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More than 2,500 sign petition against hotel plans

An artist’s impression showing the placement and scale — but not the final design — of new units that will be built at the Fairmont Southampton resort if the special development order is approved (Photograph supplied)

An online petition calling for the redevelopment of the Fairmont Southampton hotel to be scaled back has attracted more than 2,500 signatories.

The petition, launched on the change.org website on Friday, states: “We, the undersigned, are deeply concerned about the proposed new special development order for the Southampton Princess Hotel that would allow for more and taller buildings.”

It goes on to argue that the development “threatens to change the character of the hotel and the surrounding area in ways that would be harmful to both the environment and our community”.

Details of the plan were released last Wednesday in a special development order application submitted to the Department of Planning by Westend Properties, a subsidiary of hotel owner Gencom.

But in addition to hotel refurbishments, Westend is seeking permission to build 261 apartments — the majority for residential rather than tourism use.

Artist impressions included in Westend’s SDO application revealed that 25 per cent of the resort’s golf course will be swallowed up by six-storey-high apartment blocks that will dominate the skyline, although final design work has not been completed.

A letter accompanying the SDO application states: “To accommodate changing trends in the real estate market, Westend Properties Ltd is seeking flexibility with respect to detailed planning of the units, therefore detailed design has not been attempted at this time, and thus the proposal is restricted to high-level conceptual design.”

The images provoked outrage among environmental campaigners who described the project as “unbelievable and unforgivable”, and called on the public to take action.

The petition, titled “Save our Green Space — Southampton Princess SDO”, lists a number of environmental concerns as reasons to object to the development, including a larger carbon footprint and increased levels of urban heating.

The petition, addressed to the Department of Planning, goes on: “Moreover, the proposed SDO would detract from the natural beauty of the area.

“The Southampton Princess Hotel is situated in a unique and picturesque location, surrounded by lush greenery and stunning ocean views. The addition of taller buildings would spoil this natural setting and mar the beauty of the area.

“Finally, we are concerned about the impact this proposed SDO would have on our community. The Southampton Princess Hotel is a vital part of our community and has contributed greatly to our local economy.

“However, the proposed SDO would increase traffic and congestion in the area, making it more difficult for residents to get around.

“We, therefore, urge you to reconsider the proposed SDO for the Southampton Princess Hotel. Instead, we ask that you work with the community and stakeholders to develop a plan that preserves the natural beauty of the area, reduces the carbon footprint of the hotel and supports the local economy.”

The petition had been signed by 2,560 people by 8.10am this morning.

An environmental impact study commissioned by Westend Properties and contained in its SDO application confirmed that the development will have a “major visual impact” on the property and surrounding environment.

But the study also said the development would have only a short-term or negligible effect on other environmental concerns such as traffic flow, pollution and disturbances to natural habitat.

A spokeswoman for the developer has since stated that the drawings it submitted to support its application “in no way represent how we envisage incorporating the proposed tourism and residential units into the existing Fairmont Southampton property”.

The public have until May 3 to file objections with the Department of Planning. The application will be then presented to the Development Applications Board for review before being forwarded on to the Minister of Home Affairs for approval.

Previously, SDOs then had to then undergo parliamentary scrutiny by being debated in the House of Assembly and approved by a vote.

But in 2021, Walter Roban, the home affairs minister, steered through amendments to regulations that gives the minister the authority to approve an SDO before it went to Parliament.

The minister is still required to bring an approved SDO to the House on the negative resolution procedure, and a debate can then be forced if any MP objects to the SDO. However, no vote is taken and approval cannot be reversed.

At the time, Mr Roban argued that the amendment was necessary to “streamline” the planning process. He added: “This is not in the context of any anticipated development.”

But that claim was dismissed by the Bermuda National Trust, which stated: “SDOs should only be granted for projects that are deemed critical to the national interest of Bermuda.

“Without the transparency of a parliamentary debate, how are we to weigh up the real national interest merit of a proposed development?”

OBA says development plans are ‘criminal’

The One Bermuda Alliance has joined the chorus of criticism against Gencom’s vision for the Fairmont Southampton resort, describing the Government’s support of it as “criminal”.

The Opposition party had initially backed efforts for the resort to be redeveloped and reopened, but also raised concerns over a deal that saw the Government give the developer millions of dollars in tax breaks and loan guarantees.

In May last year, OBA leader Cole Simons said that the contract was “a bad deal” for the people of Bermuda.

More recently, the OBA criticised the Government for a lack of transparency over its contract with Gencom.

After a review of the SDO application last week, the party’s spokesman on tourism accused the Government of selling out Bermudians in favour of foreign enterprise.

Insisting that the development “cannot be allowed to proceed”, Craig Cannonier said: “It is criminal for the Government to accept this proposal for the expansion of Fairmont Southampton as is.

“The first major implication is environmental. With the granting of this SDO, we won’t know the impact for the years to come.

“We are literally selling off our open green spaces while the developers claim the change to the landscape would be offset with economic benefits.

“The Fairmont Southampton deal is an example of the Government claiming to be working for the people but in reality dismissing the working class for companies with deep pockets. Westend Properties has been granted unprecedented, generous concessions while the small business owner has not.”

Mr Cannonier slammed the Government for recently increasing taxes on homeowners who rent out their property to tourists, while granting concessions to big business.

He said: “Those very homeowners will have to make up the gap in the market until this property reopens. Mortgages and interest rates have increased, electricity prices have increased and yet homeowners continue to work hard and live in a country where everything is expensive.”

A financial impact study conducted by accountancy firm PwC on behalf of Gencom concluded that the developer will earn $650 million from the sale of the 147 units earmarked for residential use.

Mr Cannonier said: “This deal is one where the owners will make significant profit if it continues as is.

“This government cannot continue to claim it works on behalf of the people of Bermuda and allow this to take place.”

He also suggested that the Government and Gencom may be using “bait and switch” tactics to eventually win over the public.

He said: “Perhaps this is just a smokescreen where the proposed 261 units will be decreased to less than 200, with both Westend and the Government claiming to listen to the people.”

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Published April 17, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated April 17, 2023 at 12:11 pm)

More than 2,500 sign petition against hotel plans

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