Welcome to OBMI fantasy world
Today’s “letter” (July 17, 2023) — or rather Sales Pitch — begging for support for the Fairmont Southampton 2023 (June) special development order application made me reach for my “pressure pills”.
Opponents of the SDO are accused of being “inaccurate and misleading” and Westend Properties/Gencom assert they are giving us the “ ….correct information about the proposed development …” and its impact.
They then follow with a focused assertion that none of the site is “protected land” — a distinction without a difference. Golf course lands are very much “protected” in Bermuda and may not be used for residential development.
They then point at the two small clusters that they have — notwithstanding the prohibition — shown to be built on the golf course lands.
What Westend Properties/Gencom avoid saying is that the only reason that the other units shown are on “residential” zoned land is that after the 2009 SDO, these lands were rezoned that way to reflect the 2009 SDO permissions. To put the situation in accurate perspective: all of those units are on land where residential building was prohibited until the 2009 SDO. This latest SDO seeks to add the units circled in their image to those already allowed by the previous SDO. None of these newly added violations should be allowed; enough is enough!
The next paragraph pretends that because they can sell these units they are, almost by definition, not going to have negative impacts. What arrant nonsense! Utilities companies worldwide had no problem selling gigawatt hours of electricity generated by coal in the past 50 years; that does not alter that those power stations were an environmental disaster that we will pay for for centuries.
Their poster boys for this assertion are Belmont, Newstead, the Loren and Tucker’s Point — the missing member of the band being the St Regis. The first three cited have nothing like the scale, concentration and massing of what is proposed; they are not “comparable”.
There is a reason that the “letter” gave one third of its editorial space to a zoning plan and did well to show actual photographs of the “poster boys” at all. They are overwhelmingly, disastrously, in-your-face — so not in keeping with anything that might qualify as “Bermudian architecture” that it would be insulting. They are, in a word, “ugly”.
The only silver lining on these examples is that they are hidden away; Tucker’s Point has put their ugly side facing the airport and St Regis is at the far East End facing the ocean — even though it totally destroys the vista of Fort St Catherine. By contrast the Westend Properties/Gencom plan is to put their condo blocks front and centre on an iconic property on one of the most picturesque and most visited locations on the island. What was an archetypical Bermuda image vista of a grand old hotel nestled amid her pristine golf course and framed by patches of palms and duck ponds and wooded ridgelines will be transformed into a bizarro Bermuda pink plus Miami condo-block mash-up that may be sellable to foreigners who know no better but will never be “... tasteful with authentic Bermuda look and feel...”
Then there is the defence of the rape of the golf course. Everyone who has ever paid good money for a golf club or a round of golf knows that a well-designed course is like a well-fitted jacket — you cannot just cut a bit here and add a bit there and move a bit around and have it still work. The June revision leaves, by my count, only seven of the original holes unaltered. Yet the “letter” claims the plan makes “... slight modifications to a number of holes ...” This is just smokescreen-speak for changes that will transform what is regarded as “... one of the ten best par-three courses in the world ...” into just another golf course designed by a real estate developer’s house architect to give this condo blocks the best view and look good in the sales brochure.
The next paragraph makes the now often-heard promises about all the benefits that will accrue to Bermuda and Bermudians from the SDO. What goes unsaid there is that there is no differentiation between the hotel rehabilitation and the real estate project. No one has voiced a single objection to the hotel renovation. In fact, even though the 2009 SDO shared negative impacts very similar to those being voiced now, almost none of the objections are to the 2009 SDO’s permitted buildings. The only objections are to the scale and nature of the real estate development additions sought over and above the 2009 SDO by the existing June 2023 application.
The accurate picture around the economic benefits is nowhere to be found. For example, no commitments have been made about how many construction jobs would be created nor — importantly — how many would be filled by Bermudians. How much of the construction cost would actually go to Bermudian workers’ wages or to Bermuda material suppliers — net after import costs. How many line staff and managerial jobs would actually be held by Bermudians. Would Bermudian taxpayers and ratepayers be subsidising solid-waste collection, freshwater supply and electricity supply in addition to the tax and duty concessions and guarantees. How much of the net profit after sales would leave the island to Westend Properties/Gencom/lender-related entities. What would be the disposition of the sales profits after the project is sold on and realises the famous 2½ times investment profit.
Reopening the hotel is worth the cost of the 2009 SDO new build. Lining foreign pockets through a pure-play real estate development is not “... good for the community ...”
The closing promises, that this would create a “... four-season destination resort and year-round visitors and secure employment ...” made me wonder why an owner — or a tourist renting their condo — would choose to come here in winter rather than summer just because Westend Properties/Gencom built the condos. Then I remembered: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t.
Then there is the beautiful artwork of Colin Campbell’s OBMI. All I can say is that the renders in the actual plan submission are actually less misleading than these fantasies. Not being artistically inclined myself, all I can encourage people to do is look very closely at the renders in the plan until you have an idea in your mind of how they look when put together and where they would be on the landscape. Then actually go up to Southampton. Park on the roadside or get off the bus near the Fairmont Southampton south entrance. Walk slowly all the way to Dolphin Ridge Drive and back.
As you walk west, think of what you see as one of Bermuda’s “grand old lady” hotels, nestled in the arms of her pristine golf course, which is punctuated by duck ponds, palm trees and clusters of woodland, and framed by wooded ridgelines.
As you walk back to the east, visualise what that vista would look like after Westend Properties/Gencom are through putting 620,000 square feet of apartment-style condo blocks on the land — 250 blocks with 729 bedrooms, together with roads, parking, trash-collection zones, pumphouses and all the other things that would be built.
Then remember: this vista is seen by literally thousands of visitors and Bermudians every single day.
This would not be the OBMI fantasy world. It would be the destruction of an important part of Bermuda that we would never recover.
Seeing is understanding. Believe me, the trip to Southampton is a small investment to make to get perspective on this very important issue.