Tue | Mar 9, 2021

SLAPPED - Mayor sounds warning as errant developer gets stiff fine, building facing demolition for breaches

Mayor sounds warning as errant developer gets stiff fine, building facing demolition for breaches

Published:Thursday | December 24, 2020 | 12:19 AMGareth Davis Sr/Gleaner Writer
The contentious four-storey building in Highgate, St Mary.
The contentious four-storey building in Highgate, St Mary.

Highgate, St Mary

Chinese businessman Haman Huang was yesterday fined approximately $4.6 million for breaches of the Building Act regarding a four-storey building in Highgate, St Mary, on which he will have to carry out significant demolition work if it is to be approved by the authorities.

The decision was handed down in the St Mary Parish Court yesterday in what Port Maria Mayor Richard Creary has described as a “landmark ruling”.

The St Mary Municipal Corporation had previously served several stop order notices on the businessman in the initial stages when the breaches were first identified, but construction work still progressed on the structure.

“Had he obeyed from when it was just a single storey, he would not have paid the $4.6 million and he probably would not be in a position now, where to have it approved, ... significant demolition [will have] to take place ... ,” said Creary, who chairs the St Mary Municipal Corporation.

He credits the successful court action to the new Building Act passed in 2018 and which took effect last year.

“Today this is a landmark decision and I’m happy for this new Building Act,” the mayor said, warning other errant developers that they will be collared for breaches.

“In the past, what used to happen [is] we serve notices [and] persons ignored them. ... This is just the beginning because having paid that money does not mean the building will stand as is,” he said of Huang’s Highgate building, which had also breached an order restricting buildings to two storeys. “He still has to rectify all those breaches.”

Creary said that there were issues with the soil type in Highgate, which forced the municipal corporation to seek the intervention and expertise of the mining ministry.

“You will recall two buildings in Highgate actually sank and are no longer habitable. So there is an issue in that area, hence the reason there is a stipulation that no building should be more than two storeys. Now, this is a four-storey structure on unstable land,” he said, emphasising the need for demolition works.

Pointing out that there were several other buildings in breach of regulations across the parish, Creary called on developers to have structures not approved by the municipal corporation to make contact to discuss the matter.

Attorney-at-law Romar Dallas, who represented Huang, took issue with the “draconian” Building Act, saying it does not allow judges any discretionary powers to make a lenient ruling as he labelled the $4,616,088.75 fine as excessive.

“I want to be clear and understand that he did not just go ahead and construct. He did the necessary application and sent in all the necessary documents and paid the necessary fees,” Dallas contended.

“It (the application) was at the parish council for over a year, but he constructed without getting that permit, and now, he is subject to the Building Act of 2019, a very draconian piece of legislation,” he said, calling for a revision of the legislation.

He further argued that the act was in conflict with a judge’s ability to fine offenders for breaches as while parish courts had a fine limit of $3 million, penalties under the act could go as high as $5 million.

“The judge ... had no discretion and, therefore, he had to follow the law. If the gentleman pleads guilty, it meant nothing for him … . So matters of constitutional rights were at the fore as well,” the attorney said. “Mr Huang paid his fine, but no doubt this has severely set him back.”