$18M apartment complex planned for turtle nesting beach in West Bay

The beach at the proposed Sand Hole Apartments site is designated as a critical habitat for turtle nesting.

Updated, 1:30pm: The Central Planning Authority has heard the application for the construction of an $18 million, 27-apartment development along a section of beach in West Bay, which is designated as a critical turtle nesting site.

The application for the development, submitted by internet investor Frank Schilling, was originally heard in November 2020, but adjourned after the National Conservation Council and neighbouring residents expressed concerns about the project.

Appearing before the CPA today, 12 May, Schilling confirmed that the plans for the development had been amended to address the issues raised and to meet the conditions set out by the NCC to protect the nesting turtle population at the beach.

Schilling also said a 30-foot-wide easement leading to Sonny Powery’s Drive had now been registered, which meant there would be no motor vehicular access to the development from Sand Hole Road.

During the meeting, some objectors requested that a higher wall be constructed along the development’s boundary that runs along Sand Hole Road.

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“As soon as I open my front door, it will be the first thing that I see,” said Martha Ebanks, who spoke on behalf of the objectors. “So, is there any way that the board will be willing to pass a 10-foot wall?”

This request was refused by the board. However, a 6-foot wall was later approved, with the condition that it be set back from the road by at least 3 feet.

Original story: The National Conservation Council is calling for measures to be put in place to protect turtle nests on a West Bay beach where internet investor Frank Schilling has applied to build an $18 million, 27-apartment development.

Schilling, who sold his Cayman-based domain-name registration company Uniregistry to GoDaddy last year, has applied to build the Sand Hole Apartments project, which consists of three buildings, at a site located between Sand Hole Road and Sonny Powery’s Drive, off Boatswains Bay Road.

The Central Planning Authority is scheduled to hear the application today (12 May).

The Department of Environment, on behalf of the National Conservation Council, in its response to the planning application, said that based on more than 20 years of DoE turtle nesting monitoring data, the beach at the development site is identified as critical nesting habitat for turtles.

Frank Schilling

“This designation of critical habitat means that adverse impacts to the habitat either have to be avoided or able to be mitigated with the imposition of conditions of approval. It also means that the National Conservation Council is able to direct the inclusion of those conditions in any Planning Permission that may be given,” the DoE stated.

The National Conservation Council directed that, if the Central Planning Authority granted approval for the development, a number of conditions would need to be put in place, including requirements for a minimum setback of 75 feet from the high-water mark; a vegetated buffer with a minimum width of at least 10 feet along the 75-foot coastal setback boundary; and the installation of turtle-friendly lighting to minimise the impact of the complex’s artificial lighting on sea turtles.

The NCC also called for the imposition of conditions to prevent heavy machinery from the construction site destroying nests.

It also “strongly recommended” that best management practices are adopted during the construction process to ensure that construction-related debris does not enter the marine environment.

Local residents objecting to the project have asked that the complex be renamed as something other than Sand Hole Apartments, which they say is misleading as the complex will not be accessible via Sand Hole Road. They said they believe the name will attract a high level of traffic to Sand Hole Road “as many persons will take this road, trying to locate the complex”.

The National Roads Authority, in its response to the application, had noted that Sand Hole Road is not wide enough to enable a fire truck to access the building in the event of a fire, and that there is a public pedestrian right-of-way that traverses through the site.

The applicant, in a revised plan, following concerns raised by the Department of Planning, said the complex would include a 30-foot-wide easement leading to Sonny Powery’s Drive, and no access via Sand Hole Road would be required.

  • Additional reporting by Andrel Harris
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  1. Yes, let’s now target a turtle nesting site and create more obstacles for the island’s innocent inhabitants…and I’m just wondering why practices as important as not allowing construction based debris to enter the marine environment merely “strongly recommended” instead of being demanded? High fines would also ensure builders build more responsibly.

  2. Is it really necessary for Mr Schilling to build 27 apartments right there? On a turtle nesting site. Why? Surely it can’t be because he needs the money. With as much money as he allegedly has, couldn’t he find another piece of land?! When is enough money, enough?

  3. Hi!~ So, I love turtles, which is why we are setting this project back 33% further from the water than any of our neighbors (one of whom was recently approved much closer). We are also putting 2/3 of the development much farther inland and cluster spacing it so that rather than one big building block by the water, there is room for many of the mature trees and seagrape there to stay. It’s part of the charm and beauty of the area and I want to keep it. I also recognize that there’s a shortage of housing that normal professional, working people can actually afford and so I’m providing that with 1/3 o. At the end of the day all of SMB is a “turtle nesting beach”, but unlike 7 mile, this beach will be rustic and quiet, long after the young families of the future move in there. If there are turtles there I hope they will get to watch them hatch – it’s a magical thing and we’ll make it nice for them (the families and the turtles). In relation to the project itself, I promise we’ll do a good job and make it look nice and the neighbors glad to be next door. Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

    • Hi Frank, thank you for taking the time to comment and explain your project. It’s a fragile balance, meeting our own needs while being careful to respect the needs of others who happen to be there first. Man has this way of taking, but very rarely being respectful to giving back. In the past decade of travel to Grand Cayman I have personally witnessed more and more space being “taken” and developed at the expense of both Caymanians and nature. If done properly it can be a wonderful thing, but more likely than not it just comes down to lining the pockets of the greedy, at the expense of a very magical place.