Strong objections - Development of cholera cemetery into possible restaurant met with hostility by residents
Residents of the Waterloo Road area in St Andrew greeted a team of health ministry officials with hostility on Tuesday night during a town hall meeting where proposals for the use of the nearby cholera cemetery were discussed.
Among the officials in attendance at the Mayfair Hotel in St Andrew was Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, as well as representatives from the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA).
The cemetery, located in the vicinity of Waterloo and West Kings House roads, was built in 1860 as an emergency burial area for victims of the cholera outbreak that same year.
For more than a decade, there has been talk of developing the land for commercial purposes or otherwise.
NO SUCH EVIDENCE
In 2004, the ministry and NEPA did assessments to figure out whether there was any evidence of cholera still present in the cemetery, even after 150 years had elapsed.
No such evidence was found.
Another assessment was done in 2015, which returned the same result, that there was no sign of cholera in the cemetery and that it was safe to develop the land.
According to residents of the surrounding communities, they were left out of the decision-making process - something they are very upset about. They say that they were invited to the meeting after the ministry and other invested entities seemingly declared, in private, that all was well with the land.
"I believe this very fulsome, informative presentation should have occurred at the very beginning, when the application (for development) was received. NEPA and whoever (else) should have had a consultation
with residents of adjoining communities," one attendee commented during the question-and-answer segment of the meeting.
Passionately expressive resident Andy Morgan, who was totally uncertain whether he should trust the findings of the officials, told The Gleaner that no commercial structure should be erected on the property.
He stated that he was unofficially made aware that the plan afoot for the land was the construction of a structure that would house a restaurant or a supermarket. His objection to this was very strong as he was adamant that the space should be used as a green area or to host the once-a-year carnival road march.
"I think people are going to protest because there should have been public signs to say this is the intended use of the property so that we could have input. It (the town hall meeting was just to inform us that the authorities have signed off on this already. At large, most of the people in attendance are against this development.
"The right stakeholders are not in agreement with a supermarket and food court and that type of thing on a cemetery that was quarantined for 160 years. I object to any building going on it. It should be a green space and you can stage road march for carnival. That's about the only use (or) even public parking, properly capped," Morgan stressed.
Respect for the dead was also an important factor for Morgan, especially those who suffered a national tragedy.
Morgan also suggested that the Government should possess the land.
"The Government needs to do what is known as a domain taking and take that piece of land from whomever. Pay them for it (because) it is popcorn money for that matter. I didn't even hear any scientific facts. I heard some medical data. There was no scientific data to support putting up a building where there are serious concerns for me and many other citizens in Jamaica," he said.