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House approves revised Tucker’s Point SDO

The Rosewood Tucker's Point SDO was approved yesterday paving the way for an expansion project aimed at rescuing the resort from financial ruin.

Once more the order was surrounded by controversy as, for the fourth debate in less than a month, it provoked a succession of angry complaints from the Opposition United Bermuda Party.

But the amended order got the 18 Progressive Labour Party votes it needed to guarantee approval, with seven votes against: six from the United Bermuda Party and one from Bermuda Democratic Alliance. Ten MPs were absent for the vote.

A Special Development Order for a hotel expansion on Quarry Hill and private homes elsewhere at the luxury resort had been approved by the House at the end of last month.

However, that order was scaled back in the Senate, with the Quarry Hill aspect removed due to environmental concerns; MPs were yesterday asked to run the rule over the new look SDO. During another argumentative discussion, Shadow Finance Minister Bob Richards said developers had tricked the public with an American football style misdirection play, claiming they never intended tourism to be on their agenda.

Mr Richards claimed the removal of Quarry Hill from the SDO played into the developers' hands as it meant their project is now solely about creating private homes.

He alleged that was how the developers had planned it from the beginning, describing it as a “property development masquerading as a tourism development”.

And he suggested Tucker's Point had lied to the UBP by making out the hotel was making a profit when really it was losing millions of dollars a year.

Shadow Works Minister Patricia Gordon-Pamplin said she felt as though she'd been “defecated upon”, adding that developers had removed aspects they wouldn't have been able to build anyway.

Meanwhile, veteran UBP MP John Barritt blasted Government for limiting consultation and only providing politicians copies of the revised proposal minutes before the debate.

Tourism Minister Patrice Minors and Attorney General Michael Scott hit back for Government, stressing the success of Tucker's Point is vital for the tourism industry, while backbencher Marc Bean claimed Opposition MPs publicly opposing the project in fact have a personal interest in it.

Mr Richards told the House of Assembly: “What's before us today contradicts the notion that this is a tourism project.

“The lot of land on Quarry Hill, which I understand is a highly sensitive area, that lot was supposed to be the lot where the developers were going to put the extension of the hotel. That was a tourism component.

“That has been taken off the table, but nothing has been put in its place.

“I'm not even sceptical any more. I'm convinced this is a property development masquerading as a tourism development.

“What we have today is a misdirection play. They convinced Bermuda this is a tourism project. They had Bermuda by the throat. We can't object; we can't deny tourism.”

Pointing to the measures to appease green campaigners, Mr Richards said: “The first thing they took off the table is the same lot they were going to put tourism on.”

He noted the new plan minus Quarry Hill was presented just days after the first one was knocked back by the Senate.

“There's no way they could come up with an entirely different plan. As Malcolm X would say, we have been hoodwinked, fooled, bamboozled. That's what's happened here,” he said.

“It's okay in American football. That's the nature of the game. With the legislature of this Country, we don't expect misdirection play. We don't expect sleight of hand.”

Mr Richards said Tucker's Point had made a presentation to the UBP over the plan some time ago.

“They had the temerity to tell us that hotel is making money,” he said. “They told us this economic model works.

“Of course, it comes out in the newspapers that they are losing a million a month. What credibility can we give to people who speak in four tongues? Come on.

“I'm very, very troubled if the proposed vehicle for us to get back in the tourism business is people who don't speak the truth.

“This proposition, the Government is giving them a free pass to extend a hotel. They don't have to do anything as far as the hotel business is concerned.

“I'm pretty disgusted to hear members of this Government stand up and say this is for tourism. This clearly is not.”

Mrs Gordon-Pamplin said nine of the lots intended for development on the Catchment Hill site had now been removed from the SDO.

She said it wouldn't have mattered anyway because that land couldn't have been developed as it was subject to a covenant between Tucker's Point and the Mid Ocean Club.

Referring to Mr Richards' analogy that Tucker's Point had Bermuda by the throat, the Shadow Works Minister said: “They have us, but in a lower part of the anatomy.

“I hope we don't have too many instances like this where as an Honourable Member I feel completely defecated upon.”

Mr Bean responded: “The term ‘defecated' is very, very strong, yet it seems this morning the only semblance of such activity has come from the minds and mouths of the Opposition benches.”

Accusing the UBP of “deceiving the masses”, Mr Bean said Government had been transparent and accountable by bringing public debate on an SDO for the first time, and that Tucker's Point is donating 41 acres of land to the public.

“You push it aside because you desire to seek political points,” he said. “I find it very disingenuous on the Opposition side. It's almost deceptive.”

Mr Bean alleged Opposition MPs had personal interests tied up in the development, adding: “You might get up here and posture and what not, but when it comes to the rubber hitting the road, we all know.”

Warned by Speaker Stanley Lowe not to impute improper motives, Mr Bean moved onto Quarry Hill, saying: “We have listened. Tucker's Point has listened. Part of the compromise is we are not going to build on that site.

“And yet the Opposition is going to use that to say my Government is deceiving the public.

“This whole process has been sickening to me. Really mentally taxing. I'm seeing behaviour on all sides. Even with the compromised position, it still seems the Opposition wants to imply my Government has evil or wrong intentions. For me, Mr Speaker, that's politricks.”

Mrs Minors said the senior vice president of Rosewood had told her the negative publicity surrounding the SDO is damaging to tourism in Bermuda; he had urged Government to pass the compromise quickly.

“It's clear that this Government is putting our tourism product first,” said Mrs Minors.

Environment Minister Walter Roban had opened the debate by listing the planned changes to ease environmental concerns which he said showed Government was listening to the public.

Responding to complaints campaigners such as Bermuda Environmental and Sustainability Taskforce were frozen out of talks, Mr Roban said Government believes in representative democracy.

He insisted the project remained about tourism, asking: “Does anyone in this House disagree that we must act to ensure our survival as a jurisdiction?

“Overseas investors are watching this development very closely. A vote yes would signal that Bermuda is open for foreign investment, that we are open to business and for business. A vote no would signal the opposite.”

Mr Barritt then opened the UBP response by saying campaigners had given the plan the kind of scrutiny which Government should have done in the first place.

“Congratulations to those people who actually stood up to be counted and danced to the tune of what's right,” said Mr Barritt.

“They are the ones who did what Government was unable to do the first time around: go for a better deal than that which was passed through the House of Assembly.

“Those people have been vilified and reviled for the decisions they have taken. I know they will not make the Queen's honours list.”

Mr Barritt angrily moved onto Government's claims the new look SDO represented a compromise.

“It's very difficult to judge this compromise when you are given the order some 20 minutes before it's being debated,” he said.

“Something as important to the future of the Island as this, that at the very least is regrettable. It's deplorable in fact.”

He said Government and Tucker's Point owners Bermuda Properties Ltd had conducted what looks and feels like a “backroom deal”.

“The rest of us were shut out,” he said. “Not that I would expect to be sat at the table, but I would expect things to be done a bit better than this. We are rushing this through.

“If it's so important, why can't we slow down, have some caution?”

Bermuda Democratic Alliance MP Mark Pettingill, who said he was speaking as a member of a party “between things”, said the PLP would have complained bitterly if a UBP Government had handled the situation the way the PLP had done.

Mr Pettingill asked, if the project really is about saving tourism, then why are the owners not being given a special casino licence.

He called for Government to rise and report progress so Opposition MPs could be given more time to assess the situation.

Mr Scott said MPs should pass the order quickly for the sake of tourism.

Referring to opposition, he said: “This is not the kind of thinking that's taking place in Anguilla, Jamaica or Barbados.

“I don't know what has happened to our Island's people, I really don't. It's so important we begin to send a message to the investor community that we are investing in hospitality and tourism.

“If we don't do it, they will continue to go to Barbados and Bahamas and Jamaica.

“I don't care if you call it a bailout; I don't care what you call it. The Government is facilitating the development of the tourism product in this country.”

Shadow Transport Minister Charlie Swan described Tucker's Point as a “development company masquerading as a hotel”.

He said it wasn't clear how the amended SDO would help the financial position of Tucker's Point or the country's tourism industry.

He said if affluent visitors from Europe weren't coming to Tucker's Point previously, there was no reason why they should come now, unless they were going to buy property.

The Opposition MP added that he inherited land which was later rezoned as a woodland reserve and he took no issue with that “as a humble Bermudian”.

Asking to see more detail on the finances of Tucker's Point, he added: “I believe the humble people of Bermuda deserve more information than they have got so far.”

Government backbencher Wayne Furbert said this SDO was not the first and would probably not be the last. He said the UBP had felt an order was appropriate and in the best interests of the country in 1995 and should back this one.

“Let's not put this Government on any type of guilt trip because it's not happening,” he said.

He said the revised plan was achieved because the Government made it happen. “The Government now has 41 acres and guess who it belongs to? Mom and Pop. Mom and Pop finally have a piece of Tucker's Town.”

Mr Roban concluded the debate by saying that the specifications in the order were the minimum standard that the developers had to achieve.

He said if studies showed that there needed to be more done to preserve natural land then the planning application would need to reflect as much or the project would not go ahead.

The Minister urged those who had got involved in the issue to stay engaged once the “toxicity” of the debate had dissipated.

He proposed the motion be approved and Mr Lowe asked those for and against to raise their voices. “The ayes have it,” he concluded, before three opposition MPs stood up to request a vote.

A ballot was taken and the order approved by 18 votes to seven at about 2.30pm.

The ten members absent for the count were Independent Darius Tucker, who voted for the original order and is the constituency MP for the area covered by the SDO; Cabinet Ministers Glenn Blakeney and Zane DeSilva; PLP backbenchers Randy Horton and Alex Scott; UBP MPs Grant Gibbons, Trevor Moniz and Louise Jackson; and BDA MPs Mr Pettingill and Shawn Crockwell.

Opposition Leader Kim Swan later said Dr Gibbons and Mr Moniz were off Island and Shadow Health Minister Mrs Jackson was delayed as she was assisting someone with a medical emergency.

The Ministry of Environment issued a statement after the order was approved to clarify that it doesn't automatically approve development at the site.

“The SDO simply removes restrictions on the land imposed by the current zonings and thus permits the developer's plans to be considered by the Development Applications Board (DAB).

“However, final approval for development would only be granted if the developer satisfies the DAB that stringent conditions, as outlined in the order, have been met.”

Tucker's Point Club.

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Published March 29, 2011 at 10:14 am (Updated March 29, 2011 at 10:13 am)

House approves revised Tucker’s Point SDO

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