legislative Assembly to carry forward plans to revitalise George Town, according to Commerce Minister Joey Hew.

Among the proposed changes are increased building heights, parking adjustments and plans for mixed-use buildings.

“This is certainly important for us to attract investors, to encourage those current landowners to invest in their properties. It is extremely important in the whole concept of mixed use, which we see is very popular now in development in other areas along Seven Mile Beach and heading east. That’s the sort of life we need to bring to the … capital as well,” Hew told the Cayman Compass via a Zoom interview on Tuesday.

Originally, a large component of the new look for the capital was the enhanced cruise berthing and cargo facility. However, that project was abandoned by government after a court battle with grassroots group Cruise Port Referendum Cayman and the onset of the COVID-19 crisis during which all cruise travel to Cayman was halted.

However, Hew said the absence of the cruise port project does not change the underlying work set out for breathing life into George Town.

“We started some repaving and some redesigning of the roads [and] those continue; [we’re] looking at areas that we can pedestrianise or have shared streets that we’re sharing with pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles…,” he said.

The COVID-19 crisis and lockdown stalled plans to revitalise George Town, but the ongoing cruise-ship ban means some pilot projects can be tested in the much quieter downtown waterfront area. – Photo: Alvaro Serey.

Another focus of the revitalisation project, which is lead by City Manager Colin Lumsden, is reviewing transportation around town and considering a hop-on, hop-off system.

Last week, government extended its ban on cruise ships to 31 Dec. This means that congestion and foot traffic along the waterfront would be greatly reduced, which translates into an opportunity for the reviltalisation push.

“We just see the next few months as an excellent opportunity to roll out a few pilot projects to see what the reaction of the country would be with those before investing in the heavy infrastructure, but works continue on the George Town revitalisation and we continue to work with our partners in that area,” Hew said.

One of the major concerns in the capital, apart from traffic, is parking.

Hew said the changes to the legislation will address that issue, by allowing businesses in the area to be “flexible” on parking and introduce parking-management plans.

“This is with the view that we want to encourage individuals to develop parking garages, or park and ride, or valet, and those sorts of things where you are not restricted by the amount of parking spots you have in front of your building or within your property. But you have actually been able to find a spot to do valet parking or you’ll be doing park and ride, or you’ll be renting spaces in one of the current parking structures or in future parking structures,” he explained.

Turning to building heights, Hew said the intention is to bring George Town in line with what is along the Seven Mile Beach corridor, and have staggered heights in the town centre. Buildings are currently limited to 10 storeys along Seven Mile Beach.

“With real estate being prime in the centre of town, and space being limited, we are making some concessions to increase building heights in certain areas to allow for it to be more attractive to investors,” he said.

COVID-19 impacts ‘PlanCayman’ roll-out

The George Town revitalisation project was set to work in concert with the national development plan and was being reviewed as part of the ‘PlanCayman’ campaign.

Hew said his ministry, along with the Development Control Board, was in the midst of reviewing the National Development Plan, which has to be done every five years, and “historically governments have struggled to carry out the comprehensive plan of the entire Grand Cayman”.

The ministry and the board had divided the plan into five sectors, he said, with the aim of completing one sector every year, and then government would be in compliance with the law.

The sectors would loop together, he said, and the entire island would be reviewed every five years.

However, Hew said, that review hit a snag due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This massive interruption from COVID-19 has put us on our heels. We were just about to launch the Seven Mile Beach corridor consultation process and plan review, and we’re now just trying to navigate the waters to find solid footing. Some of the challenges we have with it, of course, is restrictions on 50 persons or less and we were uncertain about the future for us to be able to carry out a thorough plan review,” he said.

Hew said the review is still being discussed at government level.

“I do feel that it is extremely important for us to take this opportunity to develop our development plan, to review a development plan, and to ensure that we are developing in a way that fits with the views and the visions of the people of the country,” he said.

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