By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Harbour Island’s chief councillor last night confirmed no written site plan approval has been granted to a controversial marina project despite the council voting unanimously in its favour.
Terrance Davis told Tribune Business that the Harbour Island District Council’s six members had all voted in favour of granting site plan approval for the multi-million dollar Briland Residences and Marina project on Friday, December 6.
That vote took place one day after a Town Hall meeting to discuss the plans by developer Michael Wiener, and his 4M Harbour Island Ltd, but the approval to-date remains verbal only and nothing has been committed to paper - something the project needs to resume, move forward and obtain other necessary permits.
“I can confirm that no one has officially received any letter of approval yet,” Mr Davis said, when contacted by this newspaper, adding that he had “been advised not to speak” on many of the details relating to the Briland Residences and Marina project.
However, he did confirm that the Harbour Island District Council had unanimously voted in favour of granting site plan approval, responding “your correct” when asked if this was the case by Tribune Business.
“We may still have to do another meeting, and I’m not sure when that will take place,” Mr Davis added, explaining that he was referring to the Harbour Island District Council and not another public Town Hall meeting. He did not say why this would be necessary, or what it will discuss.
His comments came after the project’s main opponents, Briland Island Responsible Development (BIRD), and fellow Briland hotelier, Ben Simmons, questioned whether any site plan approval has been granted to Mr Wiener and 4M Harbour Island Ltd despite their previous media release saying it had.
BIRD, in a statement, said its attorney, Gail Lockhart-Charles, had been told by Mr Davis “in no uncertain terms that no approvals had been given by the District Council in relation to the 4M project” when she met him on Monday, December 16.
“She asked for written confirmation of this, and was told to make a formal request, which she did by letter dated 18 December, 2019. She sent a follow-up letter dated 20 December,” BIRD said, raising concerns that Bahamians were being misled over the 4M Harbour Island project’s status and that this was disrupting public consultation and the approvals process.
Mrs Lockhart-Charles, in her December 18 letter, revealed that her meeting with Mr Davis took place in the presence of two officials from the Attorney General’s Office, Adelma Roach and David Higgins.
She wrote that she “asked whether any approval had been issued by the Harbour Island District Council to 4M in connection with the Briland Residences and Marina project proposal. We understand that, contrary to the press statements issued by 4M, no approvals have in fact been granted by the District Council with regard to the 4M marina project”.
Having asked for formal written confirmation that no approvals had been granted without success, Mrs Lockhart-Charles wrote another letter requesting that BIRD be given copies of all planning-related applications submitted by 4M Harbour Island Ltd; copies of any “minutes” of meetings or discussions on the applications; and all plans and supporting documents - including economic and environmental impact assessments.
The December 20 letter also sought copies of the Heads of the Agreement for the project, which the Minnis administration has yet to release, and any Investments Board permits that the developer has received.
“We submit that procedural fairness requires that the above documents and information be disclosed,” Mrs Lockhart-Charles wrote, “and that our clients ought to be afforded sufficient time to study the information so that they can make informed and meaningful contribution in the consultation process.” She “requested” that the Harbour Island District Council not close the consultation process.
A spokesperson for Mr Wiener and 4M Harbour Island Ltd declined to comment when contacted yesterday, but sources close to the developer backed Mr Davis’s version of events - that the Harbour Island District Council had voted in favour of granting site plan approval, but no confirmation had been put in writing yet.
Suggesting that BIRD and its attorney were “splitting hairs”, they added that the District Council was now awaiting “written directions from Nassau” and the Attorney General’s Office before proceeding with the written authorisation - which would explain the presence of Mr Higgins and Ms Roach at the meeting with Mrs Lockhart-Charles.
“There’s no question the Harbour Island council approved the project,” one source said. “It was unanimously approved with a vote of six to none. It’s just getting the written confirmation.”
Some Tribune Business contacts, though, suggested the matter was being delayed in Nassau, with various reasons - such as the need for “meeting minutes”, and problems in finding the correct person to do the sign-off - being cited.
BIRD, meanwhile, is understood to be especially concerned that written approval will slip out this Christmas week given that the law gives it only 21 days to appeal a site plan approval - a timeline that runs out this Friday, December 27.