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Government to pay $450,000 for ‘Suez Canal’ land

Win-win: Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works (File photograph)

An error by officials will cost the taxpayer $470,000 after the Government erroneously leased a small strip of privately owned land to a hotel developer.

The property — a short pathway on Secretary Lane in St George — has an appraisal value of only $30,000. But because of its location on the former public golf course in the Olde Towne, the Government will now pay the owner $450,000 to obtain it, along with $50,000 in legal fees.

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

But a row broke out in 2021 after the Government leased the course to Hotelco Bermuda Holdings — the owner of the St Regis hotel — and included the strip of land in the lease.

That error came to light when Hotelco objected to residents using Somner Lane as a route to their homes. Planners subsequently granted the developer planning approval to block motorised traffic from using it.

In retaliation, Mr and Mrs Gibbons blocked off the golf cart path running through their property being used by hotel guests when playing golf.

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.

In the House of Assembly yesterday, Colonel Burch said that the sale price “may seem an astronomical sum”.

But he also claimed the deal was “the best result for all the parties involved” and a “win-win” situation.

Presenting a purchase agreement for the property, which was eventually approved by MPs, Colonel Burch said: “Let’s call it what is — fair value.”

He added he was “delighted” to honour the commitment that the Progressive Labour Party government “would never take away a Bermudian’s land”.

Colonel Burch likened the golf path to the Suez or Panama canal, in that it cut out the need for users of the course to travel a much longer distance.

Rerouting the golf path would have been “substandard” while the infrastructure piped below the property substantially elevated its value, he said.

He added: “It took some time to get here, almost two years, and there were ups and downs during this process, but we are here now considering an agreement that is mutually agreeable to all parties. This took longer than I expected it would take. It was always my position that we would get there.”

Renée Ming, the MP for the area, told the House that Mrs Gibbons was in the public gallery watching the debate.

Ms Ming said: “She sits here today without her husband, so this resolution is bittersweet.”

She added: “I hope that no other family in Bermuda has to go through this type of land situation against the Government again.”

St David’s MP Lovitta Foggo said she was “a very close relative” of Mrs Gibbons and had no doubt her husband was resting in peace.

Ms Foggo agreed the land was “really worth much more” than the $30,000 appraised.

“The Government has accepted that in order to make this just and right, that she get a much higher value, and, I would say, the true value.”

Craig Cannonier, the shadow public works minister, said the Opposition “fully supports” the agreement.

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Published November 25, 2023 at 7:59 am (Updated November 25, 2023 at 3:16 pm)

Government to pay $450,000 for ‘Suez Canal’ land

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