By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A Bahamian businessman yesterday warned he and his partners might have to “shelve” a $63m New Providence project if “prohibitively expensive” changes and conditions were imposed after Wednesday’s planning consultation.
Robert Myers, who is the Organisation for Responsible Governance’s (ORG) principal, told Tribune Business he and his fellow investors were willing to alter the design and plans for the proposed Adelaide Pines community if suggested adjustments “make sense”.
However, if such alterations worsened the impact of already-increased construction and building material costs, and throw financial projections for the planned 180-lot middle income community “completely out of whack”, he said the developers would have little choice but to place a venture intending to create 300 full-time jobs on hold.
Speaking after a public Town Planning Committee consultation on the development, during which a Cabinet minister, former prime minister, attorney, environmental activists and residents in south-western New Providence’s Adelaide area all voiced concerns (see other article on Page 1B), Mr Myers told this newspaper that the developers are willing to compromise within reason.
“I’m a Bahamian business owner, and have spent 40 years in The Bahamas in business with my fellow Bahamians,” he said. “For the record, we always intended if we can, and it makes sense, and there are some changes that are not going to be prohibitively expensive, then we’re more than happy to consider those things.
“There is a concern because there is a price cap on middle income property. If we get numbers back that are completely out-of-whack, both because of global inflation and what we may have been asked to do - and this is not a threat - but there’s a real possibility we would have to shelve it until prices come down or we get to a satisfactory solution.”
Pointing out that, unlike major foreign direct investment (FDI) projects, Adelaide Pines will not obtain major tax breaks and other incentives, Mr Myers added: “We’re not duty-free, we’re not VAT deferred. It’s expensive to do these communities because of all the new laws and regulations, which we support, but it’s ultimately making it very expensive to put in these subdivisions.”
Adelaide Pines’ electricity cables will be buried underground rather than run as overhead wires to protect them from future hurricane damage, he said, citing this as one example of increased costs facing the community and other developers. “I don’t have the numbers back yet because we’re trying to wrap up the civils and hoping we don’t have a bomb dropped on us and have to change everything, go back to the drawing board and more costs,” Mr Myers said.
“I’m still willing, as a Bahamian and as a neighbourly person, I’m still willing to consider reasonable things in order to make it better. We have no issue with that at all. We’re still willing to consider reasonable things. This is not a stiff arm. This is not an unreasonable threat. We’re following a process, and expect everyone to do likewise; respect the process and the law.”
Mr Myers has partnered with Lyford Cay-based billionaire Joe Lewis and his fellow Albany principals, plus two UK investors, to develop a middle income housing subdivision located on the southern side of Adelaide Road opposite the eastern entrance to Albany. Adelaide Pines will feature “about 180” single family lots, together with 19-25 lots for commercial and light industry in a bid to attract businesses to the area and provide employment for residents.
A National Economic Council (NEC) paper on the project, written earlier this year, said: “Some 150-200 Bahamians be employed during the construction phase. The first year of operations will generate about 30 jobs, and that will rise steadily through the completion of the various phases of development to about 250-300 permanent jobs within the complex.”
Mr Myers, meanwhile, dismissed suggestions by Reece Chipman, the former Centreville MP, that Adelaide Pines will become an extension of Albany and not the middle income community it is intended to be. He added that he “cannot help people’s hysteria” and “naysayers”, while saying: “The conspiracy theorists are entitled to their opinion.”
Pointing out that Adelaide Pines will offer two, three and four-bedroom homes ranging in size from 1,200 square feet to 1,800 square feet, located on lots containing between 6,5000 square feet and 7,00 square feet, Mr Myers told Tribune Business: “This is consistent with middle income housing. There’s no beach access, there’s no guaranteed access to Albany. You’ve got your own little club house, swimming pool and gym.
“The reason Albany is involved is because it’s on their doorstep and they think there’s an opportunity for their staff to live in a nice, safe, pleasant community next to their work. It’s a community for working people. It’s a safe, pleasant, environmentally conscious and aesthetically pleasing community for middle income people.”
Many of the concerns raised at the Town Planning Committee were environmental-related. Mr Myers, though, argued that these were being raised in the wrong forum as they should have instead been directed to the Department of Environmental Planning and Protection (DEPP).
And, more critically, he asserted that such concerns were too late as Adelaide Pines had already obtained its Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) eight months ago via a separate process managed by the DEPP, which also involved stakeholder consultation and submissions.
“A lot of this comes from ‘not in my backyard and people being anti-development. A lot of this stuff comes from those two opinions,” Mr Myers said. However, Pericles Maillis, the well-known attorney and environmentalist, whose Adelaide property adjoins the project site, in submissions to the Town Planning Committee on September 21, 2022, called for the public consultation to be postponed.
Revealing that he was committed to further dialogue with the developers, Mr Maillis said: “There is as yet no proper detailed Land Use Plan governing this area and covering the many statutory duties and mandates on sensitive lands.
“This project advanced to the present stage, and with considerable expenditures put out by the developers, but without full preliminary discussion with outside stakeholders and on the assumption that the long natural geological wetland feature, which closely parallels the main Adelaide Road (30 to 90 feet) or five to 65 feet from a 25-foot setback for a wall, could be reclaimed - obliterated - and replaced by a man-made lake cut into the ground far enough in for two rows of houses on one side, and multi-family units on the other, along the main road.”
Meanwhile, Pamela Burnside, owner of Doongalik Studios Art Gallery, and her two sisters voiced “strong opposition” to Adelaide Pines due to the potential impact on the area’s status as a major historical and cultural site.
“Adelaide Village is an important historical site, and a valuable part of our country’s heritage and patrimony, having been established as a settlement for freed slaves in the 1830s and, as such, it has for centuries retained its charm and character, as it should for perpetuity,” they wrote in an e-mail.
“It is unconscionable that such an abominable development as that proposed by Adelaide Pines on this 21 (mile) by seven island of New Providence be even remotely considered for such a precious heritage area as Adelaide, which deserves our respect and our protection. It certainly does not deserve another sprawling development.
“The outlandish scale of 170-plus homes along with other commercial and industrial structures, the design, the purpose, in fact, the overall nature of the proposed gated development, totally disrespects the character of the area and exhibits no sense of place whatsoever. It is, in itself, offensive to us as Bahamians.”
Pointing to the environmental concerns, the trio added: “Such lack of regard for the last few areas of beauty and peace that we, as Bahamians, have left in our country, due to constant developments such as this, should not be allowed....
“It is time for we, the people, to take a firm stand and fiercely protect our rightful patrimony for Bahamians then, now and into the future. Therefore, we would like it to strongly state that we utterly oppose any further encroachment of this nature in or around the historic area of Adelaide.”