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”.

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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.

The National Conservation Council, led by McFarlane Conolly, seated at head of table, met on 21 July for the first time in general session since August 2020. – Photo: Reshma Ragoonath

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.

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  1. The Cayman Government is more than entitled to exert full control over developments within the country and I am grateful that this is now finally happening to the full extent of its power. If Dart is pushing so hard for this massive 15-year development to be approved now, it’s because the longer it sits, the greater the likelihood that it will be subjected to greater controls.

    The first and perhaps the only role of any government is to look out for its people and their well being. The big question has been: what constitutes good for Caymanians?

    Dart developments have transformed Grand Cayman into a little Miami, catering to wealthy outsiders, under the guise of doing good for the Island. What Dart does, he does for himself. Let there be no confusion about this. New roads are to facilitate access to its developments. Mount Trashmore works are simply to eliminate a problem that puts a damper on high end tourism. And while some of this work offers a silver lining for Caymanians, if these projects lead to unscrupulous developments that serve outsiders exclusively, development that excludes locals because of their outlandish participating costs, then these projects are not serving the people. If these developments include the destruction of mangroves, areas of the Islands that protect us against extreme weather, then they are not serving us well.

    Dart projects are self-serving. Why not require Dart to build affordable homes within his projects, a true “mixed use” design? Never allow any part of the Islands to develop without integrating the needs of Caymanians! Never permit the destruction of mangroves, beach rock or other natural feature or split Grand Cayman in two by dredging a canal across it. Clearly, an INDEPENDENT environmental assessment is imperative, before potentially irreparable damage is done. The Dart proposal, as presented, is destructive and will impact the use and safety of West Bay forever. Dart’s design for the area requires a complete re-design that includes housing in all price ranges, shopping that complements the needs of the local population, that is designed around local producers, that encourage local production. Above all, a development that is in every way, responsive to the environment, not a grotesque overlay, oblivious to every natural feature of the terrain. Projects such as this, unadapted as they are to local lifestyle and needs, only serve to cast a suffocating net over the area and suck local life right out of it, likely forever.