Vorst/Welgelegen land to be used for affordable housing

CAY HILL–The Vorst land acquired by Government mid-year, now also referred to as the Welgelegen property, will be developed by civil servant pension fund APS and used for the construction of some 40 to 45 affordable homes.

However, the project is still in its preliminary phase, no concrete agreement has been made, and APS is still gauging the project’s feasibility and profitability.

Discussion of the Vorst land agreement between APS and Government was the topic during Friday’s meeting of the Central Committee of Parliament, in which Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI Minister Claret Connor, Finance Minister Martin Hassink, Policy Advisor Claire Edwards, APS Board Chairman Franklyn Richards and Chief Financial Officer George Willem were called on to answer questions.

The parcel of 11,129 square metres has been deemed suitable for housing development and the land has been issued in long lease for a symbolic ground rent of NAf. 1.

APS said it had the financial resources and access to a development and project organisation to implement a housing and infrastructure project. The organisation will finance the project and sell the houses to potential buyers who qualify based on criteria yet to be established. The individual parcels will have the same symbolic sub-long-lease rent of NAf. 1.

Two or three different development scenarios will be researched, and details, including renderings, building concepts, cost, selling prices and profit margins, still need to be determined before a preliminary development plan is reviewed legally and submitted to an investment committee, the APS Board of Directors and Government for discussion and decision-making.

However, a US $250,000 cap has been suggested for the selling price of the affordable homes.

Until a later time in the meeting there was a fair amount of uncertainty amongst the Parliamentarians about how far dealings already had gone, given for example a document leaked online that prompted concerns of rushed affairs, but it was assured that some documents had been made in preparation and/or were standard.

As it is, Richards clarified that the APS Board had taken the decision on June 26 to establish a working committee to approach Government concerning building a project on the land. The working group had a discussion with VROMI and made a proposal on the request of the Board that resulted in the Minister drafting a resolution for the long lease.

This was discussed with the Board, which agreed to the content of the lease. The Minister approved it and signed the long lease, and the long lease resolution is currently at the notary for further handling. Minister Connor stated in a separate answer that this was notary Tjon Ajong.

In answering a Member of Parliament’s (MP’s) concern about how the land deal had happened at such an early stage even though feasibility calculations were still being made, Richards said that if the houses were not built within one year the land would be returned to government.

Many specific questions about the project could not be answered because the project is still in a preliminary, research phase. This was also evident, as pointed out by Chairperson President of Parliament Sarah Wescot Williams, in that the project presentation was “void of numbers.”

Minister Connor reiterated a number of times that the project was ongoing and said it definitely would be finalised by the incoming minister and progress shared in due time.

APS has a policy of making some 60 per cent of its investments locally and 40 per cent internationally. The 60 per cent represents approximately $580 million.

The St. Maarten Housing Development Foundation has not been consulted, the panel said in answering the related question, because it only approaches other entities if necessary.

When former VROMI Minister, now MP Maurice Lake presented plans previously, he described the plot as prime land for a multipurpose light manufacturing complex that would include a sewing centre, calling centre and mechanical shop to make traffic signs and other things the country needs. Affordable social housing for young professionals coming back home from their studies also was included.

However, Minister Connor said that although ideas has been put forward, he had not met any formal plans in the Cabinet for moving forward on these renderings as presented to the media in August 2014.

MP Lake contested the statement and said his Cabinet had actively assisted Minister Connor’s immediate predecessor, former VROMI Minister Marcel Gumbs.

The Vorst land deal was wrought with controversy months ago, spawning several Parliament meetings and heated debates about the cost of the land. The price was dropped later by $1 million to $4.5 million.

Minister Connor noted at one point that the Vorst land price was set at $494 per square metre, compared to $25 per square metre for land at Emilio Wilson Park.

There was a noticeable tit-for-tat discussion about who had done what in Government concerning land deals, towards the end of the meeting in particular.

MPs Tamara Leonard, Lloyd Richardson, Leona Marlin-Romeo and Johan Leonard were absent with notice. MP Theo Heyliger also was absent.

Source: The Daily Herald Vorst/Welgelegen land to be used for affordable housing