The National Conservation Council has advised the Central Planning Authority that it would be “negligent” to grant permission for a three-storey house to replace a gazebo on Boggy Sand Road which has become structurally unsound and is set so close to the high water mark that the beach has suffered serious erosion.

The application from Cayman Property Investments Ltd for planning permission is being heard by the CPA today.

The site (blue), along with the presence of seawalls at properties to the east, has resulted in an area with no sea turtle nesting due to the lack of a beach. There is critical habitat (red) to the east and nesting habitat (yellow) to the west. Source: Central Planning Authority.

The NCC, via the Department of Environment, stated that the existing structure’s seawall had been built “too close to the sea on an active beach” after receiving planning permission in 2009. The DoE said it had met the property owner in November 2020 when remediation of the seawall had been discussed, and had suggested that the square seawall be replaced with a curved structure to dissipate wave energy.

In its submission to the Central Planning Authority, the NCC said, “The Applicant has not made any modifications to their proposals for remediation of the seawall following this meeting and the application is also seeking permission for a two/three storey residential development on the site. The existing structure is a one storey gazebo, and the applicant is proposing to have a two storey home with a third storey comprising a covered roof terrace.”

The NCC pointed out that the presence of built development and seawalls on the active beach has contributed to significant erosion in the area, resulting in an absence of sea turtle nesting.

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The NCC said it appeared that the planning application to build a house on the site did not contain accurate dimensions, and that the structure is closer to the high water mark than is indicated on the architect report submitted to the CPA.

It also noted that the plan submitted to the planning board indicated a private parking space but as the property is located on a public road, “the site is unable to accommodate the single proposed parking space for the development”.

Inaccuracies found

The NCC also highlighted a “number of inaccuracies in the variance request letter” accompanying the application. “There are repeated references to an existing house, when there is only an uninhabitable gazebo located on the property. The letter states that the house will be built 38’-9” from the existing seawall. This was presumably meant to read 38’-9” from the Mean High Water Mark (which as detailed above is only 21 feet) as the house is less than 6 feet from the edge of the existing seawall.”

Under the Development and Planning Regulations, “in areas where the shoreline is beach or mangrove (except in a Hotel/Tourism zone), all structures and buildings, including ancillary buildings, walls and structures, shall be setback a minimum of seventy five feet from the high water mark”.

The NCC, in its submission, stated that the applicant was relying on a mean high water mark survey from 1999, even though the planning regulations state that an application for planning permission with any setback adjacent to the sea shall include a mean high water mark survey “physically defined on ground no more than six months prior to the application being submitted”.

It said that if the mean high water mark survey undertaken in October 2020 is used to calculate setbacks, then the seawall has a setback of approximately 21 feet from the high water mark, and the proposed dwelling has a setback of approximately 27 feet from the high water mark.

The NCC said that the mean high water mark survey from October 2020 showed what the beach looked like soon after Hurricane Delta deposited significant volumes of sand there.

‘Sustained erosion’

The site in February 2021 which shows a reduction in the volume of sand on the beach and the water line being much closer to the existing structure. Source: Central Planning Authority.

“The beach then experienced further deposits as Tropical Storm Eta passed in November 2020. Therefore, whilst it may appear that beach currently exists at this site, having monitored the position of the shoreline, utilising aerial imagery from 1958 through to 2018, it is evident that the construction of seawalls and development in this area, has resulted in a trend of sustained erosion, as would be expected when hard infrastructure is built on the active beach (as we see at the southern end of Seven Mile Beach).

“Under normal circumstances, the beach in this location ceases to exist and this has been the case for at least the past 5 years, and it is only under quite unique storm conditions that sand is deposited on this shoreline.”

It added, “Out of a total of 62 surveys undertaken in this location between 2003 and 2019, there were only 4 dates when the beach existed seaward of the October 2020 [mean high water mark]” and in most of those instances, the increased presence of sand on the beach could be attributed to storms.

“There are absolutely no mitigating circumstances which could justify a departure from the legally prescribed setbacks in this location and, in our view, it would be negligent to permit a residential development on this site,” the NCC stated.

Engineers have found that the existing cabana structure is structurally unsound “relating to failure of the foundations”, the NCC noted.

‘Negligent’ to build a house

“In our view, it would be negligent to grant approval for a dwelling on this property with no comfort that the proposed design will not also result in the same structural failure as the existing,” it said.

It referred to a 2014 CPA meeting where the previous owner of the cabana had sought to increase the building height. Minutes of that meeting stated, “The Authority considered the application further and determined that it would adhere to the previous decision as the Authority is concerned that the creation of the second floor may lead to the cabana being used as a dwelling unit and the proposed design no longer resembles that of a typical cabana.”

The NCC also pointed out that the site lies within the Marine Park, and contains an area of coral reef “which has a very high economic value for Cayman’s tourism both directly (diving, snorkelling) and indirectly (ecosystem services)”. It noted that excessive sedimentation from the property can impact corals, sponges and other marine wildlife.

“Our corals are under continuous stress from external sources (e.g., climate change, bleaching events, Stony Coral Tissue [Loss] Disease) and adding further local stress could be the tipping point passed which our corals cannot survive,” the NCC stated.

It added, “The Engineering Report confirms that the existing structure is failing. The relentless force of the sea has destroyed this structure because it has been poorly positioned and poorly designed. Whilst the proposed remediation works may extend the longevity of this ill-placed structure, the forces acting on the structures, e.g. wave loading, will persist and the sea will continue to scour and undermine the property.”

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