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Environmental group balks at Southlands event lawn plan

Photographs of the portion of Southlands earmarked for an events lawn (Image from consultation documents)

An environmental charity has urged the public to speak out against a proposal to turn a portion of a national park into an events lawn for a neighbouring resort.

The proposal would convert the southeastern corner of Southlands in Warwick into an events lawn deemed “integral” for the Bermudiana Beach Resort.

The Department of Parks this week launched a two-week consultation process for the proposal, which was previously denied planning permission by the Development Applications Board.

Janice Hetzel, president of the Bermuda Audubon Society, said the proposal raised serious concerns and would set a dangerous precedent for Bermuda’s parklands.

She said in a statement: “The public fought hard for Southlands and it belongs to the people of Bermuda.

“It is not acceptable to give away our parkland for the economic benefit of the adjacent Bermudiana Beach Resort, an unproven tourism venture.

“Although the Bermudiana Beach Resort is publicly owned, it will transition to primarily private ownership when the condominiums are sold.

“If the economic success of this resort depends on the events lawn, then we should all be extremely worried.”

The society argued that the coastal woodlands needed to be preserved and that there were alternative sites that could be used for the proposed event lawn without the same ecological impact.

“A large grassy area that is suitable for events already exists across the street on the northern side of the park,” Ms Hetzel said. “The cleared area to the west of the woodland could be enhanced for an events lawn.

“These spaces are available to the public and can also be reserved by the resort on an as-needed basis. The brownfield property to the east is currently undeveloped and has the appropriate tourism zoning.”

Ms Hetzel also raised concern about conflicts of interest for those involved in the process.

“The Ministry of Public Works has a clear conflict of interest as it is responsible for parks and also the Bermuda Housing Corporation,” she said.

“Several members of the newly constituted Parks Commission will also have a conflict as they have been involved in the development of the Bermudiana Beach Resort.

“We need Government to do the right thing and respect the sanctity of our parks. They should stop trying to destroy and essentially give away a precious piece of Southlands Park.

“Instead of claiming to be interested in protecting the environment and doing what is best for our community, it is time for them to show us that they really do care.”

The deadline for comments as part of the consultation process is May 9, with public comment forms available on the Department of Parks website.

The Bermuda Housing Corporation first submitted plans for an events lawn and car park at the southeastern corner of Southlands to be used by the resort property in 2019.

However, the application met with objections from environmental groups, and the National Parks Commission raised concerns about the development’s “excessive” size, the amount of woodland that would be lost and potential limitations to public access.

Another application was submitted in 2022, and while it was also rejected by the DAB, that ruling was overturned on appeal last November by Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, without the car park component.

The Government subsequently withdrew its approval after the Bermuda Audubon Society filed for a judicial review into Mr Roban’s decision claiming that he had failed to abide by the Bermuda National Parks Act.

A spokeswoman for the charity said that the parks commission had not been formally consulted in the review of the Southlands planning application and as required by the Bermuda Plan because it had been disbanded in December 2022.

The body, which is tasked with advising the responsible minister “on matters affecting the long-term conservation and management” of the national parks system, was re-established this month.

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Published April 27, 2024 at 7:50 am (Updated April 27, 2024 at 6:56 am)

Environmental group balks at Southlands event lawn plan

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