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Hotel developers caught out by island’s strict planning laws

Work continues on the 120-room St. Regis Hotel, as the hotel is set to open on May 22, 2021. (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

The developers of a new hotel were caught off guard by Bermuda’s planning regulations, documents submitted as part of an appeal to get approval for changes admitted.

Hotelco, the firm behind the St Regis Hotel in St George’s, filed a retrospective planning application last month to cover several changes from the approved plans.

The application was refused by the Development Application’s Board on May 5 and the developer filed an appeal to Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, the same day.

Colin Campbell, the regional director of architects OBMI, said in a letter submitted with the appeal that the construction team was “in a class of their own” and had built six hotels in the last 20 years.

He added that their expertise allowed them to keep construction on target despite hurricanes and a global pandemic and had contributed to a number of changes to the project.

But Mr Campbell said that, despite their experience, Hotelco was used to operating in a “much less rigorous” regulatory environment.

He added: “In addition to the language discrepancy, much of their experience is within systems that allow for minor modifications and fine-tuning of the development to be made on-site with little friction.

“This, coupled with their decision to self-certify through the construction process, an option provided to them by the building control process, has meant that deviations to the approved drawings were carried out on-site without the requisite approvals.”

Mr Campbell added: “OBMI were not retained throughout the construction process and were only made aware of such deviations from the approved once engaged to assist in obtaining the occupancy certificate.

“As soon as such changes were noted, the process to rectify them began immediately.”

The St Regis Hotel in St George’s is scheduled to welcome its first guests in less than two weeks.

Mr Campbell highlighted that the board report found that none of the revisions went against the Bermuda Plan 2008 and the application was rejected because of its retrospective nature.

He said the health department and the Bermuda Fire & Rescue Service had ruled that the hotel was ready to open.

Mr Campbell added: “Without the planning permission and subsequent certificates of occupancy, Hotelco are unable to received critical operational licences requisite to the opening on May 22.”

“To regularise this situation, and allow for the occupancy certificates to be granted, if this appeal is not accepted, would require the demolition, reapplication, likely approval, and reconstruction of the works in the exact manner that they currently stand.

“The additional cost and inevitable impact on the opening date of the hotel caused by such a process would provide no additional benefit to the quality of the development as viewed by the planning department and would likely result in lost revenue to both the hotel and the island as visitors have already booked rooms following the anticipated opening date.”

The board report, produced by an official at the Department of Planning, said that many of the changes were improvements and would not detract from the site.

The report added: “The omission of gabled roof elements actually reduces the massing of the building and the addition of a separate casino entrance is considered to represent a visual enhancement by providing further activation onto Barry Road.

“The proposed utility buildings are considered to be appropriately located and the replacement of the previously approved on-site wastewater treatment plant with a piped connection is considered to represent a notable improvement in terms of visual impact and the safe and sustainable management of waste.”

The report said: “In addition, the proposed golf storage/starter building, whilst in a prominent corner location, is of minor scale and does not appear out of keeping within the context of the development overall whilst providing a facility to enhance the enjoyment of the golf course.”

It was admitted that changes to a service access road were “substandard”, but it was understood it would be rarely used and the installation of speed bumps and mirrors would help to tackle any concerns.

But planning officials said: “Whilst the developer’s eagerness to meet their schedule is understandable, this is not considered to excuse the requirement to obtain the requisite approvals prior to implementation on site.

“It is further noted that this applicant has already submitted revision applications to the department, demonstrating that they are fully aware of such requirements.”

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Home Affairs did not respond to a request for comment at press time last night.

However in an email sent just before 2pm today, a spokeswoman said: “The Minister has reviewed the appeal and communicated his decision to their agent.” It is not known what the decision was.

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Published May 12, 2021 at 2:33 pm (Updated May 12, 2021 at 2:33 pm)

Hotel developers caught out by island’s strict planning laws

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