Rosewood Tucker’s Point plans criticised

Environmentalists have attacked plans to expand the Rosewood Tucker’s Point resort onto Quarry Hill and Paynter’s Hill in Hamilton parish.

The Bermuda National Trust [BNT] said it’s “extremely alarmed” that a large swathe of pristine land will be built on under the plans, and “habitats of major significance” will be lost.

The Bermuda Environmental and Sustainability Taskforce [BEST] and Buy Back Bermuda campaign also expressed concern, with Stuart Hayward of BEST saying: “This area, as we understand it, includes lands from which mostly black families were forcibly removed in the 1920s to enable the promotion of tourism. It is a betrayal to now allow these lands to be sold off as real estate.”

Minister of Environment Walter Roban tabled a Special Development Order [SDO] for the resort in Parliament on Friday. It’s due to be debated later in the Parliamentary session.

If passed and given final approval from the Department of Planning and Development Applications Board, an additional 78 private residences and 70 hotel rooms will be built on the existing 240-acre site. It would be the third SDO granted to the property in 16 years.

Responding to the news, BNT executive director Jennifer Gray said: “The Bermuda National Trust is extremely shocked by the news that a pending Special Development Order (SDO) has been tabled in Parliament slating development of pristine hills in Castle Harbour such as Paynter’s Hill and Quarry Hill, along with other undeveloped lands in the area.”

Ms Gray added: “We need to recognise the economic value of our precious remaining open spaces which are the very amenities that draw visitors to our unique island and we need to also recognise the value of the biodiversity in these spaces which are core to the health of our environment and our own vital health.

“Significantly reduced and limited areas of natural habitat survive in Bermuda and the hills of Castle Harbour are one of the few places left where diverse habitats of major and critical significance remain.”

Ms Gray described the area as one of the most extensive tracts of forest left that predates settlement in Bermuda. It is a refuge for critically endangered flora such as the Yellowwood tree and the endemic Wild Bermuda pepper.

She added: “Below these hills are globally important caves joined by extensive passageways which sustain a disproportionate amount of diverse and unique flora and fauna. More than 60 endemic species have been identified in Bermuda’s caves, and due to the vulnerability of these ecosystems to threats such as development, 25 of these species have been listed as critically endangered.”

Ms Gray said the BNT wrote to the Ministry of the Environment in October asking about the SDO after calls from members of the public concerned that one was pending. No response was forthcoming and another letter was sent last week.

Such orders allow developers to expedite the construction process and bypass some of the planning regulations, such as periods of public input. They are designed to respond to development needs that are of strategic national importance or priority. The Environment Minister is only allowed to grant one if national importance can be proved.

Tabling the SDO, Mr Roban said Rosewood Tucker’s Point is an essential part of Bermuda’s tourism product and “critically needs the assistance of Government” to ensure its long-term viability. He pledged stringent conditions to ensure “the highest level of protection” to the most sensitive areas under the order, including a survey by a cave specialist and “setback buffers” to protect mature or endangered plants.

As compensation for the SDO, Tucker’s Point will donate Mangrove Lake and two other areas comprising 7.45 acres and 1.64 acres to Government for conservation management.

According to hotel president Ed Trippe, the development is critical to the financial viability of the property. In a letter to Tucker’s Point members on Saturday, he said: “There are strict environmental covenants in the SDO which Tucker’s Point takes seriously and will comply with.”

However, Mr Hayward said in addition to concern over selling lands confiscated from blacks off as real estate, there are a number of other worries he plans to discuss with Rosewood Tucker’s Point representatives this week.

“SDOs were designed to permit developments deemed to be of national importance; they were never intended to enable construction of speculative residential units. Such a use, as this appears to be, is an abuse of ministerial discretion,” he said. “As this is a housing development that will, as we understand, encroach on possibly four conservation areas [nature conservation, woodland conservation, coastal conservation and cave conservation] there is every reason for the Bermuda public to have its rightful opportunity to view, comment and or object to the development. The issuance of an SDO effectively cuts out the plans from public scrutiny until after a decision is made. Such a process on major tracts of protected lands is anti-transparent and unjust.”

He added: “If the previous SDO enabling the developer to build on Ship’s Hill [in 1995] has not had the economic effect that was used to browbeat the then government into permitting [it], what confidence can there be that this will prove different? This is particularly pertinent given the recent economic distress at Newstead / Belmont Hills.”

Mr Hayward concluded: “It increasingly appears that tourism facilities are morphing into real estate speculators and selling off Bermuda land, some of which is zoned specifically for tourism purposes. The Bermuda Government should be using its powers to prevent rather than assist such behaviour.”

David Saul of the Buy Back Bermuda campaign said: “We knew that this was in the works and we fully appreciate that the Tucker’s Point owners need, for their financial survival, to put up the units. We only trust that Planning and their officers have done as thorough a job as we would have expected them to do.”

However, he added: “The loss of more vast expanses of green space is regrettable, particularly a large swathe like this which is elevated and can be seen. From approaching airplanes, that great swathe of green is a very pleasant thing for tourists and Bermudians alike to see.”

Dr. Saul expressed hope the news would encourage people to support the soon-to-be-launched third phase of the Buy Back Bermuda campaign, which has already saved close to 20 acres of the island from development.

“I would have tried to have purchased that land, but it’s beyond our scope or even our possibilities,” he said. “I think some good will come out of this as people will see the loss of this as a wake-up call.”

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Published Feb 7, 2011 at 9:00 am (Updated Feb 7, 2011 at 9:20 am)

Rosewood Tucker’s Point plans criticised

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