Environmentalists oppose new bid to build parking lot on park
New plans to turn a section of parkland into an events lawn and a parking lot for the Bermudiana Beach Resort have been submitted - despite the previous rejection of similar proposals. The Bermuda Audubon Society this week called the proposed use of the public park “indefensible” and urged the public to speak out against it.
Janice Hetzel, president of the society, said: “This park exists because the people of Bermuda came together and insisted that it be protected. A recent survey by the Department of Parks showed that most respondents wanted the park to remain in as much of a natural state as possible.
“The Government of Bermuda, as the caretaker of these publicly held lands, has a duty and responsibility to ensure that they are appropriately managed and protected for the benefit of all.
“This means saying no to the indefensible destruction of coastal woodland in Southlands Park.”
The Conservation Management Plan, submitted by OBMI Architecture on behalf of the Bermudiana Beach Resort, proposed work on the southeastern corner of the Southlands National Park.
The documents state that it is intended that the resort would lease 0.73 acres of the parkland located immediately west of the resort from the Government.
The site would be split into two sections, with an events lawn on the eastern side and public parking on the western side.
The parking spot would have spaces for up to 40 cars, along with 47 bike spaces, two disabled spaces and two minibus spaces and be covered by an eco-grid surface placed over planted grass rather than pavement.
“The events lawn will be available to the public for pre-arranged events through Bermudiana Beach Resort,” the application stated.
“The parking lot is a ‘public gain’ for the lease of the event lawn and will be freely accessible to the public. The public parking lot will alleviate the need for roadside parking and enhance both residents and visitors access to the Southlands Park and Simmon’s Beach.”
The application said the CMP embraced a “light touch philosophy” with minimal permanent structures and the use of native and endemic plants.
“Together, the development addresses the need for vital Bermuda tourism development and provides a clean, safe and environmentally sound public amenity,” the documents added.
“The parking amenity stands to act as a catalyst for others to assist in the revival and redevelopment of the Southlands National Park.”
As part of the project, invasive species would be removed while native and endemic trees and shrubs would be relocated on the site.
Remnants of an historic gun battery at the site would remain in place, with the only permanent structure intended for the property being a building to house restrooms, a moon gate, and pillars near the entrance to the parking area.
Ms Hetzel however said the project flew in the face of the site’s status as a nature reserve and national park.
“Invasive species removal, guided by best conservation practices, is usually a good idea, but requires replacement with native and endemic flora,” she said.
“Removing the invasive species and replacing them with an events lawn, bathrooms and parking has no conservation benefit and would be a significant loss for the people of Bermuda and our natural environment.”
She argued that if the hotel requires an events lawn and additional parking, they should use vacant brownfield land located to the hotel’s east - which is zoned for tourism - rather than the park.
Ms Hetzel also noted that a recently approved approved planning application for renovations at the hotel had relied on the woodlands to defend building a catering facility within a required setback.
“The justification for the lack of setback was that the boundary on the park side was heavily vegetated so that the building would not impact those using the park,” she said.
“This is quite disingenuous as they have full intention of removing the vegetation on the park side all the way to the cliff edge as part of the events lawn, bathrooms and parking development.”
She added the application was identical to a previous application for the site which was rejected by the Development Applications Board in late 2019.
While the previous proposal was branded as “integral” for the operation of the hotel and garnered the support of the Department of Parks, the National Parks Commission raised concerns about the development’s “excessive” size, the amount of woodland that would be lost and potential limitations to public access.
The DAB said woodland reserve conservation areas should be preserved where possible and the historic gun battery “does not appear to have been considered”.
In September, the Government sought proposals for the Southlands property, with documents including both the events lawn and parking area in the southeastern corner of the park.
The Bermuda Audubon Society, the Bermuda National Trust and the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce said they hoped new life could be injected into the deteriorating buildings in the park – but repeated concerns about the impact of the events lawn and parking area.
The Government formally obtained the 37-acre Southlands estate in 2012 as part of a land swap involving 80 acres of brownfield land at Morgan’s Point.
The move was celebrated by environmentalists, who had campaigned since 2007 to protect the site from a hotel development.
The property was formally declared a national park in 2017 but, while several clean-ups have take place, concerns have been raised about the site falling into disrepair.