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Environmental groups oppose car park at Southlands

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Environmental groups have launched formal objections in an effort to halt the construction of a parking lot and events lawn on a national park.

The Bermuda Audubon Society and the Bermuda National Trust have objected to the proposal’s use of the southeastern corner of the Southlands National Park - which is zoned a woodland reserve — and urged the Development Applications Board reject it.

The plan is intended to support the neighbouring Bermudiana Beach Resort as well as improve public access to Southlands.

The application stated: “Given that the hotel site was originally constructed for residential use only, various hotel function aspects could not be incorporated on the site, and this includes a formal outdoor events venue.

“The proposed events lawn is an integral component of the hotel use, while the parking area will be accessible to the public for accessing Southlands Park and Beach.

“Currently, all park and beachgoers park along South Road, creating safety issues in some instances.”

The Bermuda Audubon Society said it remained strongly opposed to any development in that section of the parkland.

“Bermuda’s iconic and beautiful South Shore ‘golden mile’ starts at the boundary of Bermudiana Beach Resort and the Southlands Park and should not be compromised for the benefit of a commercial development,” the organisation said.

“Effective conservation efforts for the retention of the cliff area along the shoreline dictates no structures within the coastal setback, which was implemented to protect Bermuda’s vulnerable coast.

“The bay grape trees on the top of the site at present are good stabilisers of cliff-top environments and should not be disturbed. Casuarina is known to set roots down into the limestone and are often the reason cliffs are cleaved away in high winds and storms.

“Allowing development in the vicinity of eroding cliffs in the face of sea level rise and increased intensity and frequency of storms is irresponsible.”

While the charity accepted that there was a need for parking to support the park and the beach, it said the southwestern end of the Southlands property would be better suited for amenities.

“This area is already clear of native and endemic plantings, offers a panoramic view of South Shore and has existing concrete pad and utility connections to develop park amenities without disrupting nature,” the charity said.

BAS also warned that while a presentation on the project had suggested that increased use of the beach would help to relieve pressure on Horseshoe Bay and other beach properties, increased use of the Southlands Beach may present other challenges.

“As anyone who has ever swum there knows, it is an extremely dangerous place to swim much of the year, with strong rip tides and numerous rocky outcrops,” the charity said.

“It is likely that if traffic to this beach increases it will be necessary for the Department of Parks to further invest in lifeguards at this location.”

Janice Hetzel, of the Bermuda Audubon Society, takes a walk on Southlands Beach in the wake of Hurricane Fiona. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The charity said it would support the completion of the Southlands Management Plan, the culling of invasive species and “gentle pruning” of bay grape trees in the area, along with the removal of new sprouting casuarinas.

It also said it would support the creation of parking bays on the western coastal lawn, provision of toilets on an existing concrete pad on the site, and use of the remaining western coastal field for “special events that generate income”.

Myles Darrell, the head of natural heritage for the Bermuda National Trust, said the proposal would result in the loss of public parkland and “irreparably damage” the character and quality of the park.

He also highlighted that the “assessment of existing plants” in the application omitted several mature plants that can be clearly seen from the roadside.

“It appears totally unnecessary to create the parking lot and events lawn immediately to the west of the Bermudiana Beach Resort,” Mr Darrell added. “First, the hotel has an area to its east which is appropriately zoned for parking.

“Second, there is proposed parking for 45 cars, 79 bikes, minibuses and taxis in the southwestern corner of the Southlands property. The additional parking just over 200 metres away, as proposed in this plan, would seem excessive, particularly since it would be so environmentally damaging.

“No data on projected usage or need has been provided to indicate the necessity of this disproportionate parking development.”

He said the BNT urged the DAB to reject the application.

Mr Darrell added: “This property belongs to Bermudians. It is our heritage and should not be thoughtlessly developed, depriving future generations of its natural beauty, health-giving benefits and protection from the very real risk of climate change.”

The Bermuda Environmental and Sustainability Taskforce, meanwhile, submitted a letter of concern, stating that while the group was not “fully in favour” of the proposal, it understood that public parking access to Southlands “could be considered to have some offset value”.

“We feel strongly, however, that the public land that will then be used as the event lawn for the benefit of the hotel could very reasonably justify some additional offset be offered up in the form of, say, an equal amount of other public land holdings in the area being given protected status,” the group said.

“Additionally, looking at the plans for the access and exit to the parking area, we feel that they are assigned incorrectly and that access to the parking area needs to be at the eastern end of the site, given the restricted line of sight.

“The exit would then be positioned at the western end of the site.”

The proposal is nearly identical to a similar application for the site, which was rejected by the DAB in late 2019.

While the previous plan 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.

BAS, BNT and BEST 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.

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Published December 19, 2022 at 7:51 am (Updated December 19, 2022 at 7:22 am)

Environmental groups oppose car park at Southlands

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