the blog posts

observations of a planning consultant #101

On transparency and its good buddy clarity. We appear to be a little lacking in both these days, and I speak specifically of the permissions granted by way of Special Development Orders. I am prompted to this observation by The Royal Gazette article regarding the Grand Atlantic development: "Grand Atlantic housing project may be completed without BHC". According to the article, the Grand Atlantic developer will seek planning permission for 52 one-bedroom residential units.

image: onsite engineeringI'm not a brilliant person or a highly intellectual one but even my average intelligence is being somewhat taxed by this project. 

The original SDO was approved by the Minister of the Environment in 2007. Since then, it has been amended twice. First, in 2009, when the description of the hotel development was changed. I don't know in what way, exactly; it's hard to tell.

It was amended a second time in 2010 specifying:

  • a topographical survey was to be completed;
  • the affordable housing units had to be setback 50 feet from the coastline;
  • plans for the final design of the hotel had to be submitted to and approval by the Minister of the Environment;
  • a grant of planning permission for 20 new fractional units of approximately 1500 square feet each; and,
  • a new (replacement?) site plan for the property. 

And so we arrive back at transparency and clarity. Do you see where I'm going with this? What exactly was approved? Why was it changed? What exactly has been erected already? What exactly is still to come? And, given that SDOs are generally used for the benefit of the national interest, how does the permission now being sought fit this picture?

The plans on deposit at the Department of Planning, combined with the actual built structures on the site, would suggest that 78 units are erected already. However, according to the newspaper article, not so.

Colour me bewildered, and pity Joe Public because he hasn't a chance. Quite frankly, I'm sure the Minister is totally confused now too.

It leads me to this suggestion: a complete overhaul of the SDO system is needed. The Ombudsman report, Today's Choices Tomorrow's Costs, focused mainly on environmental impact assessments. However, transparency and its by-product clarity would be good outcomes of a revamped process - not a facelift but a "start over". Good for the Minister, good for the Department of Planning and good for the people of Bermuda whose limited land mass is being consumed "in the public interest".