The Central Planning Authority has returned mixed results to the owners of Balboa Beach, on the George Town waterfront, who were seeking after-the-fact approval after building a concrete slab on ironshore, and permission to fill in a portion of submerged coastal land at the site.
According to Samuel Jackson, the attorney representing the Waterfront Centre Ltd, which is owned by businessman Kel Thompson, he had received “informal communications” on approval for the concrete slab but the CPA had refused the second application to refill the submerged land.
Jackson, who presented the two-part application at the CPA meeting held on Wednesday, 2 Sept., told the planning board that, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, his client was in the process of seeking permission for the construction of the concrete slab.
He said because of the pandemic, his client was unable to progress with the application.
“As for the second application, three separate fixed-boundary surveys have been conducted, each of which shows that the area my clients are seeking to fill is submerged private property and not Crown land,” said Jackson.
He told the board that during the late 1960s, the area in question was “weak ironshore” that had experienced minor natural coastal erosion and was worsened by human excavation for the creation of a boat ramp.
The National Conservation Council expressed concern for the potential environmental impact that would be caused by allowing the land to be filled in.
In a memorandum to the CPA, the council said, “The Department of Environment is very concerned at the extent of unauthorized works which have taken place on this site, including the works which are the subject of this application. The application site is adjacent to a Marine Protected Area, namely a Marine Park, and is in a prominent location in the heart of George Town.”
Six months before the application was submitted, work had begun on filling the submerged ironshore, which the NCC has condemned as being destructive to the environment.
“As regards the unconsolidated fill that was placed in the sea, this has now been widely dispersed across the seabed and is no longer in the position that it was originally placed,” reads the NCC memo. “It will likely continue to cause damage to the marine environment through the ongoing attrition caused by the suspension and movement of these rocks during wave activity.”
Neighbouring property owner Chris Johnson, who attended the meeting to voice his objections to the application, said the applicants were attempting to mislead the CPA into approving a project that could cause hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of damage to the environment.
“When you look at the entire project, you will see that the CPA has been misled and hoodwinked, to be used to approve an application that is simply to support a bar,” Johnson said.
The reclaimed land could allow for additional people at the site, he said, adding, “but where is the additional parking? Where are the additional bathrooms?”
Rob Johnson, Chris Johnson’s son, also voiced his objections at the meeting. “This project could cause serious destruction to the surrounding sea and the marine environment,” he said. “This meeting should be adjourned, and a proper coastal works application should be submitted and reviewed.”
Chris Johnson also called for the meeting to be suspended so a proper application could be brought to the CPA and enable “the surrounding landowners to be given a chance to properly voice their concerns and objections”.
The 2013 National Conservation Law mandates that a coastal works permit be issued by Cabinet, for any work that is to be done to Crown-owned seabeds and canals. Other matters are to be taken before the CPA for approval.
The area that Jackson’s client is seeking to reclaim has already been partially filled, which the Johnsons said only further helps to destroy marine life in the area in question – a claim Jackson refuted.
“The only marine life that would be impacted are crabs who are currently occupying private property,” said Jackson.
He claimed the Johnsons and the National Conservation Council had neither “legal nor logical grounds to refute the applications”.
The attorney said, “The Lands and Survey Department has accepted the fixed-boundary survey, which means there can be no questions as to who owns the section of land my client is seeking to reclaim.
“Because the land is private property, there is no need for a coastal works application, because those applications are only applicable to Crown-owned seabed.”
He added, “My clients are also seeking to construct a retaining wall that will prevent any spillage of material onto Crown-owned seabed.”
The Johnsons argued that Jackson’s client “had a repeated history of going ahead with projects without permission, and then seeking after-the-fact approval”.
“This, as well as the number of after-the-fact-applications followed by some enforcement notices, have shown no respect for the planning process, at the embarrassment of the planning department and the board,” said Rob Johnson. “It’s heartbreaking for me to watch as a qualified architect who tries so hard to build in a responsible and respectable manner.”
Since November 2010, Waterfront Centre Ltd. has been served by the Department of Planning with six enforcement notices and five stop notices for projects that were either started or completed without prior permission.
When responding about his client’s history with the Department of Planning, Jackson said, “It would be wrong in principle to refuse these applications simply because of my clients’ previous actions. Each application must be viewed and considered on its individual strengths and weaknesses. To include any previous dealings would lead to the board becoming biased and open up the decision to a potential appeal.”
On Thursday, 3 Sept., the CPA released its decision list which showed that the application had been refused. The Cayman Compass reached out to the Department of Planning seeking clarification on which of the applications were refused, as well as a reason for the refusal, but no comment was received.
Jackson told the Compass he had received “informal communications” advising him that the after-the-fact application for the concrete slab had been approved.
He said he was told the CPA had refused the second application to refill the submerged land. He was unable to say whether or not his client would appeal the CPA’s ruling because he had not yet seen a copy of the reasons for the decision.