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Successful call for extra time for say on hotel SDO

Deadline extended: The Fairmont Southampton Hotel (File photograph)

Environmental groups, who threatened legal action if the Government did not extend the period for objections to the Fairmont Southampton special development order, last night welcomed the granting of extra time.

In a statement yesterday, the Ministry of Home Affairs said the initial deadline today had been extended by three weeks to May 26.

The ministry later clarified that, because the Bermuda Day public holiday falls on that date, submissions would be accepted no later than the end of Monday, May 29.

The Royal Gazette understands that the home affairs minister, Walter Roban, was notified by conservation groups that proceedings for a judicial review would commence if the extension was not granted.

Westend Properties, the owner of the Fairmont Southampton site, supported the extra time.

“We are aware that the Government has extended the review period for the Fairmont Southampton SDO application and understand the reasoning behind the extension,” Westend said.

“We agree that people should have the time necessary to review the document, form their opinions and voice their concerns.”

The move came after the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Task Force, the Bermuda National Trust and the Bermuda Audubon Society wrote to Mr Roban, requesting a six-week extension.

The letter from Janice Hetzel, the Audubon head, said that the initial three-week time allowance was “unreasonable” to allow feedback on “this significantly more complicated development proposal” for the hotel.

Ms Hetzel told Mr Roban: “The limited time frame for this consultation is particularly problematic for the general public, who need time to digest and understand the materials provided.

“They have also been hindered by the many steps required to file a submission to the planning department portal.”

Karen Border, the executive director of the BNT, said after the Government’s announcement that the extension was “shorter than we feel appropriate, given the huge scale and significance of this proposed development”.

But Ms Border added that the extra time was “the right thing to do”.

The resort’s SDO has faced a mixed response, with the Bermuda Industrial Union and Sir John Swan, the former premier, highlighting the national importance of getting the resort back in business.

Skyport and an array of prominent business figures also underscored the importance of the hotel, Bermuda’s largest, to reopen and boost the island’s airlift as well as overall hotel capacity.

But protesters against the SDO turned out on Friday, with more than 4,000 signatures on a petition urging a rethink of the development plan.

Planning department highlights procedure for objections

A statement on the extension came with a reminder on how to comment on planning applications so that “all residents who want to provide constructive feedback can do so in a way that reaches the appropriate authorities and contributes to the final decision”.

The department website comes with details on commenting, which must meet the criteria of Section 18 of the Development and Planning (Application Procedure) Rules 1997,

Objectors are required to

• Identify the application to which the comments relate and the application reference number;

• Contain the name of the person making the objection or representation, an e-mail address and an address in Bermuda at which notices may be served upon them;

• Where the objection or representation is signed by more than one person, specify one address in Bermuda at which notice may be served upon those making the objection;

• State whether the person making the comments has an interest in land in the vicinity of the land to which the application relates and, if so, the nature of that interest and the location of that land

• Specify the grounds upon which the objection or representation is made (which must include at least one material planning consideration relevant to that particular application)

• Be signed by the person or persons making the comments, with digital signatures accepted.

The ministry highlighted that only those who have created a Customer Self Service portal account can submit comments.

An online video explains the procedure.

The department also spells out the process for considering SDO applications.

Queries on the Customer Self-Service portal can be e-mailed to csshelp@gov.bm.

The letter from the Audubon Society to the minister cited the size and gravity of the project, noting the Development and Planning Act had recently been amended to improve public feedback.

“For this engagement to be meaningful, the public needs to be given adequate time to process the materials and prepare their representations and objections.

“This development proposal is in the form on an SDO application because it has been considered of national significance and importance.

“As such, the outcome of the application will impact our environment, economy and the wellbeing of the people of Bermuda.

“It is essential that sufficient time be allowed for the public to provide their input.”

Ms Border of the BNT echoed the view, saying it had been “clearly unreasonable to allow only 21 days for the public to review over 700 pages of complex and technical materials in the application”.

“A normal planning application, for example for a simple extension or single home, allows 14 days for objections; this development proposes 261 units, many of them on protected recreational land.”

She said it had “taken time” for the public to grasp the stakes of the development and added that the BNT had seen “a groundswell of concern”.

Legislation for the SDO process was amended in 2021, eliminating the requirement for a parliamentary debate.

Ms Border said that made it “even more important that there is public discussion and debate” and that “a decision as important as this for the long-term future of our island should not be rushed”.

The charity called for the planning department to accept paper submissions, after being “inundated” with calls for help by people frustrated by the complexity of its online system.

Ms Border said the BNT was waiting for confirmation that hand-delivered letters would be included.

“Given that the online process is proving a significant obstacle to many people, we trust that planning will do the right thing and accept paper letters.”

In response to the groups’ announcements, the ministry said: “Due to the interest in this matter, the decision was made to extend the public consultation deadline to allow anyone who has not submitted their feedback on the Fairmont Southampton SDO more time to do so.”

• To read the letter to Mr Roban in full, along with statements from environmental groups, click on the PDFs under “Related Media”.

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Published May 03, 2023 at 7:59 am (Updated May 03, 2023 at 9:01 am)

Successful call for extra time for say on hotel SDO

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