The Department of Environment and Dart have locked horns over the requirement for an environmental impact assessment for a Planned Area Development in West Bay.
This follows the developer’s criticism of the EIA requirement, which was endorsed by the National Conservation Council, calling it a “fundamentally flawed” decision.
The DoE, in a statement issued late Friday, maintained it was in Cayman’s “best interest” to ensure a “thorough assessment of the potential environmental and socio-economic impacts” for the PAD.
Dart, in a two-page statement released on 30 July, had protested the EIA requirement which was handed down in an April screening opinion.
Mark VanDevelde, Dart chief executive officer, expressed concern over what he called “the inconsistency in the interpretation and application of the current law when determining at what stage an EIA is required”.
Dart contended, in its statement, that its PAD application did not seek permission to develop or alter the land.
It added: “[M]uch of the proposed PAD area is already zoned so as to permit 10-storey hotel/tourism related developments. Therefore, the proposed PAD does not contemplate any development that exceeds current parameters,” the statement added.
However, the NCC and DoE, through a joint statement, contended that Dart has been asked to provide an EIA because the “PAD application that has been submitted by the organisation seeks permission to develop on a scale that substantially exceeds the allowances indicated in the Development and Planning Regulations. Therefore, the DoE believes it is imperative that an EIA is carried out as part of its due diligence.”
Dart’s PAD application proposes development, which will take place from 2021 to 2034, of 398 condominiums, 58 house lots, 4,480 hotel rooms across multiple facilities, approximately 100,000 square feet of new retail space, and a 220-slip marina and fuel station.
‘Confusion’ over the planned area development
Dart said in its statement there had been “conflation of the PAD approval process with the application for planning permission process, which are two fundamentally different processes”.
It explained in February it submitted the PAD application for a resort residential district in the Seven Mile Beach corridor, north of Governor’s Harbour, “consistent with, and adjacent to, existing hotel and tourism areas”. These include the Kimpton Seafire Resort, the Cayman Islands Yacht Club, restaurants and condominiums.
In its view, Dart said a PAD “promotes sustainable development by considering long term land use, accessibility, infrastructure, public spaces and environmental management”.
The statement added, “[A]ny physical development which may be contemplated within the PAD area would require a separate application for planning permission for such development, through the normal planning process, which includes all the usual notifications to the public and the requisite consultation with specific government agencies, the Department of Environment (DoE) and the National Conservation Council.”
The DoE said they had reviewed the PAD application and produced the 24-page screening opinion in April, which contained its “unilateral conclusion” that the PAD application required an environmental impact assessment.
Speaking before the NCC on 21 July, DoE Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie said the basis for the EIA included the total loss of protected species within the PAD site, such as at least 40 acres of mangroves, as well as the adverse impact on birds and other species that it supports.
Additional concerns related to critical habitat and nesting beaches for sea turtles, loss of public access to Seven Mile Beach, and the negative impacts on water quality from the proposed canal and marina development.
However, the application, Dart said, “categorically did not and, legally speaking, cannot seek to alter beach access, or remove 42 acres of mangrove, or remove beach rock”.
Dart contended that an EIA undertaken prior to the planning permission process would be “premature and of limited relevance”.
“The PAD application, in and of itself, does not propose to permit any form of physical development. Consequently, it is impossible to attempt to assess the environmental impact,” the statement said.
Dart: EIAs not required for other PADs
Dart said as far as it was aware “no other PAD application submitted to the Central Planning Authority (CPA) has required an EIA as a pre-requisite to hearing the application. Further, the CPA has, to date, not approved any PAD application with the requirement to conduct a comprehensive EIA.”
Dart added that an EIA was not mandated by law for a PAD application.
The DoE and NCC statement countered that “Prior to the formation of the NCC in 2014, the DoE recommended EIAs for the Health City PAD, the City Services PAD, and the Camana Bay PAD”.
However, the DoE/NCC said, “The Central Planning Authority at that time did not follow the recommendations of the DoE, and therefore no EIAs were required of the developers. Since the formation of the NCC, only two PAD applications have been submitted: the Aster MedCity development and the Dart Canal and Hotel District development.
“The Aster MedCity development did not require an EIA because it is smaller and much less complex,” the statement said. “This should not be confused with saying there is no impact, because the DoE did recommend additional studies to fully understand the impacts associated with Aster MedCity.”
Agreement on long-term development plan
The DoE, NCC and Dart, however, all agree that Cayman needs an extensive development strategy.
VanDevelde said in the Dart statement, “A comprehensive Environmental Management Framework informed by all stakeholders, that reflects a shared vision for the future, would provide clear guidance on how land can be developed, managed or protected, and give much-needed certainty and clarity to all parties”.
The DoE agreed that an “up-to-date and comprehensive Development Plan is long overdue”.
In the NCC and DoE’s view, Cayman’s Development Plan should be the “overarching framework for development in the Cayman Islands and should consider the environmental, social and economic aspects of development”.
Read the Dart statement here.
Read the NCC/DoE statement here.