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Riddell’s Bay project ‘unprecedented’

Riddell's Bay Golf Club went out of business earlier this year

Investors behind plans to transform the old Riddell’s Bay Golf and Country Club into a 50-acre nature reserve have described their venture as an “unprecedented conservation project”.

At the beginning of this month The Royal Gazette revealed that a group of local investors had joined together to purchase the property hoping to use the majority of the land as a conservation zone.

The proposals prompted some residents and club members to launch a petition against the plans over fears they will include residential development.

But this week the group said only a “minimal amount of land on the outer fringes of the property” would be kept for “very low impact, restricted, residential lots” and not condominiums.

“We aim to protect most of the land by rezoning it to a much more restrictive and protected zoning status such as Nature Reserve, Conservation, Park and Open Space Reserve,” a spokeswoman for the investors said. “Once this project is finalised, Bermudians will be able to benefit from over 50 acres of reforested conservation area, which will be the first of its kind in Bermuda of this scale.

“This is a unique opportunity to undertake an unprecedented conservation project for the benefit of Bermuda. The new plans call for the planting of over 500 endemics and stunning natural gardens, significantly larger than the 36-acre Botanical Gardens.

“The conservation project is being undertaken in consultation with highly respected landscape architects and Bermuda’s leading environmentalists; all highly accomplished Bermudians in their fields.”

Riddell’s Bay Golf and Country Club, Bermuda’s oldest course, closed abruptly on March 31 after nearly a century in operation because the club could not meet operational costs.

The group of investors, the majority of whom are Bermudian, met with local residents in October to outline their vision. They maintain that the majority of local residents are in favour of the project.

However, those behind the petition claim the Development and Planning Act 1974 should protect the golf course from residential and commercial real estate development.

The petition, which has attracted 363 signatures and been sent to Cole Simons, the Minister of the Environment, and local Government MP Jeff Sousa, states: “[We are] asking Government to protect and prevent Riddell’s Bay from being rezoned and developed into housing. [We] are demanding that it remain zoned as recreational space and have high hopes of it remaining a golf course.

“We believe that any efforts to rezone the property would set a dangerous precedent for all of Bermuda’s property zoned Recreation and impact the island’s limited green space.”

The group of investors say the petition is being promoted by one or two individuals and insist they want to provide greater protection for the land by making it a nature reserve. Several residents contacted The Royal Gazette yesterday to express their support for the project.

Elspeth Weisberg, who owns a property on Burgess Point Road, said: “My overall message is that the majority of residents support the ideas proposed.

“It’s qualified support because no one wanted to see the golf course close. The majority of us feel this is the best option that has been presented.”

Resident Stephen Catlin added: “I have immense sympathy with the disappointment of losing the golf club but unfortunately getting a golf club back now will never happen. Many of us feel we have to be pragmatic and be grateful for the different proposal.”

Meanwhile, resident Gill Riihiluoma added: “I have been playing golf at Riddell’s Bay for 40 years and if it could be a course again it would be fantastic, but there is just no way this is going to be possible.

“I am 100 per cent behind these new proposals; it is the best way forward.”

Nick Jones, a Riddell’s Bay resident of 53 years, told The Royal Gazette: “I personally think that what they are doing is a big positive for the area. I will support them going forward.”

Another resident, who owns a Riddell’s Bay property and asked not to be named, added: “If it pans out as they suggest with a large swathe of land dedicated to green space that is a positive thing for Bermuda.

“If that means giving up some small area of land to residential that is fine by me. Bermuda already has a sufficient number of golf courses, losing one and gaining a large area of green space is fine.”