(CMR) Dart said a Planned Area Development (PAD) application made earlier this year did not and legally cannot seek to alter beach access, remove 42 acres of mangrove, or remove beach rock, as has been erroneously reported in the media.
In a release published on Friday, July 30, Dart said public confusion seems to be caused primarily by the conflation of the PAD approval process with the application for planning permission process, which are two fundamentally different processes.
According to the release, in February 2021, Dart submitted a Planned Area Development (PAD) application for a resort residential district in the Seven Mile Beach corridor, north of Governor’s Harbour, consistent with and adjacent to existing hotel and tourism areas, including Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa, the Cayman Islands Yacht Club, restaurants and condominiums.
Subsequently, Dart held 10 stakeholder meetings with more than five hundred neighboring residents, Government representatives, and staff, along with public and private associations to improve awareness and understanding of the application and further illustrate the company's approach to sustainable development.
Dart explained that a PAD is a rezoning exercise that promotes sustainable development by considering long-term land use, accessibility, infrastructure, public spaces, and environmental management.
According to the release, a PAD does not, and cannot, give permission to build or to alter the land. Any physical development which may be contemplated within the PAD area would require a separate application for planning permission for such development through the normal planning process, which includes all the usual notifications to the public and the requisite consultation with specific government agencies, the Department of Environment (DoE) and the National Conservation Council.
The release also stated that the DoE reviewed the PAD application and produced a 24-page Screening Opinion on 19 April 2021, which contained its unilateral conclusion that the PAD application required an environmental impact assessment (EIA).
By letter dated 9 April 2021, the National Conservation Council supported the DoE’s conclusion that an EIA was required.
Dart said as far as the organization is aware, no other PAD application submitted to the Central Planning Authority (CPA) had required an EIA as a pre-requisite to hearing the application. Dart said the CPA has, to date, not approved any PAD application with the requirement to conduct a comprehensive EIA.
While stating that it is supportive of the EIA process, Dart explained that the EIA is not mandated by law for a PAD application and said any EIA which is done prior to the planning permission process would be premature and of limited relevance.
The release added that unlike an application for PAD approval (which is simply seeking approval of an alternate and more comprehensive zoning map and zoning rules), the planning application process requires specificity of final design concepts for a proposed development that enables the EIA to properly and accurately assess specific environmental impacts.
Dart said the PAD application, in and of itself, does not propose to permit any form of physical development. Consequently, it is impossible to attempt to assess the environmental impact.
According to the release, much of the proposed PAD area is already zoned to permit 10-story hotel and tourism-related developments. Therefore, the proposed PAD does not contemplate any development that exceeds current parameters.
Dart said there had been a number of inaccuracies in recent reports made about the PAD application, which may be because the DoE Screening Opinion contains a number of assumptions, incorrect information, and data, while also considering irrelevant matters which were not part of the application and were never intended to form part of the PAD.
For clarity, Dart’s PAD application is not an application for permission to develop or alter land, the release stated. It explained that to undertake those activities requires a separate planning application and follows an entirely separate process.
It is, therefore, difficult to see how the approval of a PAD could have any consequential impact on the environment, especially as the majority of the land is already zoned for Hotel and Tourism related developments. Consequently, it appears the conclusion reached in the DOE Screening Opinion, which appears to have been ratified by the NCC, is fundamentally flawed. Dart stated. The organization also noted that the NCC appears to have delegated their decision-making capacity to the DOE in breach of the respective law.
Given the apparent confusion surrounding its PAD application, Dart said felt it necessary to illustrate the errors and inconsistencies within the Screening Opinion and the PAD application process as a whole, which fueled recent incorrect reports and comments.
“We are concerned about the inconsistency in the interpretation and application of the current law when determining at what stage an EIA is required. This inconsistency and lack of clarity in the law relating to the requirements for a PAD has led to what appears to be incorrect and unfounded conclusions, which in turn led to misinformation and confusion,” said Mark VanDevelde, Dart Chief Executive Officer.
“We are of the view that all stakeholders would be better served with clear, consistent requirements set out in a set of updated, comprehensive, and synchronized legislation. This is urgently needed to bring efficiency and predictability to the process and to balance the country’s environmental, social, and economic interests.”
“On one end of the spectrum, there are lands and habitats of significant environmental importance which absolutely need to be protected, and on the other end of the spectrum, there are lands which, if developed, can provide the greatest economic benefits to the country. In the middle, where the value is not as clearly defined, having such a framework would be invaluable to guide decision-making. A comprehensive Environmental Management Framework informed by all stakeholders that reflects a shared vision for the future would provide clear guidance on how land can be developed, managed or protected, and give much-needed certainty and clarity to all parties,” he concluded.
Dart said it looks forward to discussing these concerns with the respective Government agencies to move this matter forward.