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Government plans to buy strip of disputed land from widow

The Government has been forced to buy a small strip of land to settle a long-running right-of-access dispute between an elderly widow and a hotel developer.

The row broke out in 2021 after the Government leased the former public golf course in St George to Hotelco Bermuda Holdings, which owns the St Regis Hotel in the Olde Towne.

The lease, drawn up by government planners, erroneously included a pathway that runs through the private property of Gardene Gibbons on Secretary Lane. The pathway is used by golfers to get from the 2nd green to the 3rd tee of the course.

When the Government opened the course to the public in the 1980s, Ms Gibbons and her late husband, Shirley, had agreed to allow the golf cart path to run through their property on the condition that an alternative route was provided to the couple and other area residents through Somner Lane, which is a private estate road.

That informal arrangement worked well until Hotelco took over the property and objected to residents using Somner Lane to get to their homes.

The developer was granted planning permission from government officials to erect barbed wire fencing and gates across the road last year. In a tit-for-tat move in March, the Gibbonses placed bollards across the golf cart pathway that ran through their property.

The row escalated further when two unidentified men — believed to be St Regis Hotel staff — dismantled the obstruction. The Gibbonses filed a complaint of criminal damages with police, although charges were never brought on the advice of government lawyers.

In June, the St Regis closed the course for several days, claiming that angry residents were threatening hotel guests.

Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, intervened after claims that the Government had duped Hotelco into believing that the pathway was government property and therefore part of the lease.

Quinell Francis, a land surveyor and now mayor of the town, said: “The Government has no right to allow Hotelco to use it — the Government doesn’t have the authority because it doesn’t own it.

“Even the Government’s own plans show that it’s private property, not government property. But I suspect Hotelco didn’t know that when they signed the lease.”

That view was supported by Hotelco. A company spokeswoman said: “Hotelco is just a tenant, to whom a leasehold was granted without any notice of the existence of any third-party rights that could affect the long-established traffic of golf carts.”

Colonel Burch has now filed a Notice of Motion in the House of Assembly seeking authorisation for the Government to buy the pathway from Ms Gibbons.

The motion reads: “Be it resolved that this Honourable House, in accordance with Section 2(1)(a) of the Acquisition of Land Act 1970, authorise the purchase of all that southernmost strip of land to be subdivided from land situated at 18 Secretary Lane, St George’s GE05 in the Island of Bermuda as outlined in the Agreement for Sale made between Gardine Izetta Gibbons and the Government of Bermuda.”

It is not known how much the Government has agreed to pay Ms Gibbons for the property.

At the height of the dispute, a lawyer representing the Gibbonses said that although the path was only about 100 feet in length, its value was priceless to the hotel.

Philip Perinchief said: “This particular piece of property has the Suez and Panama Canals value, in that it must be used by this hotel, which benefits from it, as well as the Government, who lease this property to the hotel.

“But they are treating it as their own property. There’s no reasonable compensation for the Gibbonses for their private property that is being used. They are being run roughshod over by big business and big government.”

Mr Perinchief declined to give details of sale negotiations between Ms Gibbons and government officers.

Questioned about the latest development by The Royal Gazette, a Ministry of Public Works spokeswoman would only say: “The minister has reserved comment at this time and looks forward to discussing this matter in the House of Assembly next Friday.”

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Published November 20, 2023 at 7:55 am (Updated November 21, 2023 at 7:48 am)

Government plans to buy strip of disputed land from widow

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