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Moniz: ‘We're creating gated communities'

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New regulations allowing visitors to stay in Tucker's Point villas all year round will create a “gated community” and unfairness to Bermudians, according to

United Bermuda Party MP Trevor Moniz.

But Government hit back, saying it was a sensible and necessary move in tough economic times.

Mr Moniz, the UBP deputy leader, launched a 'take note' motion in the House of Assembly over the new rules, which were brought in by Government last month. They redesignated 65 villas on the Tucker's Point property as hotel residences.

Previously the villas had been designated as tourist accommodations, meaning those who invested in full ownership of the villas were only able to stay in them for three months of the year. The rest of the time, they had to be made available for the hotel to rent to tourists. Now the owners can live in their villas all year. Foreigners and locals can buy the condos, and so can exempt companies who want a place for their staff to stay.

When he first announced the move,

Minister Zane DeSilva said: “The Tucker's Point properties were redesignated as a matter of urgency with the hope that the redesignation would promote further significant investment in the development and thereby both assist the developers and boost tourism in Bermuda.

“It is anticipated that other hotel properties will seek this provision and those will be the subject of individual parliamentary scrutiny.”

Opening the debate, Mr Moniz said he was concerned that previously, the exempt companies would have rented properties from locals but this has now changed.

“That obviously means that someone who would be living in a house locally, instead would be living in what's in effect a gated community. We're creating gated communities where non Bermudians can live apart from the local community,” he claimed. There are those of us who feel this matter should be a matter of great concern. While we support the idea that the hotel industry needs assistance, certain aspects are very worrying indeed.”

Mr Moniz also cited concern the plan appears to be at odds with a Government policy that bans Bermudians from selling homes to foreigners in order to protect land for locals.

He told

The Royal Gazette in an interview after the original debate: “This represents a two tier society. The Government has stopped Bermudians from selling either qualifying condos or houses to non-Bermudians while enriching hotel developers by permitting them to become property developers where the hotel component will become vestigial and may whither away altogether.

“They took away the rights of locals to sell to non-Bermudians, and now they've created a whole new market for people to buy homes that were built for tourism.”

He made similar points again last night, before accusing Government of making policy changes on an ad hoc basis. He opened up debate to the floor, saying: “We table this motion in this House today to give Government the opportunity to lay out for the people of Bermuda its vision when it comes to Bermuda property.”

“We on this side of the House would like the Government to explain to the people of Bermuda the overall rationale and vision as to how they are proceeding.”

A take note motion does not require a vote, but allows all parties to speak.

First to respond from the Government bench was

Minister without Portfolio Michael Weeks who said Government was trying to stimulate the economy. He said he was struggling to understand Mr Moniz's point.

Saying she wanted to help him understand,

Patricia Gordon Pamplin of the United Bermuda Party explained the recent redesignation at Tucker's Point all over again.

Following that, she explained what she sees as the challenges. Firstly, the Hotels Concessions Act allowed the hotel to build the condos at a price that does not equate to market price, and therefore they can be sold at a lower price than on the open market. This, she said, needed to be looked at in the context of Government bringing in restrictions a few years ago that banned most properties owned by Bermudians being sold to foreigners.

Now, she said, non-Bermudians are once again being allowed to own and live in local properties.

Meanwhile exempt companies will no longer be renting accommodation owned by Bermudians for their staff to stay in. “We're not keeping the playing field level and expecting the Bermudian to survive in difficult economic times,” she said. “We need an idea of where the policy is going.”

Minister of Youth, Families and Community Development Glenn Blakeney scoffed at Ms Gordon Pamplin wanting to know what the policy is. “We're living in very fluid times,” he remarked, saying Government would “respond responsively” to that fluid situation.

Mr Blakeney said he did not think the issue would cause the real estate market to “tank”.

Cole Simons of the United Bermuda Party pointed out that with foreigners coming to stay in the condos for many months each year “when does a tourist stop being a tourist and start being a resident of this Country? Are you still a tourist in Bermuda if you're living here for nine months or a year?”

And, he said, it was cheaper to build the condos than for Bermudians to build their own homes. “That's where the inequity lies,” he said.

Mr Simons suggested that vacant executive homes owned by Bermudians could be put out to rent to tourists for six or seven months of the year.

Attorney General and Justice Minister Michael Scott took umbrage at the suggestion that Government had in effect created a gated community at Tucker's Point.

He described such communities as “anathema” to the Progressive Labour Party and said it has always pressed hotels for public access to golf courses and beaches.

Mr Scott said it's no secret that condo developments such as Tucker's Point will be the 'order of the day' in future to pay for large developments.

And he said there was no harm in creating a new definition of a resident if it boosts the economy and tourism and extends the season.

“It's a good thing. It is nothing to do with gated communities or creating unequal societies in this Country, it's got everything to do with promoting the national interests of this Country,” he insisted.

Mr DeSilva said he could not believe what he was hearing and the House should not even be having the debate.

“I don't care whether you call them a tourist or a resident because the people of Bermuda will benefit if you have visitors. Everyone will do well,” he said.

Independent MP Darius Tucker suggested a tax should be levied if international businesses rent the condos for a few days for their clients.

He said the condos cost from $1.5 million upwards and he did not think too many Bermudians are going to be interested in purchasing them.

But he suggested they could be sold to business executives who've enjoyed their time in Bermuda and want to come back for visits with their friends.

Deputy Premier Derrick Burgess said Tucker's Point, a five star property, was having financial difficulties. “I think they're enjoying fair occupancies but the revenue is not paying the bills,” he explained. “So what do we do? Stand by and let a five star destination close?”

He pointed out there are less beds for tourists on the Island than before and there are 100 local employees working at Tucker's Point who have to feed their families. “What gets to me sometimes is no matter what we try to do, people will complain and criticise,” he said. “But no matter what side of the House you sit on there are some things we have to come together on, like crime and getting tourism numbers up and exempt company business.”

Government had seen over a period of time that hotels were running into challenges expanding their properties, said

Tourism Minister Patrice Minors.

She said there had been progress made, but admitted it may not be happening as quickly as some would like. “I hope to improve our tourism product to make us that gem in the Atlantic,” she said, adding: “The potential is there.”

Ms Minors said: “What has been a constant challenge facing these persons who have the support behind them is they are challenged to have the capital”. She recalled an article she read in The Wallstreet Journal which said there was an absence of capital in the United States and developers were looking to invest in properties overseas.

“We appreciate that the challenges are there and we need to have innovative ways to help the developers, but at the end of the day we need to make sure we are not compromising our purse to make our tourism product competitive globally.”

Ms Minors said the desire was there and work continues to be done, but added that everyone needed to work together to make the tourism product as good as it could be.

UBP MP Charlie Swan said the “average man in the streets” was watching as more and more land in this country was being lost to developers overseas for longer periods of time. He said it was important to look at where we are and where we are going.

Premier and Finance Minister Paula Cox said Government's focus for revamping the tourism product was based on four R's. Rethinking its approach to industry development and tourism; rebuilding critical infrastructure; redesigning our approach in a realistic and phased manner and reconnecting. She said: “(Tourism) certainly has not been in the primary position we would like to see it, but it is very much a work in progress, but we are redoubling our efforts and redirecting our efforts.

“What we envisage as a Government is you will see some structural reforms to encourage economic diversification, encourage entrepreneurial activity and to encourage properties and developments like Tucker's Point because they represent part of an essential feature of our tourism architecture.”

Mrs Cox continued: “I am not an expert on tourism, but when I go on vacation I like to see what is happening in that community. I want to reconnect with our community as part of the programme. That means putting the Bermudians back in the picture, from a tourism-entertainment perspective, from a tourism-arts perspective and a Bermudian culture perspective.

“It means that we are reconnecting with the community, a community that feels reconnected with and respected. A community that is prepared to show our visitors some all Island love.”

Cole Simons
Attorney General Michael Scott

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Published December 11, 2010 at 1:00 am (Updated December 11, 2010 at 2:37 pm)

Moniz: ‘We're creating gated communities'

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