Future development of the area between the cruise terminal and Philipsburg.
PHILIPSBURG–Upgrading of the main roads, adding sidewalks, completion of Boardwalk Boulevard along Great Bay to connect Philipsburg directly to the harbour, expansion of tourist attractions near the port, including a large-scale hotel, development of a niche market for boutique hotels, higher density residential developments on flat land areas, protection of historical areas through zoning – these are some of the proposals listed in the national Spatial Development Strategy (SDS).
The Ministry of Public Housing, Environment, Spatial Planning, and Infrastructure VROMI has spent five years developing the SDS for country St. Maarten, said VROMI Minister Egbert Doran on Wednesday in Parliament. He presented the SDS as reflecting the United Nations 2030 Development Agenda.
The 110-page document aims to provide “an overview on the bigger picture regarding spatial development and the correlation between various spatial themes” and concludes that “development must take place in a sustainable way, with a balance between the economic, ecological and social development.”
The authors of the document said they had used the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as guidelines and input for the proposals described in the SDS document.
The first point of departure for future development is a cleaner country. “Clean in two senses: on the one hand a beautiful and attractive landscape; on the other a country with minimal pollution, ecologically stable, with high quality of life for today and future generations,” the authors stated.
The second objective is a more closely-knit country. “Closely-knit in the sense that we don’t just live and work in close proximity to one another, but also feel closely connected in social and cultural terms,” it is explained.
Thirdly, the SDS envisions a more prosperous country. “Prosperous in the sense that our country has a strong economy that offers everyone opportunities and is characterised by diversity, individual freedom of choice and thriving urban areas,” the VROMI minister’s policy advisors stated in the SDS document.
The VROMI Ministry is tasked with the preparation of development plans, also called zoning plans, with zoning regulations for St. Maarten in accordance with the National Ordinance on Spatial Development Planning. The zoning plans regulate and specify where building and other spatial development is or is not permitted, the types of development that may be possible in certain areas, the manner in which the development of the land may be realised and the building or land may be used.
While the preparation of the zoning plans is approached in a district-specific manner, the SDS is intended as “an underlying or overarching national strategy and a coherent cross-district/sectoral island-wide framework to anchor the main themes of the zoning plans.”
The point of departure for the SDS is that development has to be sustainable to achieve real progress. “In a multicultural St. Maarten with a population from all over the world it is important to have some ‘identity to belong’: an identity which makes St. Maarten different from other Islands in the Caribbean. That identity can be found in the cultural historical heritage from the past.”
In addition to specific sites, the street pattern and spatial layout of certain areas can also reflect the history of an era for particular areas worthy of protection, the authors of the SDS stated. “Particularly in the Simpson Bay Village and in Philipsburg, this street pattern of the historical drives sometimes determines the visualisation of the history.”
Although the question of beautification comes up from time to time, there has been no real urgency to intervene and prioritise financial investment in this topic by government, the VROMI staff noted. “Only a few individual beautification projects contributing to spatial quality of public spaces were realised since 2005; namely, Boardwalk Boulevard, Front Street, Back Street, the re-profiling of Middle Region Road, Walter Plantz Square and – to some extent – Porto Cupecoy.”
More emphasis is needed on promoting improvement of spatial quality of public spaces and their buildings, the policy advisors concluded. “The facilitation of the quality of the built-up area needs more emphasis to keep the island attractive for visitors and residents.”
With a share of approximately 80-85% in the country’s gross domestic product, tourism is basically the lifeline for every sector, including the public sector (through direct and indirect taxes), the report stated.
“The general perception of the community towards tourism and tourism growth is characterised by substantial concerns and complaints about the over-construction of tourism infrastructures, the congestion and crowding (out) of beaches and public areas, the rising cost of living, and the loss of cultural authenticity, natural habitats, and ecological biodiversity.”
The SDS proposes that St. Maarten should be critical and innovative regarding its future position as a tourism destination and should focus on quality, identity, unique selling points and diversification rather than quantity in terms of stay-over facilities.
The St. Maarten Tourist Bureau stresses that there are opportunities for establishing international brand hotels as well as small-scale boutique hotels focusing on the high-spending tourists. According to Ecorys (2012), there is a demand for hotels offering luxury facilities in a unique or intimate setting. Such boutique, design or lifestyle hotels cater to upscale tourism; it is believed that there is still sufficient room in the niche market for boutique style hotels as well as for a luxury 4- or 5-star brand-name hotels.
The SDS proposes a new large-scale hotel/resort at a strategic location in the vicinity of the harbour and/or airport with a focus on conference and events tourism, and/or a luxury brand-name hotel/resort. It also proposes the development of a niche market for small-scale boutique or lifestyle hotels to be facilitated in terms of zoning with a focus on the Simpson Bay, Philipsburg and Little Bay Beach areas and – under strict environmental conditions – a few hillside locations (eco-lodge type).
“With respect to the “traditional” hotel and timeshare business, additional space reservation is neither required nor desirable,” the authors of the SDS concluded. “The focus should be rather on refurbishment/improvement of existing stock and use of vacant locations.”
With a considerable growth within the yachting industry of the island and region, requiring more berthing availability for larger yachts, the policy advisors found more research is needed for the urban and coastal development of the island. “This should address the amount of vessels, their sizes, where they can be facilitated given the current infrastructure, nature and environment and limitations of safe harbour.”
The area between the cruise terminal and Philipsburg has a lot of potential, they said. “Plans for mixed-use development of this area indicated and include, among other things, a 150-room 4-star brand-name hotel including amenities, an aquarium, completion of the Boardwalk Boulevard, retail and mega-yacht slips, ensuring a greater diversity of functions that are complementary to what Philipsburg currently has to offer.”
It is furthermore proposed that a ferry service for commuters and visitors could be established between Philipsburg, Simpson Bay, the airport and Marigot on the French side. “A concerted effort is needed to organise, develop and (re)structure public transportation (land and sea), as it is a supporting driver of the economy, social and environmental development and protection.”
The document also contains proposals for realisation of central parking facilities (possibly through a public-private partnership) in central commercial areas such as Philipsburg and Simpson Bay (Kim Sha Beach area) in combination with the improvement of facilities for pedestrians (make pedestrian pathways more attractive/convenient).
The SDS promotes the development of higher density residential developments on flat land areas, but taking the future risks of flooding into account, to make efficient use of available infrastructure and to facilitate the demand in the housing market (7,000 homes in 10 years).
Partial redevelopment of the Cay Bay area will be required, the authors of the SDS concluded. “The current limited distance between the heavy industry in Cay Bay and the residential area in Cole Bay will result in a severe impact on residents in the event of a possible large accident at the industrial facilities.”
A new main road is planned to be constructed through Cay Bay and the Cole Bay industrial area. “The construction of this road can be used as an incentive for the redevelopment of the area and the realisation of a buffer zone, where the road can function as a ‘natural’ border between the industrial and residential/mixed use area,” the VROMI staff said.
The SDS proposes that the buffer zone cater to light industrial activities such as warehousing and/or a green zone.
A bicycle and pedestrian route network that connects the greater Philipsburg area with the Cul-de-Sac and Welgelegen areas seems promising, the policy advisors found.
“Such a network connects the main commercial and public service clusters with major residential areas. The physical characteristics of this area are favourable for the realisation of a bicycle route network; there is quite some space available and the area is rather flat. The increase of densities will mainly be created by allowing buildings to be one or two stories higher than we are used to in flat areas,” the policy advisors stated.
They encourage public space and parks with shaded areas, landscaping and community gardens for residential and mixed use areas. It is also suggested to reserve space for expansion of the sport facilities on Pond Island (possibly soccer or cricket) and development of a cricket stadium in the Bethlehem area, as well as multipurpose courts and sport/exercise parks in the several neighbourhoods.
In the development plans, historical areas can be protected through zoning, the authors of the SDS stated. “Consideration should be given to the protection of ‘historical’ trees through legislation.”
The VROMI Ministry concluded that St. Maarten’s environment is influenced by many trends and developments. “Changing and growing urban areas, a transition to a sustainable economy and adaptation to the consequences of climate change are all part of the bigger picture. Although these could offer opportunities, they do call for careful choices. After all, the space available to us is a scarce commodity.”