Photo caption: The Pearl of China project will destroy one of the last areas of natural tranquility Little Bay and Belair neighborhood residents fear. Photo by Milton Pieters.
GREAT BAY – The parcel of land in Little Bay where New Life Town Investment and Development Limited China intends to build the Pearl of China project, belongs to insurance company Nagico, chairman Imran Mcsood Amjad confirmed yesterday.
The insurance company has sold the land to the Chinese investor. “We have received the first installment,” McSood said. “I am not worried about the rest; they have until the end of the year to pay that.”
Until that time, the property remains registered under the name of Nagico.
Nagico bought the 36,000 square meter property for $8.8 million. The deed was executed by notary Boekhoudt on January 27, 2010 and duly registered at the Cadastre the following day. The land is mortgaged for $12 million; this deed was executed by the same notary office three years earlier, on January 18, 2007 and registered at the Cadastre the next day; it mentions Nagico as the creditor.
In 2007, architect Roberto Carchidi – who is also the technical director of the Pearl of China project, planned to build the Barbaron project at the same location. When the economic crisis hit in 2008, the project stalled and was never realized.
In the meantime the Hillside foundation and the Belair-SFH community council have voiced their objections against the Pearl of China project. The presidents of these organizations, Frits Bus and Clarence Richardson respectively, wrote some time ago in a letter to Vromi-Minister Angel Meyers that the preparatory resolution for the area with certificate of admeasurement 379/2006 is “not duly motivated nor prepared.”
The residents of Belair are “extremely shocked” about the plan for a 325-room hotel and the construction of 450 apartments. “This will most likely disrupt the livelihood of the residents and destroy one of the last areas of natural tranquility on St. Maarten,” Bus and Richardson wrote.
They add that the massive size and scale will “deface the entire surroundings” and also create additional problems with for example excess sewage, garbage, traffic congestion and noise and light pollution.
There are also specific environmental objections to the project. “Little Bay Pond is a habitat to several species of animals including iguanas and rare birds migrating from North America,” Bus and Richardson wrote. “This area is frequented by birdwatchers and animal lovers.”
The projected development and the accompanying noise and light pollution will disrupt the natural habitat of the birds, they add.
The two organizations ask the government for a real estate appraisal (to measure the project’s effect on the value of surrounding homes) and a traffic and environmental impact study. They also ask the government to look for an alternative location.
Developers had their eyes on the location already twenty years ago, when a company called Dunnet Ltd. Intended to develop Pointe Esprit, described in developer-speak as “a residential and resort community with a commercial/retail component.”
To be more exact, Pointe Esprit would have consisted of 22 duplex homes, 45 cluster homes, 39 single-family detached homes, 5 custom executive villas, a resort with “condominium/fractional ownership of 225 units and a three-level, 30,000 square feet commercial center.
Andrea Neuss applied in 1996 on behalf of Dunnet Ltd. for the planning permit; the Executive Council granted it on December 4 of that year. Yet, the project never materialized, in spite of the upbeat marketing lingo Pointe Esprit used to entice investors.
In particular, just four years after Hurricane Luis destroyed the island, the developer was extremely optimistic about the island’s economy, saying that “economic conditions are conducive for major resort and residential development.”
The developer assured investors that “residual pessimism from the hurricane siege on the second half of the nineties had dissipated. Damage sustained to the island’s infrastructure has been repaired or rebuilt to new, higher standards. Existing properties have been refurbished and exciting new projects have begun.”
The developer was looking forward to a bright future at the time: “With Pointe Esprit’s ideal location and with government approvals and support, a unique island community can be created with components that will attract full time residents, second home buyers and vacationing tourists. Local real estate brokers are bullish on sales potential because the build-out of this project can be accomplished while so many favorable conditions prevail.”
Pointe Esprit remained somehow a pipedream, as did the Barbaron project for the same location. Now the Pearl of China project promises and investment of $120 million, 400 permanent and well-paid jobs and an influx of business-oriented visitors from across the region as well as a million Chinese tourists over the next ten years.
Finance Minister Gibson has lauded the project as the best thing that could happen to St. Maarten’s stagnant economy. “We have hit the jackpot,” he said when he revealed the project in early September.
The residents of Belair are not so sure; only time will tell whether this project will finally become a reality and whether its effect will be beneficial or disastrous.