SDO furore exposes desperate need for new thinking
I have read in your pages in recent days various opinions in support of a new and significant request to erect some 261 condominiums on the pristine hillside surrounding the Fairmont Southampton hotel. This is clearly misguided.
The development flies in the face of opposition from truly independent bodies such as the Bermuda National Trust, the Bermuda Audubon Society and now the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce. These are people who really care about what happens to the Bermudian landscape, and they are not opposed to reasonable development.
Everyone agrees that tourism in Bermuda requires attention and a rebirth. This can be achieved without destruction and disrespect to the very heritage that created it in the first place. This is a wake-up call to all Bermudians who care for and benefit from their inheritance of this island paradise.
A couple of suggestions have been tabled that make a lot of sense to me:
• 1, Foreign investors who acquire hotel or commercial properties should be required to redevelop them within a short time frame. Otherwise, the properties should attract a significant annual land tax, which is actually levied in many other parts of the world
Gencom acquired the Southampton property some time ago at a price that it considered a good investment. It was never part of its justification for purchasing the old hotel and golf course that it should be bailed out with further significant financial support or new valuable development rights through yet another special development order, which it is now demanding. Let us not forget that Curtis Dickinson resigned as Minister of Finance as a matter of principle over this matter one year ago.
Gencom has zero interest in the Bermuda environment. Its interest is solely as a foreign investor — out to make money.
There is a similar situation with the Elbow Beach property, which has also remained undeveloped for years and where the elegant townhouses that tumble down to the beach — not six storeys, by the way — were until recently inhabited by squatters! The present owners may be rich enough to leave the hotel abandoned indefinitely, but how does that help Bermudian tourism? At the very least, tax them in the meantime.
A significant annual land tax on these large, undeveloped properties would force their owners to either do something with them in the interest of tourism or resell them to others who would do what Bermuda needs right now.
SDOs never seem to be enough incentive; nor are gambling licences. Now, Gencom is holding Bermuda to ransom for loan guarantees and endless development rights that are unavailable to other Bermudian investors.
• 2, There is a study under way to redevelop the City of Hamilton — and there should be. A redesign of the harbourside with shops and restaurants instead of cargo ships and mountains of ugly containers and empty warehouses would be a springboard for renewed tourism
The Town of St George has equally unlimited development potential along these lines. Have we totally forgotten and discarded that highly intelligent and tasteful proposal that was presented to the Bermuda public by Sir John Swan not long ago? Take a refreshing look at other ports around the world where tourists, not stevedores, benefit from delightful marinas and promenades.
Bermuda is desperately in need of new thinking here and the present-day individuals from the Department of Planning are not up to this task. Take Sir John’s idea and run with it!
Engage an excellent international urban planner or environmental architect to make a study that can be presented to the Government and to the Bermudian people. To me, such an investment would make a lot more sense than pouring money into Gencom’s back pocket.
I am not a political activist and have no commercial interest whatsoever; nor do I benefit from unlimited mountains of concrete covering Bermuda’s pristine countryside. I have, however, enjoyed for more than 60 years the glorious landscape that exists on this island and around its beaches and waterways. This, above all, is worth the cost of preservation.
The lone Member of Parliament who ever seems to voice concern about real ecological interests is Walter Roban — especially on fish stocks and honey bees! I wonder how the Deputy Premier and minister responsible for the environment feels about six-storey buildings overlooking Horseshoe Bay? There is surely a better solution than what is being proposed by a Bermudian planner, who, incidentally, is on the Gencom payroll!
Wake up, Bermudians, think carefully about protection of your heritage and make a real effort to preserve a better world for your future generations.
Town of St George
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