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Nature reserve hacked back to clear way for ocean view

Lot 9 on Tucker’s Point Drive. (Image from planning documents)

Planning officials have urged the Minister of Home Affairs to reject a conservation management plan for a Tucker’s Point property after the developers cleared a swath of nature reserve to create an ocean view.

According to planning documents, RWTP Golf Ltd cleared a section of Lot 9 on Tucker’s Point Drive, including a section of land zoned as nature reserve.

While the developers submitted a retroactive conservation management plan to mitigate the environmental impact, the Development Applications Board rejected the application.

The developer appealed the decision, but a planning official urged the Minister to uphold the decision on the basis it would set a bad precedent.

A letter written by Paul McDonald on behalf of the Director of Planning said the proposal would effectively “reward” the applicant for the planning breach by allowing a lawn on a cleared space in the nature reserve.

Mr McDonald said: “Critically in this case, the Department maintains its position that the appellant should be taking every feasible measure to rectify the significant harm their actions have caused to the local natural environment.

“Whilst it is acknowledged that a comprehensive CMP has been put forward which includes notable environmental benefits, the incorporation of a lawn entirely within land zoned nature reserve is clearly not conducive to maximising the environmental potential of the site.

“The Department would be highly unlikely to support the creation of a private lawn within any other established nature reserve in Bermuda and it is not considered that an exception should be made in this case, just because the appellant has unlawfully cleared the nature reserve.”

According to planning documents, officials found last August that 95 per cent of the previously existing endemic and native forest cover had been reduced to less than 2ft in height, with some previously-identified Palmettos excavated and removed.

At a subsequent visit in December, officials saw a “rapid decline” in the quality of the site with a proliferation of invasive vines, grasses and shrubs.

The applicant accepted responsibility for the stripping of the area, stating that they had instructed a landscaping company to create a “viewing corridor” through the reserve to give the site an ocean view.

The applicant proposed a conservation management plan with the planting of endemics in other parts of the property and a neighbouring lot.

Bermuda Environmental Consulting Ltd, which submitted the CMP on behalf of the owners, said in their application: “While the loss of the existing mature vegetation though unauthorised clearance is highly regrettable, our team believes that we have developed a CMP which both remediates and compensates for the lost vegetation as best as new plantings can.

“Overall, the newly planted area across both lots will total 19,218 sqft resulting in a compensation ratio of 2.2 times the lands which were subjected to clearance (8,700 sqft).”

The application added that the site would also include a level 1,500 sqft grassy area in the reserve in the location of a “rocky outcropping”, which has already been partially removed.

“Given the rocky formation, it is an area which cannot be successfully planted with any significant vegetation in its current state, nor if excavated as proposed,” the application said.

However the Department of Planning raised concerns about the proposal, highlighting that the plan included a lawn entirely located on the cleared nature reserve space.

Mr McDonald said that while the appellant had offered to “compensate” for the lawn by planting a 2,000 sqft area and a 1,070 sqft area elsewhere on the property, they failed to acknowledge the quality of the cleared vegetation.

“The vegetation which was cleared was established over several decades and was of particularly high quality, including mature and dense native and endemic species which are, realistically, irreplaceable,” he said.

“The planting proposed would be introduced in pots of 3 and 5 gallons and will, at best, take a significant amount of time to establish or may never properly establish due to the amount of invasives which have consumed the property following its clearance.

“Therefore, an accurate assessment of the acceptability of the proposed Conservation Management Plan cannot be made solely on the quantity of land being planted.”

He added that the property was more than large enough to accommodate a substantial residential development with adequate outdoor space without encroaching into the nature reserve, as was demonstrated by previously approved plans for the site.

Mr McDonald said: “Despite being afforded numerous opportunities, the appellant has still, to date, been unable to provide any reasonable justification as to why the proposed lawn could not be relocated either partially or fully outside of the Nature Reserve zoned part of the site.”

He added that the Department was happy to see the appellant had begun to clear the land of trash and invasive plants.

But he said the work “has not been done entirely voluntarily” and started only after the Department warned it would consider enforcement action if a concerted effort was not made to improve the site.

Mr McDonald said the Department hoped the Minister would uphold the decision of the DAB and – if the Minister chose to do otherwise – urged a condition requiring the appellant to designate another area of no less than 1,000 sqft a nature reserve.

Gencom, which owns Tucker’s Point, has been asked for a comment.

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Published August 20, 2022 at 12:11 pm (Updated August 21, 2022 at 5:18 am)

Nature reserve hacked back to clear way for ocean view

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