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#421014 - 11/04/11 09:50 AM Master Planning Ambergris Caye by Fidel Ancona
Marty Offline

I have a vision for the orderly development of Ambergris Caye that I want to share with you to generate awareness and healthy discussion. My aim is to remind you that all of Ambergris Caye will continue to develop with or without a plan. I intend to point to you that if this is true we need to plan today how that development should be to able to protect what we have and to avoid costly mistakes. We need to plan where the basic infrastructure – road, water, sewer, sanitary land fill, airport, marina, electrical power, etc – should be. We need to know where playgrounds, sports fields, schools, churches, hospitals, etc will be. Unless we do that, we cannot intelligently plan today for our family, for our business, for our workforce and for our social welfare.

The end product of my vision is a master plan that serves as a guide for the orderly development of Ambergris Caye for the next 25 years and beyond. The first phase of this plan will include the legislation of a zoning plan that will determine areas that should be protected and what kind of development is permitted on the rest of it. This plan will give our municipal government power to enforce the rules. It will also give the people legal recourse to ensure that the rules are properly implemented. The plan will also provide clear guidelines to residents and developers that if fulfilled, guarantees approval of proposed project.

A good zoning plan was drawn many years ago with the input and consensus of the stakeholders. This plan was never put into law but it was used as a guideline by some decision makers. This plan wisely selected an area of mangrove wetland around the WASA sewer lagoon as a No Development Zone because it was useful only to the ecosystem and to the sewer lagoon. The mangrove wetland was left there to naturally purify the effluents that constantly leach out of the lagoon. These effluents are poisons that could kill the reef if they reach it. Without an EIA, a permit was issued to destroy all of that mangrove wetland in the name of progress and development. My point is that if a legal zoning plan had been in place, this serious mistake could not have been made.

The master plan cannot undo the mistakes that have been made in the San Pedro Town core but it can establish clearer zoning guidelines for its inevitable future development. The idea is to accept the fact that the streets in San Pedro Town from the bridge going south cannot support more heavy traffic and more vehicles. The idea is to understand and accept that the unplanned traffic of San Pedro Town core is actually chasing tourists away from it. The idea is to accept that the schools are overcrowded and that there are not enough open spaces for recreation and sports. We need to accept that the mechanism that now exists to regulate vehicle importation, building permits, subdivision approval and land use approval are not functioning properly and cannot function properly until a clear legal foundation is establish. We need to accept that these problems are sabotaging our tourism product. If the majority of us accept these facts, then we have a real chance of actually doing something to mitigate them.

It insults and enrages me when a “developer” can bribe government officials to get approval for a subdivision that does not leave enough green belts, spaces for schools and playgrounds, clinics, hospitals, sports fields, not to mention big enough lots that allow for a nice house and enough yard for children and family to play in. It further insults me when the people involved try to convince us that they are doing us a favor when they offer these lots for sale. Where will the children of families of a 2,000 lots subdivision go to school, play sports, go to the clinic when no place for these activities was planned in the subdivision? They will have to travel several miles on bad roads to go to the already crowded and limited facilities in the San Pedro Town core creating more vehicle and school congestion, further overloading the struggling system. We cannot keep on burdening ourselves with cleaning the mess of people who only care for a quick buck. If a comprehensive master plan had been in place this other serious mistake would not have occurred.

I believe that the timing is right for real action to happen. We are in the municipal election season and soon it will be the national election season. The first step is to choose leadership that will embrace this kind of plan and do what it takes to have it approved and legislated.

The aspiring leaders cannot wait until they get elected to make a plan and expect to make a positive difference. They have to start working now. They have to surround themselves with intelligent people who can help them come up with real solutions of our recurring problems. They will use these people to help them frame the path for real sustainable growth. The aspiring leaders have to prove that they understand the issues; they have to prove that they have tangible solutions to existing problems. They have to prove that they understand that San Pedro Town needs to be managed professionally as a business.

This is what I propose the aspiring leaders to do now:

*Sit with the present San Pedro Town Council today and find out everything that they need to know about how the town is managed now.
*Find out potential and actual revenue, and how the money is spent now.
*Find out how much the town owes.
*Find out how many miles of street were paved and how much it cost to pave it.
*Find out how many more miles of streets there are and have a rough idea of what it would cost to pave them the same way
*Find out what is in the pipeline in regards to water and sewer
*Do the same with everything else that concerns the affairs of the town to find out what the situation really is.
*Use this information to create a plan of action that will say what they will do the first day that they get in office and what actions they will take to gradually fix what is broken.
*Get acquainted with the proposed Ambergris Caye Master Plan, find out where it stands and plan how it can be finalized and legislated if they so believe.
*This analysis has to be done crudely now but when they get elected they could hire a consultant to make the formal analysis and recommendations.

Armed with this information, the aspiring leaders are able to draft a realistic program of work. They should immediately engage the business community to include their important needs in their plan of action.

We tend to always want to throw our hands up in the air and say that we have no recourse. We, the people, are the government. The elected people work for us. We can make it work this way only if we have a legal plan that keeps our workers in line. The plan will create controls that will serve as checks and balances for them. The plan will create parameters and a legal framework that shows the elected leader where we are going and how we expect to get there. It will be clear and simple, minimizing the opportunities for fraud and deception. The climate will be one of not who you know but one of who is best qualified.

My vision for the sustainable development of Ambergris Caye is perhaps idealistic because it assumes that we can all work together for our common good. It assumes that we are willing to make sacrifices to be able to pass on to our children a better Ambergris Caye. It assumes that there will be the political will to legislate the proposed zoning plan. It assumes very importantly, that the majority of us will believe that this is how we should proceed.

One thing is very clear to me. We cannot continue in this path and expect to protect our tourism economy and the welfare of our families. We are fortunate to live in this precious island. It is my unwavering belief that if we are smart enough we can plan and develop Ambergris Caye in a sustainable manner to protect the very essence that makes it precious and at the same time create a vibrant economy that will create hope and prosperity.

Around 1985 when I was the manager of Victoria House Resort, one of my North American guests told me that one of the reasons that they work long and hard hours at home is that in the back of their mind they have this dream that one day they would find a place like this and live happily thereafter. He told me, “You do not have to dream of such a place, you already have it, do not let anybody screw it up for you.”

Ambergris Today

#421018 - 11/04/11 10:38 AM Re: Master Planning Ambergris Caye by Fidel Ancona [Re: Marty]
lovey and thurston Offline
Wonderful letter. We hope all our aspiring leaders will get behind this plan. R.B> and Judy
R.B. Mernitz

#421022 - 11/04/11 11:36 AM Re: Master Planning Ambergris Caye by Fidel Ancona [Re: lovey and thurston]
AC Lover Offline
My compliments Fidel for writing such a well thought out letter on a subject that any civilized society would embrace wholeheartedly. It is so frustrating and sad to encounter the resistance from people in power in Belize to the "gringos" who invest in Belize, create jobs, pay taxes, etc......those who have brought millions and millions of US dollars to the country.
San Pedro has the choice to become a far greater destination point for tourists if it does not become a Tijuana South, and if those who live there respect some of the 'gringos' who literally and figuratively help pay their salaries and feed their children. This is a fact not to be resentful about, but to figure out how to 'use all that is called fortune' and harness the energy and ideas coming forth.
What else does Belize truly have to offer besides tourism? Every aspect of Belizean life has gotten worse in the last decade: higher unemployment, higher rate of poverty, higher rate of crime and violence, more drug trafficking, a higher rate of illeratacy, depleted resources.........all signs of a country in decline.
What Belizeans are going to have the 'guts', honesty. determination, and foresight to move this beautiful country forward in a positive direction?

#421023 - 11/04/11 11:37 AM Re: Master Planning Ambergris Caye by Fidel Ancona [Re: Marty]
Zoning is a huge issue to present and future investors on our beautiful island. We need to have designated areas for commercial enterprises ,and residential only areas. The mixed use of commercial and residential properties lowers the value of both.It is not too later to rezone areas North and South of San Pedro Town to allow for a more harmonious , peaceful , and more family friendly way of life.

#421037 - 11/04/11 01:59 PM Re: Master Planning Ambergris Caye by Fidel Ancona [Re: Marty]
SFJeff Offline
ratifying the existing master plan 'guidelines' into LAW should arguably be the #1 top priority for the next mayor of San Pedro.

#421041 - 11/04/11 02:25 PM Re: Master Planning Ambergris Caye by Fidel Ancona [Re: Marty]
GwenA Offline
I really, really support zoning! Living in what I thought was a residential neighborhood, another Hardware Store isn't what we wanted. And, they could build another next door! Not right!

#421069 - 11/05/11 08:30 AM Re: Master Planning Ambergris Caye by Fidel Ancona [Re: Marty]
Diane Campbell Offline
Agree with Fidel's letter - we've needed this kind of vision for a long time.
It's important stuff - VERY.

#421129 - 11/05/11 06:20 PM Re: Master Planning Ambergris Caye by Fidel Ancona [Re: Marty]
ScubaLdy Offline
Residential and commercial can mix –if done in an orderly manner. Shop owners living above their shops has been done in Europe for centuries and is gaining popularity in planned business developments. It is just a matter of what kind of shops and what style of homes.

Of course some ‘residential only’ area’s are needed and need to be designated early on.

Lots of people have been pushing for a master plan – it is long over due.
Take only pictures leave only bubbles

#421130 - 11/05/11 07:36 PM Re: Master Planning Ambergris Caye by Fidel Ancona [Re: Marty]
ron Offline
Commercial and residential uses have been used in the US all over. Most of our cities downtowns have a mix of residential, commercial and retail. In larger cities we have apartments and offices above retail space. In smaller communities we have store owners often renting apartments above there stores. Not all communities have a suburban formula of development here we segregate various land uses. The biggest thing to consider is the capacity of the infrastructure to support the development that is going on. It seems that the developers in AC don't consider the need to provide any infrastructure. They draw lines on a map sell lots and hope that power, water and sanitation be brought to the site. This problem is more related to zoning and building regulations then it is to a master plan. Master Plans in the States are only guides to development not regulations of development.

#422229 - 11/16/11 09:43 AM Re: Master Planning Ambergris Caye by Fidel Ancona [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Do We Care?

by Fidel Ancona

On the corner of Pescador Drive and Ambergris Street, a building construction which uses virtually all of the lot space leaving none for parking, is underway. I hear that it will be the offices of a Credit Union. On the corner of Barrier Reef Drive and Black Coral Street across from Coral Beach Hotel, the last bit of space under that residence/business is being enclosed, I assume with the consent of the Ambergris Caye Local Building Authority.

It still amazes me that no one seems to care about how wrong and shortsighted this is. It ignores the glaring problem of lack of parking space in this area and the exponential traffic congestion that it causes. It surprises me that no one even bothers to at least complain that this adds to the deterioration of the business environment of this important and special tourist destination.

I have been saying for the last ten years that when North Ambergris Caye develops in a planned and orderly manner, San Pedro Town will lose most of its business and a lot of its people to it because of lack of planning. If a new town with adequate spaces for residence, commerce, sports, schools, hospitals, police, government and other essential facilities is planned properly about equidistance from the bridge north to Robles Point there will be no reason for most of the people living in North Ambergris Caye, ten years from now, to come to the old San Pedro Town.

Imagine a North Ambergris with a good all weather road running north to south as far as Robles Point, the airport at Basil Jones, a commercial marina somewhere on the west side of the island that brings building material and goods from Corozal rather than Belize City. Imagine an area with electricity, cable, telephone, water and sewer, lots of parking space and abundance of green areas. It would be so easy and pleasant to do everything that one needs to do on this planned community that the only reason that one may want to come to San Pedro core would be for curiosity or to visit family and friend for a few hours.

It does not have to be that way. We can have it all if we do today what is right. We need to stop issuing permits to buildings that do not provide adequate parking. We need to insist that they leave the proper setbacks. We need to stop the huge freezer truck that parks, every Saturday morning, on the wrong side of Pelican Street blocking traffic for five minutes? In fact, we should not allow these huge trucks to come to the island overwhelming our narrow streets?

We proclaim that we understand that our economy is totally dependent on tourism for year round job creation, yet some of our actions say differently. Our beaches are hugely important to our guests because they spend a lot of their time on it enjoying all that it offers. So it is logical to assume that we as a government and as business people would make it a priority that it is always clean, safe and unobstructed for our guests and residents. Amazingly, this is not done.

I walk the beach from my house just north of Royal Palm Resort to Fidos Restaurant on a regular basis. As I start my walk I see on the beach big chunks of an old concrete building with dangerous rusted rebar sticking out of them that someone deliberately dumped in front of the resort. I see an area further north that on high tide is barely passable. About half way of my walk going north, I see a seawall that was not properly built so it loses sand underneath it when there are rough seas. Instead of replacing the lost sand with more sand someone replaces it with garbage. Therefore this stretch of beach is littered with garbage most of the time. Some of the beaches are clean and kept in their natural state but most of them are littered with unplanned seawalls that depict chaos and an erroneous approach to what should be important for our tourism product.

My point today is that we are experiencing tough economic time because of lack of new investment but we are making this situation worst by continuing to do things that have huge negative impacts to our tourism product. If we really want to, we can correct these problems today with little financial investment and in doing so improve our tourism product in a drastic way. I believe that we do not have a choice. We either decide to fix these problems today or accept that we are going to continue to lose tourist to other areas that make the effort to provide what they are looking for.

Ambergris Today

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