By Staff Writer
The first General Meeting for 2021 of the National Conservation Council took place last week and saw the ratification of decisions made as to whether certain development projects required environmental impact assessments. While ratifications confirmed some required assessments and some did not, the underlying theme coming out of many of the individual projects was that a needs assessment survey was one of the most important assessments the Council felt should be undertaken, particularly when it came to whether Cayman needed more hotels and hospitals.
Before outlining each project where the decision as to whether an EIA was needed would be ratified, Gina Ebanks-Petrie, Director of the Environment, quantified that the Council would look to see if an EIA was required if the project was of a certain type (such as a hotel) or was to be developed in a particular area.
“EIAs don’t make decisions about projects; they are a tool to assist decision-making, so where Council has decided that an EIA is not required, it doesn’t mean that the Council doesn’t think the project is not important or that the impacts might not be significant. It is simply that the Council believes that they have the information required in order to provide the advice that they may need to provide under the law to the originating authorities,” she reminded the meeting.
Dart’s Hotel Indigo project, a 10-storey development that includes 282 guest rooms, three restaurants, retail spaces and a pool just off Seven Mile Beach, was the first project that the Council had looked at. The Council ratified the decision that this project did not need an EIA. However, the Council did feel that the project needed further assessment to see if such a hotel was really necessary.
Mrs Ebanks-Petrie advised: “We were concerned that the draft National Planning Framework acknowledged that Seven Mile Beach was already crowded, as well as the National Tourism Plan, and we wanted to ensure that these facts were taken into account when the CPA considered the application.”
She advised that the Council didn’t feel that an EIA was the best vehicle to assess the effects of over-crowding on Cayman’s beaches but because Planning was developing a Seven Mile Beach tourism corridor area plan (according to the draft National Planning Framework), they had asked that the application be held in obeyance pending the formulation of this Seven Mile Beach corridor area plan, which they felt was the appropriate mechanism to plan for major infrastructure projects.
“At a minimum we recommended that the applicant be required to commission a hotel needs assessment to document the need for the development in this part of Grand Cayman,” she advised.
Dart’s Canal Village PAD
Another big infrastructure project that the Council had considered was Dart’s Canal Village planned area development (PAD). This project had triggered an assessment as to whether an EIA was required and the Council voted to ratify the decision that, indeed, an EIA was necessary.
Mrs Ebanks-Petrie gave some background as to the mechanism of a PAD.
“We weren’t assessing the project here, but a planned area development. The purpose of a planned area development is to set new rules for an area of development. Any development which comes forward in that area is subject to the parameters described in the PAD and not to the development and planning regulations with the exception of building heights.”
She explained: “This PAD sets parameters for the development which will result in an extremely dense development well beyond the current limits within the Development and Planning Regulations 2021.”
The PAD proposed development to take place from 2021 to 2034, comprising approximately 398 condominiums, 58 house lots, 4,480 hotel rooms in multiple hotels, approximately 100,00 square feet of new retail spaces and a 220-slip marina and fuel station.
The proposed PAD would include the equivalent of 16 ten-storey hotels when compared to the Hotel Indigo development, Mrs Ebanks-Petrie said.
The coverage in density of the development as it related to residential, hotel and marina zones was well in excess of what is permitted under the Development and Planning regulations, she advised.
The Council believed that after they assessed all of the impacts, the proposed PAD required an EIA on the basis of the total loss of protected species within the PAD, including at least 40 acres of mangroves, birds and other species that habitat supported, as well as turtle nesting, adverse impacts on beach access, water quality, and adverse socio-economic impacts. The decision was ratified at the meeting.
While the decision not to hold an EIA for each was ratified, the 160-bed+ Aster PAD, Health City Camana Bay and the Trio Hotel in George Town projects should also have needs assessment surveys to see if two more new medical facilities and another hotel were really required for Cayman, the Council said.
Mrs Ebanks-Petrie said it appeared the requirement for needs assessments was a theme that ran through these projects.