Town says NO to four storey building

It was a unanimous agreement of the public meeting, hosted by Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA) Friday evening, that San Pedro Town will not allow four storey buildings. A crowded Town Hall consisted of concerned citizens as well as Honorable Patty Arceo, Mayor Alberto Nuñez and Deputy Mayor Eiden Salazar. Representing various groups were Kelvin Ramnarace of BTIA, Einer Gomez of Belize Hotel Association (BHA), Billy Leslie of San Pedro Tour Guides Association (SPTGA), Mito Paz of Green Reef, and Catherine Paz of Product Development Committee (PDC).

Brian Matayoshi of Green Reef agreed to be the facilitator for the evening's agenda which included statements from a variety of sources. The testimonies started with a letter from local investor Celi McCorkle, read by her daughter Lisa in her absence. She wrote that having started the first hotel in the area, she had seen San Pedro grow into the tourism area that it is today. She expressed her anger and stated she vehemently opposed anyone building four storeys. Foreign investor Dr. Wil Lala was next to speak quoting, "fail to plan, plan to fail" as why the Master Plan is so important. He went on to say this situation should never have happened, but if the town's Master Plan is not enforced, the town will lose control. Representing the tourist viewpoint was Susan Garcia, a lawyer from the United States who is a frequent visitor to San Pedro. She stated, "San Pedro is not Cancun," and she hopes that San Pedro (through the Democratic process) works to keep and appreciate what they have here - a community, not just a tourist attraction. Next, Einer Gomez read a letter of support from BHA to the Mayor. They expressed although they encourage diversity in development, they were greatly concerned over the violation of the Master Plan.

Chairman of the Ambergris Caye Planning Committee Omar Guerrero took the floor to explain the procedures involved in obtaining a building permit and brief those attending on recent happenings. He explained that first two blueprints must be submitted and an application fee paid. Approximately three weeks after this an approval or denial decision will be made at a committee meeting. He further explained, upon examination of all applications filed last year, there were no blueprints on file for the current construction of a four storey building, nor was there an application fee received or a meeting held in this regard. To date there have been two "Stop Orders" filed and an injunction served against the construction of this building. He stated Honorable Dickie Bradley, Minister of Housing and Planning had been contacted and is upset over the matter. Mayor Nuñez gave an update and assured that all legal actions are being carefully planned and that he and the Town Board are doing everything in their power to handle the matter.

An Open Forum for all to question and give opinions followed Mr. Guerrero. Mr. Enrique Rosado, District Engineer testified that plans had been stamped for "concession purposes only" according to a letter his department received. No plans had been submitted otherwise and no permits had been issued to initiate construction, therefore a request for two stop orders and an injunction had been filed. Mr. Antonio Gonzalez, Assistant Director of Central Government Housing and Planning office, agreed that all proper procedures had been taken to stop the construction, explaining his office is the ultimate authority for Housing and Planning. He went on to add that although this construction is not ceasing, any construction that takes place after the time limit of the injunction could be demolished, if that is the decision of the court. He emphasized that proper procedures for construction were not followed in this case and that is the real infraction of the law, not the size and setbacks set in the Master Plan.

Area Representative Patty Arceo confirmed that Attorney Leo Bradley was working on the case and explained it will take three readings in the National Assembly to legalize the Master Plan of San Pedro. She mentioned a planned meeting with the Superintendent of Police in follow-up to the stop order in question. She added investors sometimes see La Isla Bonita, "as a dollar sign, but others see us as people". She stressed the need for balance in order for there to be properly executed development.

Questions from the crowd and discussions followed. Mr. Gonzalez confirmed that if the owner of the construction is not present, the contractor can be held liable as well. He explained that the architect is only responsible for the design of the building. A suggestion was made that maybe an extra step in the building permit procedure include the approval of design first and then an application for submission of plans follow, in order for the Master Plan to be followed. It was stated by another that if Central Government is truly committed to giving local governments more autonomy, legalizing the Master Plan should be no problem. Another view held by many was that even if the fourth storey is stopped, the set backs for the building are not consistent with the building codes and this should be addressed. In answer to one concerned citizen, Hon. Patty Arceo confirmed that the Prime Minister is being informed of all developments in this matter. Billy Leslie of SPTGA questioned if safety of any building can be assured if no plans are submitted.

Catherine Paz then conducted a discussion to establish what the people needed from a declaration that the SPTB would be issuing. It was established that the following points be included in such declaration:

1) to legalize the Master Plan of Ambergris Caye,
2) to cease construction of four storey buildings,
3) to circulate a petition to back up the stop order,
4) to ensure legal setbacks,
5) to examine the implementation of non-compliance fines,
6) to review and or amend the Master Plan at regular intervals,
7) to revise the process of acquiring building permits to include approval of concept before design is drawn,
8) to ensure that no approval is given through Central Government in Belmopan without Ambergris Caye's approval first.
It was then decided that PDC will be in charge of generating the official declaration. Several people requested petitions to be signed and the meeting was adjourned.

Town says NO to four storey building

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