A Plan for the Old Capital
Over the years we have seen many instances of disruption to life in Belize City, as a result of mutually exclusive activities being forced to co-exist with each other – examples include the battle over the ‘entertainment strip’ in 2017, or on Sixth Street a few years ago. The simplest explanation is that the Old Capital’s growth has been mostly uncontrolled for much of its long history. Short of turning back the clock, the Belize City Council is moving forward with a first-of-its-kind zoning ordinance which intends to more properly control the City’s growth and direct resources where they are most needed, while also paying attention to aesthetics such as green spaces and waterways. News Five’s Aaron Humes attended today’s latest consultation on the plan and has this report.
Aaron Humes, Reporting
Former Mayor Darrell Bradley used to say that his dream was to make Belize City a place its residents all love to live in. We suspect those who must still cross ‘London Bridges’ under low-lying power lines to get home at night will disagree, but so do those forced to live next to businesses operating with machinery, or near a nightclub or bar. While it does not address every individual concern – and is not intended to – the I.D.B.-backed plan for a full Belize City Zoning Ordinance tries to tackle the most important, according to CitCo’s finance director Marilyn Ordonez.
Marilyn Ordonez, Director of Finance, Belize City Council
“This Zoning Ordinance is coming out of a study that I.D.B. has done for Belize City, in terms of developing a land use policy, the way we use the land within Belize City. And the ordinance itself is a regulation that will assist us in standardizing and organizing Belize City. What the Act will do is to ensure that we can develop the social fabric of the City, and not segregate; develop informal parts of the city into formalized structures, where we don’t discriminate in terms of where poorer classes of people live or higher class or higher income levels live. So what the act will do is to regulate that, so that we have a mixed-use in different ways, where we can put density where it is important to have density for development of any city – where you have shopping, where people can mix better. It assists better in crime, of social ills, and replaces that type of issue that has been occurring in Belize City.”
The Council and the Bank have hosted several consultations, of which today’s was the third, with the many stakeholders involved in making sure that this nascent plan works. I.D.B. consultant and C.E.O. of Grupo Inovaterra, Jean-Roch Lebeau, says that on his visit to the City, he noticed that Belize does not take enough advantage of the imprint of green spaces and the canals and waterways, which he argues could add a new dimension to tourism. Suggestions for such places are included in the draft zoning plan.
Jean-Roch Lebeau, C.E.O., Grupo Inovaterra
“What tourists are looking [for] in a city is exactly these kinds of assets: the nature, the heritage, the water, the very thing that people want to see in a city. And if you want people to stay one day, two days, three days – because it is very good for economic development – you need to improve this natural environment. What can be done, for example, is to try to liberate all the coast and the river – make better access for Belizean people to go into the river and walk along the river. So when you think about urbanization, the new places that you will urbanize in the future, you have to build them around this idea of the water and the river and the sea. And the places that are already built, you have to re-accommodate, you have to re-transform them, making a new urbanization based on the idea we are talking about – the ‘blue print’ and the green corridors around the city.”
After consultations, the plan goes to the Ministry of Local Government for final approval. Ordonez reiterated that the current pace of growth is not sustainable for future development, so it is important for all to be involved.
“We will be sharing this information on our website, so that people can begin to look at it. It’s important that residents take note: if we want to develop our city into what modern cities are becoming and it’s happening to Belize City; but we don’t want it as it is presently growing, where we have squatters; where we have industries springing up in the middle of the community or residential areas, so we want to be organized. We have some prime areas like the Coney Drive area that’s developing; we want to make sure that it is regulated. It will also facilitate the construction industry, the architects, the engineers, into knowing exactly how they must build and what is required.”