Who has the right to Cornwall Beach? - Parish council waffles on sublease agreement
Chairman of the St James Parish Council, Glendon Harris, faced with growing controversy surrounding the Cornwall Beach property, Montego Bay, lease arrangement, is distancing himself from aspects of the development. However, Harris stands firm in his defence of a decision to charge Jamaicans for using what was once a public beach.
Last week, he told our news team that he was unaware of any sublease arrangements despite clear signs that the lessee, Waterfront Investment Limited, has subleased the property to the Royal Decameron Hotel, which is planning to construct a five-storey, 144-room, all-inclusive hotel and beach club on the land.
"The plan has not been submitted to us and so I don't know about that. But I know that a 140-bedroom hotel is proposed for there," Harris told The Sunday Gleaner.
"I don't know about Decameron being in control of the Cornwall Beach property or if the regulation will allow for a five-storey hotel ... the reality is that, after the 36 years (lease), that hotel will be reverted to the St James Parish Council and the people of St James," argued Harris, as he responded to the concerns of the council's minority leader, Charles Sinclair.
Sinclair is questioning the legitimacy of the latest lease agreement, especially in regard to Jamaicans using the beach - one of the few such public facilities in the western city.
In a resolution tabled in the St James Parish Council last week, Sinclair demanded that: "All activities now taking place or likely to take place that is not in keeping with the literal terms and conditions and spirit of the lease between the council and its lessee and which may further restrict or exclude locals from accessing the Cornwall Beach, that did not exist prior to December 1, 2014, be halted and the status quo as existed then remain, until this matter is debated and a decision arrived at."
While efforts to speak to Aswaldo Prado, general manager of Royal Decameron Montego Bay, were unsuccessful, a member of the hotel's administration confirmed to The Sunday Gleaner that it is now in charge of the Cornwall Beach facility.
While reluctant to go into details, the source claimed that the general public could still access the property, with a fee of J$500 or US$5 for children and J$1,500 or US$20 for adults.
But that entry fee is being defended by the mayor of Montego Bay, who told our news team that there is no truth that residents of the city will be short of public beaches.
NO PUBLIC BEACH SHORTAGE
According to the Harris, contrary to the arguments being advanced, there are many other beach facilities available to locals, including facilities such as Dump-Up, Aquasol, One Man Beach, Sunset Beach, and Doctors' Cave.
"Some people consider Montego Bay the ghetto, but Montego Bay is the capital resort in the English-speaking Caribbean," declared Harris,
"There must be different offerings. You must be able to go to a beach that has amenities ... the ones you can get a shower and the all-inclusive ... it is just like the clichÈ that says, if your pocket is white rum, you drink white rum; if your pocket is whisky, you drink whisky," declared Harris.
According to an amended lease agreement, dated November 1, 2014, Waterfront Investment, whose initial lease arrangement was due to be terminated in February 2021, will continue to have control of the premises until February 8, 2051.
In that new arrangement, Waterfront has also acquired the parking facility adjoining the leased premises for a monthly concessionary fee of US$1,500 for the first five years, and a four per cent increase for each ensuing year for the life of the lease.
The new lease, which is the main source of contention with Sinclair and his minority group in the council, is said to be based on a commitment given by Waterfront Investment to start the construction of a hotel on the property within the first five years of its tenure.
Under the arrangement, the rent would increase to US$5,000 monthly for the preceding period if the lessee did not fulfil its commitments. The terms of the lease would also be reduced by 14 years, ending on October 31, 2037.
According to the new deal, which was signed on behalf of the parish council by Harris and the council's secretary/manager Gerald Lee; and for Waterfront Investment by its director Sanjay Daswani and company secretary Donna Lee, the new hotel property would be handed over to the parish council on termination of the lease agreement.
Waterfront is also allowed, with the written consent of the council, to "sublease, underlet, assign, or part with or share the possession of the leased premises or any part thereof ...," which is another area of concern to Sinclair, who is insisting that no such proposal was recorded in the minutes of the parish council meeting, which discussed the matter.
"I have been attending our council meetings and that matter has never been brought up ... so I am standing by the position that no such decision was taken at council," declared Sinclair. The Sunday Gleaner has since seen copies of documents relating to the project. These included a master plan prepared by Lacroze Miguens Prati Architecture, which is titled, 'Royal DeCameron Montego Bay Resort phase II, Cornwall Beach Annex'.
The documents confirm that the popular public beach is to be transformed into the planned five-storey all-inclusive hotel and beach club.
Additionally, the concept brief states that, "The annex comprises an operation that will add to the existing inventory an additional 144 key guest room capacity, plus a natural sand beach a beachfront buffet restaurant; it will have its own satellite kitchen, which will rely on HDC's (Hotel Decameron) central facilities for backup production, while an extensive new lobby/lounge will serve as the central arrival area for the entire operation.
"I am never against development, but this was never placed before the council, no such approval was given for Decameron to operate Cornwall Beach, the council has no knowledge of this," declared Sinclair, who believes the project should not continue unless the matter is fully ventilated at the parish council level.
However, in rejecting Sinclair's assertion, Harris was quite adamant that the arrangement received the requisite council approval. He further argued that due process was observed in the entire arrangement.
"It was all placed before council ... it went before the Ministry of Local Government and the Ministry of Local Government did their due diligence and sent it back for additional things. We sent it back to local government, who after several queries sent it to Cabinet and Cabinet approved it, so we went through with the lease," said Harris.