Plans Little Bay include open beach-access

POSTED: 12/8/14 1:36 AM

St. Maarten – Karis Development NV obtained a building permit for the construction of seven apartment buildings in Little Bay, between Little Bay Pond and the beach. The permit department at the Vromi-Ministry approved the permit on October 20. The building site became the center of a controversy earlier this week, after the landowner closed off public access to the beach. The gate has since then been reopened, but public concerns about free access to the beach persisted.

Vromi-Minister Maurice Lake showed the building plans yesterday to reporters. It shows that the plans respect the beach policy and that public access to the beach remains open. The plans include a public parking lot for 50 vehicles and an access road to the beach, situated between the Belair Beach Hotel and the building site.

Four of the apartment buildings will consist of four levels, the other three – the ones closest to the Belair Beach Hotel – of three levels. The plans include parking for residents at all buildings and two underground sewage treatment plants.

All buildings will remain at least 50 meters from the high water line, the site plan the ministry presented yesterday shows.

Vromi’s secretary-general Louis Brown said that the zoning plans that are under development will reserve public access to St. Maarten’s beaches. “This means that it is not possible to build there,” he said.

Access to the beach however is not a straightforward issue. Private landowners do not have to tolerate that others cross their property to reach a beach. Former Commissioner Michael Deher once famously said that all beaches are accessible by boat, but that is not the approach the department wants to take.

“We will enter into discussions with landowners about how to arrange this. If necessary, the government will have to buy some of the land to provide beach-access,” Brown said. “We will go one step further than the zoning plans and arrange with the landowners that beach-access remains open.”

Brown said that currently there is no legal requirement to put requests for building permits on public review. “However, anyone who wants to see a building permit is welcome,” he said. “It is public information. We will be able to show the site plan and elevations.”

Brown said that it is not possible to regulate the public review of building requests – therefore, before a permit is granted – via a ministerial policy. “That requires legislation,” he said. “We want to do that and put intentions to issue a building permit on public review, so that people have the opportunity to comment on it.”

Brown said that the zoning plan for Simpson Bay is in the final stages. The plan has been put on public review and that period is now closed. A committee will be established to review all comments and to formulate recommendations on how to handle them. The zoning plans for Cul de Sac and the Little Bay area are in the same stage. All in all the island is divided in thirteen zoning plan areas

Vromi-Minister Lake said that by showing the building plans for Little Bay to the media he wanted to present the facts. “You can see who the owner and the developer is on the plans,” he said, refuting the notion that the outgoing government should not be making any decisions.

“We always encourage developers to consult with us about their plans,” added Angel Meyers, head of the Permit Department at Vromi. “That makes our work more efficient.”

Lake noted that the issuing of permits is “straightforward” about procedures and building codes. “The Permit Department has come a long way, they are processing permit requests faster. The more permits we get out, the more revenue we get, and the more jobs it creates.”

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