October 12' 2009 - #108
Urban Planning Map, Requests To Change Classifications, and Petitions
A large crowd attended the territorial council meeting on July 16, 2009 as island residents have a vested interest in the items on the agenda that day; especially the debate about a new urban planning map for Saint Barth—the document that defines zones where construction can take place, and outlines how the code of urbanism voted on by the elected officials of the COM is actually applied.
In his introduction to this sensitive dossier concerning future land use, Bruno Magras asserted, “We have an obligation to transmit to future generations an island that is a great place to life…. But we must allow young people to build while conserving the environment, and allow development for tourism in the best way possible.” Adding that the island needs additional hotel rooms, the president explains that there are requests for building permits for hotels in Saline and Toiny. At the end of the debate, the council voted to allow the public to consult the suggested map from July 20 through September 15.
During the weeks when the map was open to public viewing, more than 400 observations were recorded, most of which were requests for building permits in zones that were considered “green” or where construction is not permitted. Among these requests, three evoked strong reactions from the members of three local environmental groups interested in protecting the island: Saint Barth Environnement, Saint-Barth Essentiel, and the association for the protection of birds. The leaders of these non-profit groups started a petition entitled “Save The Last Natural Zones in St Barthélemy,” and made a concerted effort to inform the population about the extremely strong pressure behind requests to declassify land in three different areas, from their current status as green zone to building zones.
In Toiny, a Saint Barth native wants to build a small hotel along the beach. In Grand Cul-de-Sac, the Cardinal investment group has asked to build four villas as part of a deal in which they would cede the salt pond in Petit Cul-de-Sac to the Collectivity. On November 27, 2008, the executive council gave its favorable nod to this project, giving the president the green light to pursue negotiations, without an examination of the dossier by the entire territorial council.
Finally, in Saline, New York real estate developer André Balazs, who owns eight luxury hotels in New York, Los Angeles, and Miami, already own 50% of 80 acres of undeveloped land right behind the dunes where he would like to develop a six-star "eco-resort" with 40 bungalows on stilts. His claims are that this project would revitalize and protect the site by meeting the strictest environmental regulations. The plans call for the hotel complex to make the least impact on the landscape as possible, with renewable energy creating more than 50% of its electricity, composting its organic refuse, and purification of recuperated water. The project also calls for a 60-acre nature reserve open to the public and managed by an independent organization. Balazs came to Saint Barth to personally defend his project at a meeting with the members of the island’s environmental groups and politicians. He assured them that the project would not impact the beach in Saline, which would retain its current unspoiled nature, with no chaise lounges and no buildings.
A group of Saline residents also organized a petition of their own entitled “Help: Saline In Danger,” in order to get even more signatures and outline their objections to a project they judge interesting but not appropriate for their neighborhood.
American singer Jimmy Buffett, a regular visitor to Saint Barth for many years, endorsed the petition started by the three environmental associations. This petition was eventually signed by more than 1000 voters in Saint Barth, a number large enough to call for a public referendum as spelled out by law n°2007-223 dated February 21, 2007, which states that 10% of the voters can require the territorial council to hold a referendum about an issue voted on by the council. The leaders of the environmental associations presented their petition on October 6, requesting that the referendum be discussed at the next territorial council meeting two days later.
Those who came to hear the debate on October 8 were disappointed: the president did not bring up the subject.
More to come