Legislation on government support for hotel development due to be tabled today
Parliamentarians will return to the House of Assembly today when legislation is expected to be tabled to enshrine government support for the Fairmont Southampton redevelopment.
The Fairmont Southampton Hotel Act 2022 is listed for tabling before MPs, but it may not be debated straight away.
It comes after a second preservation charity voiced concerns about a plan for residential units at the resort, which is owned by Miami-based investment firm Gencom through its subsidiary Westend Properties.
Kim Smith, the executive director of Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce, said that the group was shown “conceptual drawings for expanded development” at the site in mid-2021.
She added: “That plan is for a three-fold increase in the number of residential units to be built over what was granted by Special Development Order in 2009, and would require a new or amended SDO to be granted by the Bermuda Government.
“The request will be to construct over 350 residential units on the site, in blocks ranging from two to five storeys high.”
She said Best saw no justification for such an expansion and added: “We cannot imagine a basis on which a threefold increase in the number of residential units could be supported”.
“We would like to see the detailed data that supports a claim that this development is beneficial to Bermuda in the long term.”
Gencom, when asked earlier this month, did not confirm whether plans had changed since they were discussed with environmental organisations almost a year ago.
The earlier SDO is still valid and gave planning permission in principle for 130 fractional tourism and residential units
Ms Smith said: “In our opinion, the 2009 SDO already provides excessive development rights and we are concerned that any expansion of the current SDO will provide far greater benefits to Gencom, than to Bermuda.
“We believe Gencom should reopen the hotel as the first priority and prove the benefits to Bermuda of their expertise.
“That will allow Bermudians to develop confidence in the operation of the project as it evolves.”
She added: “If a new or amended SDO is requested that proposes expanded residential development at the Fairmont Southampton, it is likely that Best will ask for the community to oppose that.
“However, there is no need to wait: call, e-mail or write to your Member of Parliament – your representative in Government – to formally register your own concerns.”
The Bermuda National Trust said earlier this month that a master plan for residential development at the resort was discussed with environmental groups last May.
Karen Border, the BNT’s executive director, added that although the scale of any proposal would be unknown until a planning application was submitted, if the plan was unchanged it would “saturate the property with villas, and related driveways and car parks”.
Cheryl Jones, an independent consultant to Gencom and Westend Properties, said on April 10 that the Government knew the company intended to "submit an amendment to the existing SDO“.
She added: “It would be premature to pre-empt this process by providing further details at this time, but … we are progressing with the completion of economic, traffic and environmental studies.
“We will also hold community meetings, as appropriate and required by the planning department, and as part of this process, all relevant documents will be in the public domain in due course.”
David Burt, the Premier and Minister of Finance, moved to adjourn the House last month until May 6.
But he added then: “There may be a need to recall the House earlier to pass special legislation for the Fairmont Southampton property.”
The Premier said in February that the Cabinet approved the preparation of a special Act of the Legislature to make sure that Government support for the $200 million redevelopment project at the island’s largest hotel was “cemented in statute”.
He highlighted: “It is my expectation that the Act to be considered by this Honourable House will include enhanced support in terms similar to those set out in the Tourism Investment Act 2017 and will address any necessary grants of permission required to achieve the economic viability of the project.”
Karim Alibhai, the founder and principal of Gencom, said earlier this month that tax relief would help to cover investment costs.
Mr Burt told MPs last month that support for the project will include a guarantee.
He added: “Once the guarantee is confirmed, that will be tabled in this House based on the Government Loans Act.”
Mr Alibhai told The Royal Gazette that a financial institution was prepared to loan against tax receipts to cover part of the capital for the project.