The Central Planning Authority is scheduled to hear a planning permission application from Aster Caribbean Holdings tomorrow (12 May) regarding its proposed $350 million medical tourism hospital.
If approved, the Aster Cayman Medcity project, which is being managed by Gene Thompson, would be built on a 40-acre site near the junction of the Esterley Tibbetts Highway and Batabano Road in West Bay, on land purchased earlier from Dart.
The application before the planning board is for a planned area development, or PAD, which is effectively a master plan for the site. If that is granted, individual planning applications will also need to be approved for the various elements of the project which will be built in phases. The site is currently zoned as low-density residential.
The first phase involves the construction of a 150-bed hospital, with a maximum of five storeys. Later phases will entail expanding that to a 500-bed facility, Thompson said at a press briefing in February this year. The proposed project also includes senior care housing, a medical college, residences, mixed-use development, parking, an internal road network, landscaped areas and two lakes.
The Department of Environment, representing the National Conservation Council, in its response to the application, said the development does not require an environmental impact assessment, as much of the area has already been ‘man-modified’ and contained dyke roads used by the Mosquito Research and Control Unit.
However, the site also contains 22 acres of mangroves, which the developer plans to remove. The NCC said planning permission for the Aster development “should only be contemplated if the applicant is requested to provide a mitigation proposal to the National Conservation Council for approval, to deliver ‘no net loss’ of mangrove habitat”.
The NCC pointed out that the cumulative loss of mangroves on the western end of the island has been “a major issue over the last few decades due to development”, stating that since 1976, 72% of all the mangroves on the west side of Grand Cayman have been lost. The NCC also noted that this mangrove area is home to a number of bird species, including the West Indian whistling duck, Greater Antillean grackle; Cayman parrot, white-crowned pigeon and snowy egret.
It has also requested a needs assessment be carried out to demonstrate if Cayman requires a hospital of this size. The NCC noted that there are already three hospitals on Grand Cayman – the Cayman Islands Hospital with 124 beds, Health City with 104 beds, and Doctors Hospital with 18 beds. There is also plans for another hospital with 70 beds, which Health City and Dart are proposing to build in Camana Bay.
The NCC also recommended that an earlier planning application by Aster to clear and fill part of the site be held in abeyance until the PAD application is determined, as it would be “premature to clear the site, thus degrading it, prior to securing permission for its development”.
The conservation council also addressed the issue of air quality, as the site will have an incinerator for medical bio-hazardous waste, which the NCC said “may create a significant point sources of emissions”. It stated that the application submission should include the relevant emissions regulations that the facility will conform to, as established and agreed with the Department of Environmental Health.
Some of the site’s neighbours who submitted objections to the development also cited concerns about emission from the incinerator in their letters to the Central Planning Authority. One objector suggested that, with potentially five hospitals on island, the government should consider a single shared medical-waste incinerator “at an appropriate site, away from denser populations and with continuous, dedicated supervision of daily maintenance and operation by qualified personnel”.
In its response to the application, the Department of Environmental Health recommended that it not be granted until the applicant had submitted for review and approval design details for each type of development; details for the solid waste facility and the waste management plan for municipal solid waste; and design specifications and a detailed plan for management of infections, compliant with the Public Health (Infectious Waste) Regulations.