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Got you by the horns: protesters against the Fairmont Southampton special development order gather before making their way to the Cabinet Office (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

On April 21, Westend Properties released new pictures and information about its intentions for the Fairmont Southampton development. These were supposed to be “a truer representation of how the buildings will fit into the overall property”, but they have left us even more concerned about the environmental and visual impact than we were before.

This is because the photographs and information are very misleading.

To be clear, the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce is fully supportive of the renovation and reopening of this iconic hotel. If some additional but reasonable development that is complementary to Bermuda’s natural beauty and cultural heritage is necessary, we would be likely to support that.

However, in its latest advertisement, Westend Properties changed renderings of the six-storey blocks from white to pink and added landscaping, but shows no roads, swimming pools or other hardscapes such as car parks. Parking for the residences will take up a lot of space. What has been shown, therefore, is in no way an accurate picture of what we can expect should the special development order be approved and this development go ahead. Further, the golf villas appear in the picture to be two storeys high, but they are listed in the master plan as four storeys. What are we missing?

Unfortunately, the vegetation indicated in the pictures is also unrealistic. Many of the trees pictured would completely block the views from the condominiums and would be a dangerous hazard during a hurricane. Furthermore, the construction phases, which we are told will take 20 years, would destroy all the existing vegetation in the surrounding area. It would take years to grow back.

The angle the pictures have been presented from is also misleading. By using aerial images, the buildings appear “flat” and do not give an accurate representation of what a six-storey building on top of a hill would actually look like — especially if you are looking up from South Shore.

A lot has been made about the positive economic impact this development will have on Bermuda, in particular the number of jobs it will create. Unfortunately, we are not convinced it would actually create extra meaningful job opportunities for Bermudians.

For example, Westend Properties says the project would create 600 construction jobs. Will these 600 people all be working on site at the same time? The construction industry in Bermuda is already doing well. The economic impact study calculated that there would be 100 construction-related jobs per year. And that study was based on 306 units, which does not match the actual number of units proposed. And where will even 100 construction workers be found? Isn’t it time we staged construction work in Bermuda so as to keep Bermudians employed for more years?

Finally, Westend adds that the “finished resort will reinforce Bermuda’s position as a year-round destination”. Who would want to stay in a hotel surrounded by a construction site for the first 20 years, and then six-storey concrete buildings thereafter? Would you?

We agree that having a fully operational Fairmont Southampton hotel is vital for Bermuda’s tourism offering. Gencom and its affiliate, Westend Properties, have been given, in the words of Sir John Swan, “a hell of a gift on behalf of the Bermuda people” in terms of financial incentives to bring this icon back to life.

We would like to emphasise that this is not just about the Fairmont Southampton. This is about the future of development in Bermuda. We heard the Government say, in the town hall meeting, that this SDO will encourage other developers to come to Bermuda. If we think that will be the case, then that gets to the heart of the matter.

Do Bermudians want to see Bermuda become developed with more and larger condo developments? Or do we wish to maintain our unique character and cultural heritage? If we want to be Miami on the Rock, then Bermudians should decide that and not sleepwalk into it. But Bermudians should decide, not the developers.

Kim Smith is the executive director of the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce

• Kim Smith is the executive director of the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce

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Published April 28, 2023 at 6:12 pm (Updated April 29, 2023 at 8:15 am)

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