Toby Smith, the Bahamian entrepreneur who has sued the government over claims it has allegedly breached a Crown land agreement with him, said he was bewildered that even though the land is under legal dispute, the Department of Physical Planning is reviewing an application for site approval for Royal Caribbean Group’s (RCG) proposed beach club.
The land in dispute is on the western peninsula of Paradise Island, where Smith said he planned to develop into his own beach club after receiving a letter from the government dated January 7, 2020 agreeing to lease the land to his company, Paradise Island Lighthouse and Beach Club Company Limited.
A public notice issued by the Ministry of Public Works’ Department of Physical Planning and printed in yesterday’s newspaper stated that an application for site plan approval on behalf of Royal Caribbean Group is presently being reviewed by the Department of Physical Planning for presentation to the Town Planning Committee.
“The applicant is requesting site plan approval for a beach club development on approximately 1.3 acres of land situated in the western section of Paradise Island. The development, referred to as ‘Royal Beach Club’, will be used primarily as a ‘beach day experience’ for Royal Caribbean cruise passengers. Guests will travel to Paradise Island via water taxis or tenders from Prince George Wharf,” stated the notice, signed by Acting Director of Physical Planning Charles Zonicle.
“The proposed works on the beach club will include the following features: east and west arrivals docks, east and west dining pavilions, pool, kid’s splash pad, beach bars, restrooms, back of the house facilities including offices, utilities, storage and parking.”
Royal Caribbean has proposed to invest $50 million into its proposed beach club for its cruise passengers.
Through his attorney Wayne Munroe, QC, Smith last December filed a statement of claim to support his lawsuit.
“As a Bahamian I’m bewildered as to why they would be considering giving such land to RCG that should be for Bahamians only. I’m bewildered that if they want to rejuvenate Bay Street they are bringing foreign competition across the harbor,” Smith told Guardian Business yesterday.
“I’m concerned that Royal Caribbean has been given a different avenue than me as a Bahamian has to go on, I’m concerned that this matter is before the courts but the government continues to negotiate land that is in contention.”
Attorney General Carl Bethel had no comment yesterday, but confirmed that the issue is now before the courts.
Speaking to the lawsuit, Smith said, “The government has not responded to me directly, but they have in the form of offering a defense through the Office of the Attorney General. And because this is a legal matter it enhances the need that surely Physical Planning must honor protocol by going to the Office of the Attorney General.”
Last year the Department of Lands and Surveys sent Smith a Crown land lease agreement to sign, however Smith said he is still awaiting severance, which is the act of severing a piece of land from a larger tract of land, making the severed parcel of land a separate lot.
“I’m very puzzled, bewildered by how it says in the first paragraph that it’s Royal Caribbean’s project and Royal Caribbean is inviting public feedback on land that is being considered by the Ministry of Public Works’ physical planning department. The diagram that they have underneath the ad clearly shows the boundaries and the western boundary pushes into land that is already spoken for in the Crown Land lease agreement that I have with government,” Smith said.
“I understand the protocol is that before the Department of Physical Planning can gazette such an article requesting public consultation, they must first liaise with the attorney general’s office. I don’t see how they could have honored that protocol. It seems as if something is awry.”
The January 7, 2020 document seen last year by The Guardian states, “Approval for Crown lease five acres (two and three) at the west end of Paradise Island, Paradise Island Lighthouse and Beach Club Company Limited.”
The notice in yesterday’s newspaper stated that a virtual public meeting will be held on April 28, 2021 at 6:30 p.m. for all interested parties to discuss and address planning issues related to the proposed commercial development.