11-storey redo of 7MB condos faces major backlash

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  • Aqua Bay Club, Cayman News Service
  • Aqua Bay Club, Cayman News Service

(CNS): Dozens of condo owners in complexes next to Aqua Bay Club on Seven Mile Beach are objecting to a proposal by the owners there to redevelop the existing apartments into a glass tower, which the planning department has said is at least eleven storeys. The Department of Environment has also raised concerns about the project, which, if it goes ahead, will be the second high-rise re-development on Cayman’s disappearing famous beach.

According to the application by the Butler Development Group, the $60 million project will see the demolition of the 35-year-old condos and the construction of a single high-rise apartment block. But more than 40 owners neighbouring the site have sent objection letters to the Central Planning Authority, which is expected to hear the application today (Wednesday).

The project was first raised more than three years ago when the owners voted to redevelop following the implementation of amendments to the planning laws to allow taller buildings in certain zones.

But the aesthetics, size, density and traffic, as well as significant environmental concerns, have been raised by owners at Silver Sands and The Palms condos, who are objecting to the development. They say the glass tower will block out the sun and daylight from their properties, ruin their views, erode the beach and subject them to an increase in traffic noise and fumes. It will also disturb nesting turtles, a point supported by the experts at the DoE.

The Department of Planning has said that the current proposal is too high as it includes an underground parking garage and two rooftop structures that push the tower beyond the height limits. The plans also propose four more apartments than the size of the lot permits.

The neighbouring owners, who used what appears to be a template letter, all raise “strenuous” objections, saying the proposed project is out of character and inconsistent with their neighbourhood. The letters all urge the CPA to reject the proposal.

The DoE screened the project for an environmental impact assessment on behalf of the National Conservation Council but concluded one was not necessary, not because there are no detrimental environmental impacts but because the DoE has been able to determine the main problems. The department has drafted conditions which, under the conservation law, must be applied if the CPA approves the project.

The main environmental concern is the fact that the beach in front of the Aqua Bay Club is a critical turtle nesting habitat where the DoE has recorded a significant increase in the number of nests. While 2023 is proving to be a bumper season for this endangered species, its recovery is still in its infancy, and this project poses a catalogue of problems to the female turtles that are now returning each season as well as their hatchlings.

Lighting, noise, vibrations, erosion, dangerous equipment and many other issues could seriously impact progress in the conservation of turtles in this area of Seven Mile Beach throughout and after construction.

With more than ten storeys of glass frontage, installing turtle-friendly lighting on the grounds alone will not protect the baby turtles from disorientation because of the light that will come from inside the apartments. The DoE said this is now one of the biggest threats to turtles, undermining many years of work to bring turtles back from the brink of local extinction.

The DoE also warned that if this project is approved, other redevelopment projects would follow, which would increase activity on this area of the beach and compound beach erosion problems and disturbance of marine life.

The developers have defended their plans, saying the owners are dealing with constant repairs at the current ageing condos and a lack of amenities. They also claim that in order to make the project viable, it needs to create 38 units, as opposed to the maximum of 34 as currently allowed.

“The existing regulation related to density is imbalanced and prohibits the financial viability of redevelopment,” Butler executives said in their planning application.

Despite the catalogue of concerns by adjacent owners, the developers argue that their project will not be detrimental to the neighbourhood and that because of the redesign, the new swimming pool will be moved further back and create a deeper beach, increasing the space for turtles.

The issues listed by the planning department for the CPA to consider when it hears from the applicants this week are the objectors’ concerns, the number of apartments, the height of the building, and the need to “determine if there is adverse effect per Section 41(3) of the National Conservation Act”.

See the application by Butler Development on the CPA agenda in the CNS Library.


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