Highlights — 17 January 2014 — by Kareem Clarke
CITCO and Lands Dept. clash over Seashore Drive Park

The seashore area should never have been given away, says Mayor

The Belize City Council (CITCO), specifically Mayor Darrell Bradley, and the Lands Department are caught in a bitter back-and-forth which has gone public over a prime seafront property located on Seashore Drive in the Caribbean Shores area in the suburbs on the outskirts of Belize City.

In April of 2013, the City Council was verbally informed that the property in question – parcel #3820 –would be issued to a private individual, Giovanni Blease.

Upon receiving the information, the Council immediately lodged a caution on the property in that same month.

In November of last year, however, the Belize City Council received a letter from the Commissioner of Lands, Wilbert Vallejos, notifying City Hall that Blease is requesting a court hearing to remove the caution on the land.

The reason that CITCO is in opposition to the transfer of Parcel Number 3820 is that, according to Belize City’s Mayor Darrell Bradley, the Belize City Council has always maintained that the entire section of seafront along Seashore Drive is reserved for public use. That use, however, has already been limited by three mansions and a high-fenced mooring area.

In regards to that, Bradley said: “One of the things that we are very seriously concerned about is that private lands are being given outright at the seafront. If you see that there are three large structures right adjacent to this park, those are areas which we didn’t want to be given out. At that time I wasn’t in office. What we see is a huge precedent being set that you are giving out this parcel of land for private development and what will happen in the future is that you will give out more sea frontage, and you are going to block people.”

In addressing the issue to the media today, he said, “We do not want any private development in that area. We do not want this land to be issued to any private persons. These people are saying that they own that land; they cannot show today’s date that any title has been issued to Mr. Blease. The title is still in the hands of the Government of Belize [and] that land is still being maintained by the City Council.”

Mayor Bradley also refuted allegations that the valuable coastal piece of land has been neglected by the City Council for quite a while. Bradley said, “The City Council has been working with other organizations, including the Scout Association of Belize, to maintain and keep [the land] for public use. There are some land fillings that the City Council recently did in that parcel of land. We are not attacking anyone and we are not saying that anyone is to blame for this, but we want that parcel to remain for public use.”

The Mayor further provided reasons as to why land parcel #3820, also known to them as the Seashore Drive Children’s Park, should not be privatized. He stated, “The first is that historically, that [area] has always been accessible for the public and the City had earmarked that area for development when we do Seashore Drive; this is what I communicated to the Commissioner of Lands – that we wanted to upgrade that area because we noticed that there is some erosion taking place. We wanted to continue with the boulders and there is a seawall on part of the area, and we want it to remain for public use. The second concern that we have is that our technical personnel has advised us that on that land, there is a major outflow that goes out to the Caribbean Sea. If there is development there, more than likely, the person who would then own that piece of land would build a structure there and if they block the drains, it would likely cause a backflow and affect the flooding conditions in that area. We want to develop the area for the benefit of the residents. Our primary objective is to ensure that a precedent is not set so that the entire area of Seashore Drive is not given out to private development so that it blocks the public enjoyment of the sea view.”

On January 6, the Lands and Surveys Department sent the Council an uncompromising letter, notifying them that CITCO is unlawfully occupying the said Parcel 3820. The letter further stated that City Hall does not have the right to use or enjoy the land, and that the Council must cease and desist from occupation of the land immediately.

In reference to that letter, Bradley responded, “I don’t know how they could say that to us, because this property has previously been earmarked as a park, and it’s our mandate to be maintaining parks. Our research has indicated – and I’ve provided a copy of the most recent Land Titles Register that we obtained which is dated December 2, 2013, which shows that that property is still in the name of the Government of Belize and the City Council has always been maintaining that property as a public park. Our position is simply that we want to continue to maintain it as a park.”

Yesterday, Mayor Bradley took it upon himself to write a letter to the Commissioner of Lands, in which he stated his “strenuous objection” to the de-reserving of the land and granting title to Giovanni Blease. Also attached was a petition with the signatures of almost 50 area residents who are in support of the Council’s stance.

The Mayor has also insisted that the issue is not personal or political. “Our objective here – and I prefer not attacking anyone – is our mandate to ensure that there are adequate parks, public spaces and recreational spaces in Belize City. This is part of our discharge of our public function. That is an area that has been used as an open and public space exceeding ten years, and our objective is to continue to maintain it as a public space”, Bradley affirmed.

According to the Mayor, the matter will be going to court on January 29, 2014, to determine whether or not the caution should be removed and the parcel be issued for private development. Blease – who is allegedly a highly connected individual to the ruling party – has retained attorney Vanessa Retreage, while Estevan Perera will appear on behalf of the Council.

If Blease – who seems to have the support of the Lands Department in his cause – can repeal the caution that the City Council has placed on the land, then he would gain access to what he has claimed to be his area – something which Mayor Bradley said will have “serious deleterious” effects on residents.

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