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Roban allowed St George’s pub appeal on economic grounds

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Pub on the Square's controversial exhaust fan. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A St George’s restaurant project was given the green light despite planning issues because of the potential economic benefit it could bring the East End, according to planning documents.

In a decision letter dated February 10, Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, formally granted retroactive planning approval to an exhaust fan for the Pub on the Square, which had earlier been rejected by the Development Applications Board.

Mr Roban added in the document that he had made the decision on January 18 and apologised for the delay in the formal notice.

“I fully appreciate the consequences of this administrative oversight, an oversight which is certainly regrettable,” he said.

Mr Roban said planning permission was required for anything that affected the appearance of a listed building within an Historic Protection Area, noting that the rules in such areas were “very different” from others.

“It is certainly regrettable that communication with the Department of Planning prior to the installation of the exhaust fan did not occur,” he said. “Retroactive works cannot be approved by the board or department.

“Further, I must note that the agent of record should have been more responsible in knowing that such infrastructure should have been reflected on elevation drawings in the application submission.

“I am therefore hereby placing the appellant on notice that any further retroactive works that come before the Minister or the Department of Planning on the site in question or any other site owned and/or leased by the appellant will be carefully scrutinised.”

Despite his criticism, Mr Roban said he appreciated the positive impact the project could have.

“The appellant has taken a financial risk by investing in the Town of St George and in a building that has been abandoned for many years,” he said.

“This business venture is viewed as an effort to add to the vitality of the Town Square, which is central to the Town of St George, a Unesco World Heritage Site.

“To this end, while I agree that the retroactive installation of the exhaust fan negatively impacts the historic character of the listed building and its surroundings and that the fan is contrary to the provisions of the Bermuda Plan 2018, I cannot disregard the overwhelming economic benefits this restaurant could inject into the ailing economy of the Town, which in my opinion outweighs the adverse visual impact of the fan.”

The Pub on the Square project ran into troubled waters when work was halted over an exhaust fan installed at the historic building.

After a public back and forth between the Government and Marico Thomas, the entrepreneur behind the project, the silver exhaust fan was painted white and retroactive planning approval was sought.

However, the DAB refused approval as they are unable to approve retroactive applications, sparking Mr Thomas to file an appeal to Mr Roban.

In documents, Paul McDonald, the Director of Planning, wrote: “In this case, the revision application made no reference whatsoever to a proposed extraction hood, the floor plans provided insufficient details and the elevations included no visual details whatsoever of an extraction hood.

“For the above reasons, the subject extraction hood was never considered by any officer of the department until the retroactive application was submitted upon the insistence of the department.”

Mr McDonald also argued that the exhaust fan would impact the character and appearance of the historic building.

“The appellant’s argument is based almost exclusively on his position that the building in its current form with an unsightly extraction fan is preferred to a derelict building in respect of the appearance and historic character of the Town,” he said.

Mr McDonald added: “This ‘all or nothing’ approach put forward by the appellant is not considered an appropriate means of assessing this proposal.

“A significant omission of the subject application, as well as this appeal, is the appellant’s continued failure to present any other solution than that which he chose to implement without the requisite planning permission and with no consultation with the department whatsoever.”

Last week, Mr Thomas abruptly called quits on the restaurant development citing ongoing delays with the planning department that had driven up costs beyond $300,000 and scared off financial backers.

That same night, Mr Thomas was contacted by David Burt to notify him that the source of a hold-up had in fact been cleared last month by Mr Roban.

Speaking with The Royal Gazette on Friday, Mr Thomas said completing the restaurant might already be impossible – and that a decision hung in the air as to whether he could complete it, sell the eatery to another operator, or convert the site into housing.

Kings Square restaurant owned by entrepreneur Marico Thomas. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published February 15, 2023 at 7:50 am (Updated February 15, 2023 at 7:50 am)

Roban allowed St George’s pub appeal on economic grounds

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