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  Yves Bourel has been living in St. Barts for more than 10 years. He is an experienced journalist and has been the editor-in-chief for local newspapers. Currently, he is one of the radio announcers at Radio St. Barth for whom he covers political news and is presenting the local news every 2 weeks for St. Barths Online!
  November 12, 2002 - Issue # 27
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   Controlling development
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   Managing land development has been one of the principal concerns of local government for the past two decades. Understandably, on an island as small as St. Barth, land has become a precious commodity. The quality of life here, appreciated by visitors and residents alike, has also drawn a number of foreigners to establish permanent residence here. In fact, the latest census poll figures reveal that island's population, now 7000, doubled in just twenty years. As might be guessed, the local St. Barth people, once forced to live in poverty and expatriate in order to find work now fully understood that it's a seller's market. Whether locals or enterprising foreigners sell their lots or develop their land as rental property for either commercial or residential use, the real estate pay-off is big. As more people clamor to get into the act, the demand for building permits has increased dramatically. To give some idea of the phenomenon, approximately 2800 building permits were granted over the past 20 years. In the past decade, over 300, 000 square meters of construction were authorized.
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   The first attempt to regulate land development in the 1990's came via a standard federal zoning plan called the Plan d'Occupation de Sols. When its possible adoption was put before the public in an island-wide referendum, it was overwhelmingly voted down. The project for a zoning plan returned in 1998, under a modified form that seemed more suited to the island and its realities. The plan, named MARNU, for short, designated 60% of the island's surface as green zone. The remaining 40%, it decreed, could be developed. Since it was put into effect, the plan has been legally challenged in the French courts on a number of occasions, but the courts have always ruled in support. Despite its limits, the plan has served a much-needed function-to provide some sort of zoning regulation-even if for every 200 building permits requested each year, 150, or 75%, are granted.
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  Now, as the MARNU edges toward its expiration date, the debate about island zoning has once again become pertinent. The municipal council met on October 30 expressed its desire to create a local zoning plan that would give executive powers to elected officials. In sharp contrast to the current zoning plan that grants the state the power to sign building permits, MARNU's replacement foresees transferring this power to the island mayor. The new zoning plan would go a step further, and oblige developers to respect certain architectural parameters. The local government is well aware that public acceptance for the new plan will not be easy. Not here, where private land is each man's sovereign domain.
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  Officials are bracing themselves for a fight, but are prepared to make whatever concessions they must. Politicians don't want to ruffle any feathers just now, especially since they are counting on voter support in the upcoming referendum. They hope that poll results will provide a strong show of support for the island's most ambitious political objective: independence from Guadeloupe.

  More to come,

  Yves Bourel


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