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Diane Phillips: How Do You Know When It’S Time To Trade The Old For The New?

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Diane Phillips

By DIANE PHILLIPS

There is an almost inexplicable pleasure in cleaning out a drawer, a satisfaction that far exceeds what would seem appropriate for such a mundane task. Why does it feel so good to toss out a pair of underwear that you haven’t worn in so long the hip elastic stretches like your dollar won’t? Why does it feel like you turned a whole corner in life by ditching a magazine that contained a picture of the bathroom of your dreams 10 years ago before the bathroom became a desirable and fashionable place to spend time?

Parting with something, almost anything, can be uplifting if done by choice. Cleaning out closets, garages, tool boxes and garden sheds is external detoxification with internal pump fists.

But parting with things is a lot easier than parting with ideas. That’s tough and the more ingrained the ways of doing things are, the tougher it becomes to shake them. The result is we let old ways of doing things remain in place long after we should have tossed them out and we tolerate being told that we, as a people, are stuck in our ways.,

And, wow, are we stuck in our ways.

We are glued, screwed and bolted to our ways, especially when it comes to acknowledging that times and conditions change and we need to wake up and see the rotary phone is not going to make a comeback.

Few examples of clinging to the past are far more endearing – and frustrating – than the outdated single residential zoning of Eastern Road.

In the early to mid-1900s, families with a certain means purchased land, built homes, watched their children grow up, playing freely on large yards, running between neighbours’ and friends’ houses, riding bikes, jumping in the sea, getting home just in time for dinner. Today, those large family homes have become the great estates of Eastern Road.

Decades have passed, families are grown and gone, the estates are hard to maintain and when they go on the market, they are hard to sell. It is not a matter of maintenance. Most have been meticulously maintained. To this day they stand stately, tall and proud, classic symbols of taste and style. Unfortunately, that is not what the market wants now. Buyers want gated communities. They clamour for amenities, tennis courts, pool, spa, clubhouse, security 24/7. They eschew stairwells for stair climbers in a gym, forego ensuite master bedroom and bath the size of Rhode Island for a cozy corner with good, high speed internet connection. Values change. Life is different. Lifestyle offerings trump property size. But the zoning of Eastern Road has not. And it is suffocating growth that could unleash a new dynamism in the property market.

Sunrises

There are many who still prefer the Eastern District over the newer areas of western New Providence. There may be fewer restaurants but there are more birds, mature trees. The breeze nearly always blows. Sunrises are breathtaking. Bougainvillea dressed in purple, magenta and white overflows. East is closer for boating to Rose Island, Eleuthera and Exuma. There is a lot to be said for the tradition of where the island first grew up. It’s true that western New Providence has more restaurants, fitness centres, activities, night life and is continuing to undergo more intensive development. Sunsets can be stunning.

As traffic builds and it can take an hour to go from east to west in rush hour, east is again drawing renewed attention.

The problem is current single-family residential zoning along most of Eastern Road is stifling the market. HG Christie has 85 homes listed for sale on Eastern Road. Bahamas Realty has a similar number.

Photos and slide shows of many are so stunning you know that it must be breaking someone’s heart to have to part with a property so beautiful, so attached to the waterfront or ocean view, so filled with character and love they poured into it for decades.

But suppose some of those properties could be converted into low-density, multi-family townhome or condo developments.

Let’s take, for example, a typical old Bahamian style Eastern Road home with five bedrooms, 5 ½ baths with a cottage/ garage, pool and cabana, gazebo, and four or five acres that is in pristine condition and has been on the market for some time. Re-zoning would require public consultation and that is understandable.

But if we just use that one property as an example and approve it for 16 or 20 residences, that translates into four or five per acre, no denser than a typical ¼ -acre single family residential neighbourhood like those all over new Providence.

Buyers

But with units built compactly, closer together, there is more green space and room for leisure features. Amenities attract buyers. Let’s say the design calls for the current main house to become the clubhouse with fitness centre, pool, yoga class, multi-media centre, small restaurant and cafe, library, homeowner’s office, private meeting rooms and comfy living area for chilling and getting together with neighbours and kitchen for community events and special occasion catering. On either side and in the rear are four three-storey buildings, with first floor a single unit with water view, second floor receding further with view, and third floor set back even further so each large patio has complete privacy plus view because the units are built like wide staircases, each retreating further. At the far end of each of the three-storey structures is one three-storey high residence with an elevator. Something for everyone.

A rough calculation is with modern building techniques, once property is purchased each 2-bedroom, 2 ½ -bath, 1,600 square foot unit could be built for less than $500,000 and sold for $799,000, giving the developer a decent profit after infrastructure completed and the ability to collect homeowner’s fees until a majority or agreed number are sold and turned over to the new property owners to manage or award a contract for management. Now you have 16 or 20 new residences, adding to the local economy, reviving a community that is too pretty to write off or suffer from neglect when it deserves a quiet respect for its uniqueness and preservation.

But it is at the precipice now and as more original families depart to downsize or pass on to other rewards, the number of available properties flooding a market searching for gated communities will only continue to grow.

While we must be careful not to overburden the infrastructure or create a footprint that is too large, there is precedent for multi-family zoning along Eastern Road, including at Dick’s Point and Baycroft where various Cabinet ministers live or have lived. The latter rates highest density in the area and may never have passed muster in today’s more sensitive climate.

Yes, there are places to be preserved – Lighthouse Point in South Eleuthera heading the list – but it is also time to know, as the song says, when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.

The time has come for a detox of old zoning policies that have choked the land east of Fort Montagu. Eastern Road is far too precious a gem to ignore when it has every opportunity to sparkle and offer a new lifestyle option for those who want to feel the warm breeze on a spring night or watch the parrots, White Crown pigeons, doves, hummingbirds and Cuban bananaquit flutter and land on mature trees, to gather enough seagrapes for jam from any of a thousand trees and just gaze at the bougainvillea and wonder how God created such beauty and knew to let it run wild the way it wanted.

Comments

juju 3 years, 8 months ago

Traffic congestion would be a nightmare. Noise would also be an issue. Is that just the new norm for living on New Providence? Your density numbers are too high. This is not Hong Kong.

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Alex_Charles 3 years, 8 months ago

High density housing can and eventually WILL HAVE TO work. but it requires more than simply zoning. electrical grid needs to be fixed, roads need to be expanded, public housing must be considered, proper and heavily regulated public transport must be brought forth and tax structures absolutely must change.

Zoning must come with infrastructure, which comes with costs, which are covered by taxes which must be changed.

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