It could happen to you….

| 21/08/2008

The plight of the residents at Mahogany Estates has certainly garnered a little more sympathy this week now their story has been told. After all, who would not feel for those who have worked hard to buy their own land, build their dream home in the peace, quiet and safety of the countryside only to find that dream turned nightmare with the opening of a commercial quarry in their back yard.

One of the important issues that this whole sorry affair raises however is the point that this could happen to anyone. Most of the residents of Mahogany Estates are regular working people; they are not rich and many of the homes on the estate are relatively modest. What they have in common is that they purchased land there because of its peaceful natural wooded aspect, its high and dry location and the protection offered by the bluff from storms and hurricanes.

But every reason for their investment has been threatened, and for some ten years there has been little the residents could do. Whether or not this particular developer is right or wrong, from a moral or legal standpoint, seems less important at the moment than the fact he has been able to severely disrupt the lives of these people to a very severe extent with impunity. This raises the question of where else this could all happen and to whom.

Although the developer seems to have been asked to stop his excavation activity by the Planning Department on various occasions, it is apparent by the gaping 17 foot deep crater in the middle of his land that while he has ceased on occasions there have been plenty more when his operation has been full swing.

The issue of enforcement for many government entities seems to be a difficult one, whether it is the Water Authority and the Turtle Farm or the Planning Department and rogue property owners, laws supposedly designed to protect both the island and its people are rarely enforced. There seems to be an underlying default position in favour of large landowners and their rights to do as they please with their property.

Indeed the sanctity of landownership is very important to Cayman. The fact that overseas investors can buy land and have absolute rights and protection has been an important contributor to our economic success. However, there must be some limits that are clearly defined by planning laws. But as many people would be willing to testify, the rules and regulations concerning planning are far from clear. This case further illustrates the mixed messages emanating from the Central Planning Authority and the Department.

In this particular case an industrial quarrying operation has been taking place in a low-density residential zone. This, according to the history of documentation held by the residents, is contrary to the developer’s original planning permission, which was simply to level some of his land to make roads for another residential sub-division. Whether the developer ever intended to open a quarry operation right from the start or whether he just stumbled across the lucrative benefits of such a venture after he had been granted planning permission for roads remains to be seen, but for ten years on and off he has been able to do what he has done with no penalty. He has even admitted in writing on occasion that he has stepped outside the boundaries of his permission but as far as can be ascertained there has been no resulting sanction.

More importantly as the CPA moves to hear his application to officially make the land a quarry, he seems to be about to be rewarded for his wrong doing, because it is easier for planning to let him go ahead with their blessing than trying to stop him – so what point then in zoning?

Once granted, we will see the entire 44-acre bluff and all of the natural woodland destroyed and levelled to a mere five feet, which will likely ensure the flooding of most of the residential areas of Beach Bay in the event of a storm. What life is left for the people of Mahogany Estates will be completely ruined. It will be nigh on impossible for them to ever sell their properties and some will never be able to access their land. The residents have no legal counsel as they can’t afford it, and their 60 or so polled objections seem to be falling on deaf ears.

The land may well belong to the developer but where as a community are we all prepared to draw the line at what people do with their land? Moreover, it appears that the rights of the Mahogany Estate landowners are being railroaded. There is absolutely no doubt that had the developer chosen to turn this bluff into an all-inclusive holiday resort exclusively for gay holidaymakers he would have been stopped in a heartbeat. Sadly, however, his current operation appears only to be of concern to the 40 or so families backing on to his quarry, who have not gathered anywhere near enough community-wide support to put a stop to the venture once and for all.

While it’s easy to dismiss the troubles of others when we all have problems of our own, it’s worth considering that next time it could be you……

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  1. Time 4 Change! says:

    Well said!

    Government needs to spend less time debating over what the latest project is that PPM has started, and why it shouldn’t progress, and what else "Big Mac" can find to stick his over-bearing nose into, and do something about things like this! A whole community should not have to suffer in this way! I bet you if enough good buddies of one of the MLA’s was living here, or some extremely wealthy person(s), we would have seen some change by now.

    How sad it is – that unless you are reporting the spotting of drugs, or a gay man (as you have stated), – your reports continually fall on deaf ears!!!

    It’s circumstances like this that remind me why at almost 30, I am one of many that will not register to vote, and until some Government comes along and does something useful like help the Country’s people I will proudly remain the same way…

    Come on Government – I challenge you to actually EARN your big fat salaries and do something for the people of your community!!! Change my mind as a young Caymanian – and let me want to register to vote you back in.