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SDO submission ‘does not demonstrate need for proposed development’

Sketches released by Westend Properties to show the planned setting of buildings, proposed as part of a special development order for the Fairmont Southampton resort, in relation to the overall property. The company said the illustrations do not reflect the ultimate architecture of the units

Submissions for a special development order for the Fairmont Southampton Hotel fail to demonstrate a need for a substantial residential development, according to the Government’s planning department.

Officials at the Department of Planning also said the island already had more than sufficient land earmarked for housing, stating that “the Bermuda Plan 2018 zones a more than adequate amount of land for residential development to meet Bermuda’s short-term and long-term housing needs”.

A May 10 letter to the firm Adwick Planning from the department highlighted gaps in the environmental impact statement accompanying the request filed last month for a special development order for the hotel.

Under a ‘consideration of need’ section, the letter says: “The submission does not demonstrate the need for the proposed development.

“Section 1.5.1 of the EIS speaks to the need for the project but does not provide any commentary or evidence on the island’s need for such additional tourism and residential accommodation.”

The planning letter adds: “The island’s need for the proposed development is a key planning consideration which, together with the claimed economic benefits of the proposal, must be weighed carefully against the loss of a significant amount of Bermuda’s limited land supply, particularly in respect of the loss of 10.1 acres of land zoned Recreation, and the consequent impacts on a world-class par 3 golf course, together with all other considerations as set out by the EIS.

“The submission alludes to the need for the proposed development in respect of ensuring the long-term success of the existing hotel, however limited details have been provided to this regard and no information has been provided on the minimum amount of development that would be required to achieve this objective.”

The economic benefits were based on “a number of assumptions and ‘limited’ data”, the letter added.

Westend Properties statement on the Department of Planning’s letter

The proposed development of tourism and residential units on the Fairmont Southampton property is a major project. As part of its mandate, the Department of Planning is carefully examining all aspects of Westend’s SDO application and is also considering the various concerns the public has raised during the review period. At Westend, we welcome this thorough and important process.

Through its meticulous due diligence, Planning has identified some areas of the application that require additional information in order to be assessed properly, and we are more than happy to work collaboratively to provide those details and answer any outstanding questions.

As the community can appreciate, this application is complex and we all agree that it is important that all of the necessary information and criteria are provided in a manner acceptable to all parties involved.

Two topics in particular that must be addressed are the sketches that were included with the SDO application and the need for the proposed units.

It has been pointed out that the sketches of the proposed units in the application do not provide a sufficient level of detail. As we have indicated on numerous occasions, the sketch renderings in the application were provided as place holders for an ‘in-principle’ application only and are not representative of what the buildings will actually look like.

If the SDO is approved, there is a secondary process called DAP-1 where detailed architectural renderings would have to be provided and approved. However, at this stage, based on a request from Planning, we are currently developing new renderings that will better show the placement of the proposed units, to scale, and will reflect their intended Bermudian style and aesthetic.

There seems to be consensus about the need to reopen the Fairmont Southampton based on its valuable economic contribution to Bermuda, in terms of local jobs, increased airlift and overall boost to the island’s tourism.

However, questions have been raised by members of the public and the Department of Planning about the need for the proposed units. While we understand those concerns, we must reiterate that the two are inextricably linked.

The proposed units will play a critical role in the overall operations of the hotel. For the hotel and its associated amenities to be viable from an investment perspective, the property must operate as a year-round resort, and the tourism and residential units are critical to achieving that.

Creating permanent demand for the units and the ancillary venues such as the Beach Club and restaurants will enable the hotel to remain competitive with other resort destinations which will in turn, help ensure its long-term success.

This year-round successful operation will also lead to sustained and consistent job growth, greater opportunities for economic development and a vibrant and active resort community which will further position Bermuda as a leading tourism and international business destination.

Westend Properties looks forward to continued consultation and dialogue with the Department of Planning and remains committed to providing Bermuda with a first-class destination resort.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Home Affairs told The Royal Gazette that the department’s concerns were now being addressed.

“The is a fully transparent process and in keeping with that process, the letter was posted to the planning site on Friday of last week.

“Since that time, the Department of Planning has met with the developer and discussed the options for addressing the issues identified in the letter.”

Designs for the hotel have divided opinion on the island, with supporters including hoteliers highlighting the urgent need for extra resort capacity and more air service to Bermuda.

The window for objections to the development was extended by three weeks, until May 29, after conservation groups threatened to file for a judicial review, citing the scale and gravity of the proposal.

The owners, Westend Properties, have asked for a maximum of 261 tourism and residential units in two to six-storey buildings, extra roadways and parking spaces, and alterations to the golf course.

An SDO for the Fairmont Southampton was granted in 2009 for a substantially different project based on 130 fractional tourism and residential units, which were never built.

Using that SDO as the baseline for assessing impact is “not considered to be appropriate”, according to the letter from the planning department

The letter noted that while the department “previously agreed that the approved 2009 SDO can be taken as a baseline against which potential impacts can be assessed and it is recognised that there are benefits in understanding the environmental implications of the current proposals over and above those associated with the 2009 SDO, the department contends that the true environmental implications of the proposals as a whole can only be readily understood through undertaking a cumulative and comprehensive assessment of the proposals in their entirety”.

The letter adds that the environmental impact statement lacks detail on “traffic and parking” and “socioeconomics”.

It states that “the submitted ‘Traffic Impact Study’ and ‘Public Transit Capacity Study’ do not equate to an EIS topic on ‘Traffic and Parking’. This topic must form part of the EIS and follow the methodology which has been used for all other topics, identifying potential effects and, where appropriate, mitigation measures.

“Notwithstanding the forthcoming consultation response of the Highways Section of the Department of Works and Engineering, the conclusions set out in the TIS asserting that there would be no environmental impacts in respect of Traffic and Parking resulting from a development which would require some 500 car parking spaces are questionable, a’ added the letter.

“Similarly, a section on ‘Socioeconomics’ has not been included within the EIS and, whist two separate Economic Impact Assessment documents have been submitted, they are severely limited due to the ‘limited information available’ and relate solely to the economic merits of the proposal, so a wider assessment of social impacts has not been undertaken.

“Such an assessment should include matters such as impacts on all schools [not just public schools], housing ]including the need for affordable and senior housing], healthcare and the need for local community facilities.

“Generally, the mitigation measures proposed are limited and lacking in detail, which are again largely caveated due to the lack of available information or details of the proposed development.

“Whilst it is accepted that detailed planning permission is not being sought, these are not considered to be adequate reasons for not including comprehensive enhancements at this stage to offset the numerous adverse effects of the proposed development which the EIS identifies.

“It is noteworthy that no mitigation measures are proposed for ‘Traffic and Parking’ or ‘Socioeconomics’ given that these topics are missing from the EIS, so an adequate assessment has not been carried out in the first instance.”

The planning department’s letter also flagged up discrepancies in the unit count and parking spaces, with an April 10 e-mail from Adwick stating that 114 tourism units were expected to yield “an additional 195 guestrooms”.

That figure was said to be “a significant deviation” from the 331 given in the EIS.

A separate traffic impact study given by the engineering firm Brunel gives a differed count for parking spaces from Adwick’s numbers, and said “the proposed development will be fully occupied by 2025”.

However the EIS gives a 20-year minimum for construction, according to planning.

The letter also asks for a new projected start date for work on guest rooms as the EIS given in April by Bermuda Environmental Consulting said the hotel renovation would start this month.

The firm has been owned since December 2019 by Gencom, a hospitality real-estate investment and development firm based in Miami.

Chris Maybury, a businessman and Bermuda resident who is part of the hotel’s ownership group, backed the project in an interview this month as a game-changer for Bermuda.

• To read the Department of Planning letter in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”

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Published May 18, 2023 at 6:07 pm (Updated May 18, 2023 at 7:12 pm)

SDO submission ‘does not demonstrate need for proposed development’

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