By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
The Balmoral Club has confirmed it will appeal against the Town Planning Committee’s (TPC) “baffling” rejection of its $25m, eight-storey condo hotel expansion.
Dwayne Mortimer, the Club’s president, told Tribune Business his group is in the process of filing an appeal with the Subdivision and Development Appeals Board over the Town Planning Committee’s decision to reject the 50-unit project on the grounds it was “incompatible” with land use development trends in the western New Providence community.
“This is baffling because the Town Planning Committee had already approved the initial hotel and we only applied for deviation,” he argued. The Balmoral Club, in February 2022, did obtain approval for a condo hotel that was half the height of the rejected application at four storeys and targeted at a different location.
That approval, though, was obtained without a full public hearing on the application. The Balmoral Club then sought a “deviation” from the early 2022 decision in its bid to gain approval for the larger version.
Tribune Business sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Balmoral residents and homeowners were unaware of the four-storey proposal or the original Town Planning Committee approval from 2022 until the expansion to eight storeys required that the project be published in the newspapers and a public hearing held.
Mr Mortimer added: “The other question that they raised was the scaling, and we can address that. But the building will be no taller than many other buildings that exist around them. One thousand feet to the west, next to the American Embassy, there is a building much taller than that. So I do believe based on the facts that were discussed at the meeting we will address these issues properly.”
Balmoral residents had voiced their concerns over not being consulted on such a large structure, but Mr Mortimer said: “It’s not my fault if I invited the residents to a meeting to discuss the matter and nobody showed up to hear what I had to say.”
Although he is travelling presently, Mr Mortimer said the first thing he will do when he returns to The Bahamas is launch a proper appeal, remove all emotions from the debate and just “present the Board with the facts”.
Some $150,000 has been invested in preliminary planning for the project, and he added: “We are ready to turn and go full blown with the project in the first quarter next year. It’s our industry and you will see a number of Bahamian hoteliers and Bahamians getting into the hotel industry. This is just one and there is more to come.”
Keenan Johnson, the Town Planning Committee’s chairman, earlier confirmed to Tribune Business that site plan approval was refused because the project’s scale and “height in and of itself” did not fit with the existing gated residential community on Sanford Drive.
He explained, though, that the rejection of the eight-storey proposal does not impact the previous approval granted to the Balmoral Club’s four-storey version in February last year. “Last year February they made a request for four storeys, which was approved,” Mr Johnson said, “and then requested a variation to eight storeys.
“The public hearing was about the application that we received for eight storeys. They had already been approved for four storeys. This approval only lasts for a particular period of time that they have to act on it. If they do not move ahead with the development for four storeys in a particular timeframe, that approval will expire and they will have to register for re-approval.”
It is presently unclear whether the Balmoral Club will move ahead with the four-storey proposal. The earlier Town Planning Committee approval, revealing that the condo hotel application was first submitted more than two years ago on August 24, 2021, granted site plan approval subject to the project meeting several other conditions.
These included obtaining a Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) from the Department of Environmental Planning and Protection (DEPP) prior to work beginning. “On-site drainage and internal roadways must meet the requirements of the civil design section of the Ministry of Works,” the earlier Town Planning Committee approval stipulated.
“Provisions for site infrastructure (electricity, water supply and treatment and waste management) must be reviewed and meet the requirements of the relevant utility corporations. Any excavation on the property must adhere to the provisions of the Conservation and Protection of the Physical Landscape of The Bahamas Act.”
Charles Diggiss, the condo hotel’s architect and project manager, in a May 30, 2023, letter said a “deviation” from the original 2022 approval was being sought because of a change in the condo hotel’s location to the north-east portion of the existing Balmoral clubhouse. No mention was made of the doubling in storeys from four to eight.
Balmoral residents, in the petition opposing the 119 feet high condo hotel in their gated community, located on Sanford Drive just to the west of the US ambassador’s residence and at the back entrance to the Prime Minister’s Office/Ministry of Finance, argued that its development would undermine their quality of life, security and hit property values.
“The presence of a hotel will undoubtedly decrease property values in the area due to persons not wishing to live in a commercial-zoned area with excess noise, traffic and increased security risks,” the petition argued.
It also referred to fears over the “potential difficulty of selling or renting residential properties in a commercialised neighbourhood originally sold/marketed as a gated private resident neighbourhood. The community in its current state is very desirable, and this desire will decrease with the addition of a hotel.
“Residents who purchased or invested in Balmoral because of the privately gated nature of the development will now want to sell their homes rather than be a part of a commercialised community,” the petition added.
“More than 200 families call Balmoral home. They trust that their children are safe playing out of doors. They feel secure walking their dog in the evening or arriving home and entering their doors after dark knowing that the security at the gate and roaming in golf carts provides the sought-after protection for which they pay monthly in their HOA (homeowners association) fees.
“A hotel within the confines of a solely residential neighbourhood opens the doors to those who come and go on a transient basis. They have no ties to the community and there is no way to track who enters the property as hotel guests, their guests, vendors, staff, taxi and livery services, housekeeping, laundry services and more.”
The petition also argued that a condo hotel would over-burden Balmoral’s already-strained infrastructure. “The single condo, townhouse, 2.5 storey and private residences of the gated community of Balmoral were constructed on the site of what was a single-family estate,” it added. “The infrastructure is strained to the limit at present. Sewerage back-ups are far too common.”