Central Planning Authority Chairman A.L. Thompson has recommended that the planning body deliver a decision on Dart’s application for a new 10-storey hotel, even if the National Conservation Council is unable to convene and submit its views on the $80 million development.
No decision on the application was finalised following today’s meeting, and the matter was adjourned to the next meeting on 3 March.
Thompson told CPA members that they could make a decision on the application today (16 Feb.), or put it off for 15 days, until the next board meeting – but recommended that the matter take no longer than that.
Department of Environment Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie had noted in a letter to the planning authority that because Cabinet had failed to appoint members to the NCC, the DoE could not submit to the CPA a ‘screening opinion’ – which looks at whether an environmental impact assessment may be required for the project.
Thompson, presiding over the planning board meeting, said, “We have had a problem getting a response [on the Hotel Indigo application] back from the National Conservation Council. This is through no fault of [the applicant] or ours. That is because apparently they do not have a board large enough to make a quorum.”
He added that he did not think any applicant should be penalised “because the government has not done their job in appointing a board, or enough members to make a quorum”.
By the time the CPA meeting was held this morning, NCC board members had not been reappointed. However, the Cayman Compass understands that Cabinet planned to appoint members to the NCC board today.
Ebanks-Petrie, in her letter, said, “The urgent need for re-appointment of [National Conservation] Council members has been actively pursued by the DoE since October 2020, but formal appointment of NCC members by Cabinet is still awaited.”
Thompson told his fellow board members, and Dart representatives, “It is not right that any application should be held up because of a situation like this.”
He said if the Central Planning Authority members wanted to make a decision on the Hotel Indigo application, it was “within their powers” to do so immediately, or at the next CPA meeting on 3 March.
“If they want to make that decision 15 days from now, that is their decision to make, but I would recommend to this board that this decision on this application does not go beyond 15 days from today,” he said.
He added that the CPA “has had threats, which I don’t take lightly, and I think it’s uncalled for, because of the NCC not having a board”.
Ebanks-Petrie said in her letter to planning officials, dated 10 Feb., that the DoE had prepared a screening opinion on the Hotel Indigo project after the planning application was received from Dart-owned Shoreline Development Company Ltd (DECCO Ltd) in December last year.
But she explained that if the DoE were to submit the screening opinion and comments to the CPA, it would be “prejudging the decision of the [National Conservation Council] in relation to whether or not an EIA is required for the project, which of course would be acting contrary to the provisions of the EIA Directive and therefore the [National Conservation Law].”
In her letter, Ebanks-Petrie had argued that granting planning permission for the hotel development without taking the input of the National Conservation Council into account was contrary to the provisions of the National Conservation Law.
Thompson told his fellow CPA members that the only grounds for refusing the application would be if it were contrary to planning laws or regulations.
Parking and beach use
During Tuesday’s planning meeting, Thompson queried if the 282-bedroom hotel, which is set back about 700 feet from the high-water mark at Seven Mile Beach, near the Esterley Tibbetts Highway, would put additional pressure on Public Beach.
He told the Dart representatives, “The concern of members is we would not want to see your guests use the public beach because the public beach is for the local public and we want it to remain that way. … It is already strained now sometimes. I think you need to do everything to prevent that from happening.
Melissa Ladley, vice president of hospitality at Dart, who presented an overview of the application to the planning board, said the way the hotel’s landscaping would be laid out meant it would be “complementing the activities of Public Beach but not using its resources”.
She said guests at the hotel would be directed, via a heavily vegetated, pedestrianised path, to use the hotel’s specially designated beach area north of the Calico Jack’s site, which would house a restaurant and guest amenities, like chairs, towels and drinking water.
The current plan before the CPA does not include redevelopment of the Calico Jack’s site, but there would eventually be plans for that area, Ladley said.
Thompson also asked Dart to consider adding more parking spaces for use by hotel staff and for people attending events at the proposed hotel’s banquet and conference facilities.
The applicant applied for 255 parking spaces, the Planning Department has recommended 278, while Thompson said he felt about 300 spaces would be required.
Ladley told the board that the proposed hotel would fill a gap in Seven Mile Beach’s accommodation options, offering cheaper prices for guests, compared to the Kimpton or The Ritz-Carlton and other more expensive hotels.
Details of the planning application can be read on the CPA agenda.