by Mike Campbell, San Pedro
With the encouragement of various other townsfolk I have delved a bit deeper into this critical issue. For the most part the Master Plan prepared by the UN for the Government of Belize in 1988 and Revised by Belize in 1992 has been used by the Authority and is currently being used by the Authority to establish setbacks and densities and general zoning in San Pedro. Many other provisions of the plan have been made into law including our present traffic plan of one way streets. The Plan was respected and used to judge the merits of permit applicants and was treated as Law by the Authority for many years through both Red and Blue governments. This continued until in recent years various large projects requested permits contrary to the Master Plan. In all cases these projects were in environmentally sensitive areas and were objected to strongly by the people of San Pedro. The projects in consideration are Reef Village, Sugar Caye and South Beach. Blue Reef was built in a designated Conservation Zone (4) requiring Low Low Density. Sugar Caye is built on seabed with mangrove described as Non Development Land. South Beach is to be built upon the 500' designated Hol Chan Buffer Zone as well as Non Development Land as designated by our existing Master Plan revised 20 Aug 1992.
Why the Authority chose to ignore the existing Master Plan for some and treat is as law for others is the subject of much speculation. The proposed master plan refers repeatedly to ecological issues and the needed to deal with them. It also rightfully declares San Pedro as overcrowded. However at the same time the proposed master plan contains maps that would indicated the intention to convert all conservation areas as well as the entire coast to R-3 and R-4 zoning and advocate more density in San Pedro Town itself. The text and the maps present diametrically opposed positions.
There is no calculation as to what increase in population those zoning changes represent nor guidance as to public services required or recommendations as to how to meet those needs. For example, zoning the coast of North Ambergris Caye R-3 and R-4 as represented would equal a population of around 30,000 on the coast of North Ambergris Caye with no provisions for public services or basic infrastructure such as roads, water, solid waste pick up or sewage treatment. The premature opening of areas for development is a recipe for environmental disaster. We must remember than most of these development related actions are irreversible. Our mistakes will be forever.
Of further interest is that the new zoning maps would change the zoning of the above mentioned properties so that these questionable developments will now be permissible where before they were prohibited by the Master Plan. Given the overall lack of detail, errors of fact, and other inadequacies, it would seem that the primary purpose of this new document is to legalize the decisions that were made concerning Reef Village, Sugar Caye and South Beach projects. I certainly hope that is not the case.
It must be said that the proposed master plan speaks out strongly against these projects but the zoning recommendations that are included paint a different picture. The land of Sugar Caye and South Beach was designated as Non Development Land. Under the new plan it is designated as Undeveloped Land which is exactly the opposite.
San Pedro is at a crossroads. We must decide whether we are going to develop in an environmentally sensitive fashion doing our utmost to conserve the reef and natural environment that supports us all or develop as Cancun and Play Del Carmen did promoting high density and accepting environmental degradation offset by massive infrastructure projects. Of course we cannot provide the infrastructure required for that type of development programme.
The old Master Plan represents an environmentally sensitive development programme and the proposed new master plan zoning plan represents the Cancun type development programme but with no infrastructure. The existing plan projected only to 2005 and needs to be updated but not in a way that leads to environmental degradation and more density. The negative effects of development are incremental. What may be ok once is not ok if repeated over and over. The effects accumulate. The speed of development cannot be faster than the speed with which we can provide more municipal services.
In order to avoid some of the problems of the past a master plan must be mandatory under the law. The past problems arise from the Authority not following the Master Plan which actually has guidelines for sustainable growth allowing only a certain amount of development each year as opposed to unfettered development. Unfettered development as practiced in the last several years has lead to deterioration of our critical construction and condo industries and degradation of our environment. Values are falling due to overbuilding and few are brave enough to start new projects in this overbuilt situation. It could take years to clear our inventory of new condos.
To quote the existing Master Plan (1992) “If we look at Ambergris Caye today we see a clear sea; wildlife in abundance; a part of the Maya past, unequalled even in our region; and a barrier reef second to none in our hemisphere. Carefully husbanded, such extraordinary wonders can be kept perfectly intact and at the same time significantly contribute to the welfare of all our people. Ecotourism and its development is the only way to achieve this.” ‘Nuff said.
We are blessed to be living in one of the most extraordinary places on the planet and have an obligation to fiercely protect it. I believe future generations and the Lord above will judge us based how well we take care of His Island.