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Roban blames administrative backlog for Thomas controversy

Pub on the Square's controversial exhaust fan (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Planning department officials failed to notify the developer of a St George’s restaurant that he had been given the green light to proceed last month, the home affairs minister said this evening.

Walter Roban said that “regrettably there was a delay in formal notification” despite the department being told to draw up a letter of his January 18 decision to approve Marico Thomas’s application to go ahead at the East End.

Mr Roban said the delay was investigated and found to be caused by “an administrative backlog”.

“The ministry laments that this matter has been the cause of frustration and stress for Mr Thomas,” a statement said.

But the ministry “hopes that the development can now move forward for the benefit of the community”.

It followed a furore on Thursday when Mr Thomas abruptly called quits on his restaurant development at King’s Square in St George’s.

The businessman cited ongoing delays with the planning department that had driven up costs beyond $300,000 and scared off financial backers.

That same night, Mr Thomas was contacted by David Burt, the Premier, to notify him that the source of a hold-up – an unapproved exhaust fan for the new restaurant’s kitchens – had in fact been cleared last month by Mr Roban.

This evening Mr Roban affirmed the government’s support for entrepreneurs.

He added: “Mr Thomas’s passion for adding to Bermuda’s restaurant product and expanding opportunities for employment in the areas of hospitality is exactly what we aim to encourage.”

But he said that while there had been “challenges”, any approval for a development, “whether it be private or commercial, is a process”.

Mr Roban noted the historic building’s protected status “requires some sensitivity” and would require oversight from the St George’s Preservation Society.

He said the planning department had worked to steer Mr Thomas through the process since last August – including guiding him through the retroactive planning process required to keep the extractor fan.

“That application process took place from late October, 2022 through to November 10, 2022, when Planning offered to allow a partial restaurant opening which would include the secondary kitchen, dining room, takeout facility and items that did not require using the unapproved Exhaust Fan.

“Subsequently, from November 14 through December 15, 2022, the development went through the Retroactive Application process, which was presented to the Development Advisory Board.

“Ultimately the DAB refused the application in accordance with Section 20 (2A) of the Development and Planning Act which does not allow the DAB to approve retroactive applications.

“The applicant appealed the decision around mid December, and following the formal review process by the Department of Planning, the minister approved the appeal on January 18.”

The statement added: “The Department of Planning was advised of the minister’s decision and directed to prepare the Minister’s decision letter.”

But the notification never went through.

Speaking with The Royal Gazette on Friday, Mr Thomas said completing the restaurant might already be impossible – and that a decision hung in the air as to whether he could complete it, sell the eatery to another operator, or convert the site into housing.

• To read the Home Affairs statement in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”.

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Published February 12, 2023 at 6:50 pm (Updated February 12, 2023 at 6:50 pm)

Roban blames administrative backlog for Thomas controversy

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