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Minister overrules DAB to give hotel project the go-ahead

Rejected: the Development Applications Board refused to grant planning permission for the Nautilus expansion project in December

A decision by planning officials to turn down a controversial hotel development has been overturned by a government minister.

Vance Campbell, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, has given Atlantic Hotel Ltd the green light to increase the number of tourism units at the Nautilus hotel property on South Shore in Warwick with the construction of a three-storey building on the site.

The project was rejected by the Development Applications Board in December after a wave of protest from area residents. Neighbours had voiced concerns about the “piecemeal” approach to development and the impact of construction work at the site.

In a report filed for the DAB’s consideration, a technical officer said the location of the new build on an elevated portion of the property would make it “appear excessively prominent” from public vantage points — even after the developer had offered to reduce the number of storeys from four to three.

The officer also pointed out that the area was already considerably developed and new construction “represents overdevelopment of the site, leaving little possibility for the incorporating of meaningful landscaping”.

Mr Campbell rejected that advice after having “carefully considered” the case.

In a letter to architectural consultant Adwick Planning this month, Mr Campbell wrote: “I have carefully considered the decision of the board, the appellant’s case, the objectors’ concerns, and the case submitted by the Director of Planning, and I have decided to overturn the board’s decision and grant planning permission.”

Mr Campbell went on to imply that the scaling-down of the building had influenced his decision — even though the reduction in storeys from four to three had still not satisfied planning officers.

The minister wrote: “In making this decision, I recognise that design modifications have been made to the proposal to address concerns regarding building height.

“In addition, I acknowledge the success of this tourism development and that continued investment will translate into further economic growth and more job opportunities for the local community.”

Area resident Bob Richards had opposed the development from the start, and contacted Mr Campbell to explain why an appeal against the DAB decision should also be rejected.

In a January 19 letter, Mr Richards argued that a pledge to reduce the number of storeys was “a token gesture” that would still “exert a considerable visual blot on the ridge tops and skyline”.

Mr Richards, a former finance minister in the One Bermuda Alliance administration, wrote: “The developers have provided nothing visual to show the public and the minister how this latest iteration of the development lessens the negative planning guidelines on development.”

Fifth time board advice has been pushed aside

Vance Campbell’s decision to grant Nautilus planning is the fifth time that a government minister has rejected the advice of planning experts in recent months.

In October, Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, approved a special development order for the Fairmont Southampton Hotel — “the largest construction project in Bermuda’s history”.

The DAB had earlier backed the findings of the Department of Planning, which concluded that the submission conflicted directly with the goals of the Bermuda Plan 2018.

Mr Roban defended his decision, saying it was “in the national interest and the best interests of the majority of Bermuda residents”.

A month later, Mr Roban overruled the DAB on two further occasions.

He granted planning permission for a food truck to be located in Flatts, despite claims by planning experts that the project was dangerous to residents and environmentally insensitive. Like Mr Campbell, Mr Roban said that he had “carefully considered the decision of the board” before deciding to overturn it.

Two days later, he overturned another DAB ruling that had blocked a proposal for an events lawn at Southlands.

The applicant, the Bermuda Housing Corporation, claimed the project was essential to the success of the neighbouring Bermudiana Beach Resort.

Overturning that DAB ruling, Mr Roban said: “My decision is based on the importance of the proposed events lawn to the success of the tourism development which it would serve.”

Responsibility for planning decisions was transferred from Mr Roban’s Ministry of Home Affairs to Mr Campbell’s Ministry of the Cabinet Office.

In January, Mr Campbell overruled the DAB to give a nine-storey office block on Front Street the go-ahead.

Construction has now started on what will be the new global headquarters for Brookfield Reinsurance and the company’s Bermudian-domiciled listed affiliates.

The plan was rejected by the Development Applications Board in November, in part because the height of the structure was deemed “excessive”. The board recommended that at least one storey be removed.

The director of planning also advised that a subsequent appeal by the developers be turned down.

A government spokeswoman later justified Mr Campbell’s decision, saying: “Quite simply, this project is a demonstration of the significant confidence in Bermuda as a premier business centre, and the success of any business development benefits all of Bermuda.”

Mr Richards also dismissed Adwick’s claims that the DAB had acted in “a prejudicial manner”, pointing out that the board had granted the company planning permission for other projects.

He ridiculed the developer’s claims that the project would boost tourism inventory, noting that it would add just 1.5 hotel bedrooms.

Mr Richards wrote: “This can hardly be considered enough to move the needle of the overall bed count for Bermuda in a significant way, particularly in view of the multiple negative impacts it will have on the neighbourhood and the environment.”

Contacted by The Royal Gazette yesterday, Mr Richards questioned why Mr Campbell had not provided more details for his decision.

He said: “I’m disappointed, put it that way — you wonder why they even have the Development Applications Board in the first place.

“This development was roundly rejected by them for many reasons. The developers have made assertions that we believe are not substantiated.

“There’s a claim of financial difficulty, but they have not backed it up with any proof. You just have to accept their word.

“There’s also a big issue with parking. They clearly do not have enough. They have said that they do, but they do not. Again, they have given no back-up.

“It’s all been overridden with very little explanation as to why. The provisos in the letter are boilerplate and the reasons given are very curt.”

Mr Richards also disputed the assertion that the development was necessary for tourism reasons.

“The addition to our tourism is infinitesimal. The amount of time they can lease these things to tourists is very small.”

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Published April 18, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated April 18, 2024 at 8:05 am)

Minister overrules DAB to give hotel project the go-ahead

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