Protesters present 4,000-name petition against hotel SDO
Campaigners protesting against the scale of plans for the Fairmont Southampton resort presented the Government with a petition bearing more than 4,000 signatures yesterday morning.
About 90 demonstrators gathered on the Cabinet grounds to voice their concerns about the reach of a special development order request submitted by Westend Properties, the hotel’s owner and an affiliate of Miami-based investment firm Gencom.
Some carried signs with messages such as “environment over profit” and “don’t give away our heritage”.
An application to the Department of Planning requested in-principle approval for up to 114 tourism and 147 residential units in buildings of two to six storeys at the site.
It also sought permission for associated access roads, parking areas and modifications to the resort’s golf course.
Ed Dawson, a 27-year-old Southampton resident, told the crowd he had started the petition two weeks ago when he saw plans for the property, where the iconic hotel has been closed since 2020.
He said: “In 24 hours we had over 1,000 signatures and now we are at 4,100 signatures and counting, which is over 6 per cent of Bermuda’s population.”
The proposed SDO would allow developers to double the number of units permitted in principle under a 2009 development order, which granted plans for 71 fractional tourism properties, 37 residential villas and 22 town homes.
Mr Dawson said: “I want to show the Government that Bermudians care about this SDO and that we want Gencom to come to the negotiating table and either accept what they already have, which is over 100 units, or tailor back what they’re asking for; provide provisions for renewable energy, using seawater to flush your toilets like Southampton Princess used to do, things like that.
“Let us be more sustainable, let us preserve our green spaces, preserve our heritage as Bermudians.
“We don’t want to look corporate, we want to look Bermudian.
“What is Bermudian? Colour, white roofs, green spaces – that’s the big one.”
Jason Hayward, the Acting Premier, accepted the petition on behalf of the Government.
He said: “Certainly, Bermuda is a democracy and I respect everyone’s right to share their opinion.
“I also appreciate you coming here today and sharing your views as it pertains to the SDO.
“There has been a lot of dialogue in our community regarding the Fairmont Southampton project; there are people who support the project and there are others who have challenges and issues with what is proposed.”
Mr Hayward reminded residents that there was a formal process for submitting objections and encouraged people to follow it.
The deadline for representations is Wednesday.
Mr Hayward added: “As the minister responsible for the economy and labour, sustainable development is in the forefront of the Government’s agenda.
“We will ensure that we balance our view of sustainable economic growth and development with ensuring that we appropriately attract the necessary investment to ensure that we improve the social and economic conditions of Bermuda.”
He said the petition would be passed on to the Premier and the Minister of Home Affairs, who are off the island.
Frances Eddy, 77, was among the protesters and attended a town hall event on Tuesday when residents heard more about the redevelopment plans.
She said today: “After that meeting, I reflected on it and was better informed. However, I still feel that the scale of the development is not in keeping with Bermuda flavour.
“It’s a permanent thing, it’s not a temporary thing that’s going to be taken down next year.
“While we have this economic situation right now – which is dire, I agree – I don’t think that it warrants giving, bascially, our soul away to rescue ourselves.
“There must be another way.”
Jeanie Flath added: “Gencom is a business. They purchased this hotel and now they’re asking us to support future risks."
Myles Darrell, the head of natural heritage at the Bermuda National Trust, told the campaigners: “We’ve got to save Bermuda, that’s what this is about.
“We’ve got to save it for our young people, that’s what this is really about.
“We’ve got to save it for the birds and the bees. We need space for all of us and I don’t think Gencom sees that.
“I understand because they’re a business, they’re about making money.”
He added: “At the end of the day, it’s not going to come back to us, it’s not going to get down to our youth and it’s going to take away from the paradise that we’ve come to love, that we live in that we all survive because of.
“It is our tourism product. If we decimate the product with concrete, no one wants to come and look at that, so we’ve got to keep saying ‘no’.”
Mr Darrell said: “We want to see the hotel open and we want to see it open now.
“We want to see Bermudians working and we want to see them working now.
“We’ve had enough waiting, at some point we’re going to have to start charging a vacancy tax on them.
“They need to start recognising that they support us and we can support them, but this is something we’ve got to do together."
The demonstration was attended by several One Bermuda Alliance MPs and senators.
They included Ben Smith, a member of the Upper House, who said most hotel projects continued to operate while refurbishments were carried out.
He added: “They’ve closed the hotel, which has had a significant impact on the jobs in Bermuda, it’s had a significant impact on what’s happening at our airport, which has now caused our airlift to be a problem and all of those things now have us being held at ransom.
“The problem with that is now the population is supposed to swallow six-storey buildings in order for us to get the project going but we also swallowed 15-year concessions to get this over the line and that still hasn’t started the project.”
A spokesperson for Westend Properties said in an emailed statement that the “small turnout” at the protest meant “it appears that there are many more residents who support the redevelopment of the Fairmont property”.
The company said the protest was only one of the several opportunities that local residents have had to share their objections about the proposed development. It added: “They were also invited to an open house at the hotel and a town hall meeting hosted by local MPs and attended by Westend representatives on April 25.”
However, the open house was restricted to immediate neighbours of the property and the organisers of the town hall meeting tried to prevent the media from covering it.
The spokeswoman added: “We respect Bermudians’ right to protest and voice their opinions about the Fairmont SDO.
“Based on the small turnout at today’s event, it appears that there are many more residents who support the redevelopment of the Fairmont property.
“As we hope many people now realise, we are committed to respecting Bermuda's landscape and building style, operating sustainably with renewable energy sources where possible, and employing hundreds of Bermudians to help us reinforce Bermuda’s position as a world-class destination.”
The statement claimed that many Bermudians had reacted positively to the SDO, “recognising that the tourism and residential units are essential to the overall success of the Fairmont, understanding that those units will only be built based on demand and acknowledging the economic boost the development will have for Bermuda”.
It added: “For example, one of the comments made in response to the protest included, ‘Build, the sooner the better’.”