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Engineer faults Fairmont Southampton SDO

Fairmont Southampton (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

An engineer and neighbour of the Fairmont Southampton property has called for the special development order application for the resort to be turned down, claiming it fails to give a full picture of the development’s impact.

The site owner, Westend Properties, responded last night stating there were “false and misleading” assertions in the objection – and a “disparaging tone” attacking its “renowned, best-in-class experts”.

The objections were filed with the Department of Planning last Wednesday by professional engineer Austin Kenny, who states that his residence appears on the cover photograph of the master plan – and adds: “To be clear I am not anti-development or anti-progress; as a professional in the construction industry that would be self- defeating.”

But his concerns include the development’s burden on traffic and public transportation, and the plan’s details on infrastructure such as sewage treatment and water supply, along with a potential power plant at the site.

The document includes Mr Kenny’s letter to David Burt, calling on him to instruct Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, to “reject the SDO request” and “demand” a more detailed assessment.

In an accompanying letter to Mr Roban, Mr Kenny writes: “The developers ask for everything and promise nothing. Economic stimulation, local spending, housing availability; these are all speculative, while the desecration of our most valuable asset, our Bermuda, is certain.”

Mr Kenny told The Royal Gazette he was a principal structural engineer with the Ministry of Public works, but had been writing to object strictly “as a Bermudian”.

The Government told the Royal Gazette in response: “This objection will be considered in accordance with the established legislative process.”

Westend Properties dismisses SDO objection

The owners of the Fairmont Southampton hotel property have reacted with disappointment to an engineer’s criticism of plans to redevelop the resort.

“In preparing the application for the SDO, Westend Properties engaged a team of five renowned, best-in-class experts.

“While we respect the right of Bermudians to review the application and voice their objections to it, we had hoped that the discussion would remain civil and respectful.

“As such, we are disappointed at the tone of this recent objection and the damaging allegations that question the professional integrity of our consultants.

“In addition to the disparaging tone used, statements have been made that are false and misleading. For instance, the commenter states that the traffic study does not account for the hotel not being operational.

“As a representative from Brunel explains, `This statement is false. While the hotel was not operational, traffic was estimated for the hotel using the higher volume estimates associated with US hotels and included in the background conditions.’

“Westend remains confident that the Department of Planning will review the SDO application and the subsequent objections in keeping with the established process before making their recommendation.”

The request for an SDO, handed to the department by Westend Properties, the hotel’s owner and an affiliate of Miami-based investment firm Gencom, drew about 90 protesters to the grounds of the Cabinet office on Friday, where a petition handed in to the Government was said to have garnered more than 4,000 signatures.

But the project has diverse backing as essential for the island’s economic recovery – including support from the Bermuda Industrial Union and Sir John Swan, the former premier.

The Fairmont Southampton, Bermuda’s largest resort, has been closed since the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

The closure led to the mass redundancy that October of up to 750 employees, about 500 of them Bermudian.

Mr Burt has repeatedly underscored the need for securing an agreement for its redevelopment and reopening as critical for the island’s tourism.

Westend stated in an advertisement published this month that it heeded concerns and was “committed to respecting the natural beauty of this picturesque site and ensuring that it continues to appeal to locals and tourists alike”.

Mr Kenny told the planning department he believed the request for an SDO was being “rushed” and gave insufficient detail.

He wrote that his criticism of the project consultants was “not meant as an indictment of their ability, professionalism, or ethics” and that he had no insight into their scope of services or direction from their client.

Mr Kenny complained that the 2009 SDO for the site had been used as a baseline when the new proposal sought to “double the development previously approved”.

He also said the SDO should be considered in conjunction with Westend’s other planning applications submitted for the renovation of the hotel, along with the environmental impacts of the 2009 SDO, which he claimed were not included in the environmental impact statement.

The resort and condominium development jumps from “the currently approved 304,050 gross square feet to 674,131 gross square feet”.

Mr Kenny also called for greater detail on proposals ranging from a combined heat and power plant under consideration to “possible micro wind turbines”.

He highlighted a comment in the plan that “it was not possible to comprehensively assess design alternatives that pertain to sewage treatment, potable water supply and treatment, storm water management or energy supply”.

Mr Kenny said the report failed to show how heightened traffic to the development would impact parking at shops in the area – or extend to busy junctions such as the Paget stoplights.

But the Gazette understands that traffic counts for the report followed standard practice and took into account that car rentals beyond small electric vehicles would not feature for the roads leading to the development.

Mr Kenny, who was overseas, said he had been unable to join the demonstrations against the project on Friday.

He said he had not heard back from the Premier – but that a staff member from the planning department had replied to his e-mail to Mr Roban “thanking me for expressing my views and directing me to the official objection channel”.

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Published May 01, 2023 at 7:55 am (Updated May 01, 2023 at 9:32 am)

Engineer faults Fairmont Southampton SDO

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