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Fairmont SDO changes just ‘tokenism’ – National Trust

The Fairmont Southampton Hotel (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

“Tokenism” is at play in the revised special development order for the Fairmont Southampton resort, the Bermuda National Trust has charged.

Karen Border, the executive director of the environmental charity, said that the scaling down of the SDO fell short of the concerns of protesters against the development of the island’s biggest hotel.

The Government has backed the project as essential for restoring the island’s tourism product after the Fairmont Southampton closed its doors in 2020.

The hotel’s owner, Westend Properties Ltd, initially sought 147 residential units and 114 tourism units on the property, in addition to refurbishing the hotel building.

New plans that went online last week proposed dropping the total units from 261 to 250.

Tourism units were increased from 114 to 159, and the residential units proposed have dropped to 91, meaning the number of tourism bedrooms will increase from 311 to 441.

Ms Border said the redrawn proposal for the property “appears to be tokenism”.

“Taken as a whole, the changes are minimal and the plans still show massive overdevelopment.”

She added: “It may have been the game plan all along to propose something so outrageous that any scaling back would be considered a win.

“However, this new proposal does not go anywhere near enough to satisfy the concerns of the Bermuda National Trust, nor do we think the thousands of Bermudians who protested the original plans will be satisfied that their voices have truly been heard.”

Statement from Westend Properties

“We'd like to assure the public that there was no ‘deliberate’ strategy to submit an initial SDO application for higher density and then submit a revised one at a later date. We have neither the resources nor the inclination to play such games. Time is of the essence and Westend would like to start the renovations on the hotel as soon as possible. The revisions made to the SDO application were based on the feedback we received through the public consultation process and from the Department of Planning. Our goal is to present a proposal that will satisfy all parties.

“To clarify a couple of misconceptions that keep getting repeated: the six-storey buildings have not been reduced to four storeys. Rather, they have been replaced with two and three-storey buildings. The four-storey buildings were part of the original application and are on land that has been zoned tourism. Finally, there will be no further concessions from the Government, regardless of the number of tourism units.”

Ms Border insisted that the small reduction in units overall looked to be “no more than a nod towards public opinion”.

“Picture it: that is still 250 units in around 94 additional buildings on what is presently green space, much of which is zoned recreational land that was supposed to be protected from development.”

She added that the SDO’s reduction in the maximum height of buildings from six to four storeys was “a step in the right direction” but said that four-storey buildings would nonetheless come with “a huge visual impact”.

“Is this the Bermuda that we want to see? Is this dense massing of buildings, including many in the middle of the golf course, the kind of Bermuda vacation experience that visitors want and expect?”

Ms Border said the trust believed that Gencom, which owns Westend, had still failed to show the need for “so much additional tourism and high-value residential accommodation beyond their own real-estate gains”.

The Government issued a statement last night on the SDO changes.

A spokeswoman said: “The relief provided to support the redevelopment of the Fairmont Southampton hotel is clearly set out in the Act of the Legislature that was approved by both the House and the Senate.

“The Government has consistently and repeatedly set out the nature of the Government’s support for this development and that has not changed.

“Further, this revised submission is part of a statutory process which is being followed to the letter. As such there will be no comment that would prejudice that process and the appropriate considerations of the Department of Planning and the responsible minister.

“Virtually every large construction project has been impacted by global conditions related to capital markets, supply-chain issues and significant increases in costs. This perfect storm of conditions in the wake of a global pandemic continue their global impact from which Bermuda is not exempt.

“The importance of this project has become self-evident during this peak season of tourism when demand for Bermuda is difficult to meet without this hotel on offer to our intended visitors.

“The continued interest of investors and the work by the developers, their design team and project advisers speaks volumes about the confidence in Bermuda generally and our tourism in particular.”

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Published July 31, 2023 at 7:59 am (Updated July 31, 2023 at 7:38 am)

Fairmont SDO changes just ‘tokenism’ – National Trust

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