Photo: (l-r) Dion Zabaneh and Primrose Gabourel
by Kristen Ku
BUTTONWOOD BAY, Belize City, Wed. Mar. 15, 2023
A story that goes back as far as 17 years is once again making headlines this week, as landowner Primrose Gabourel along with her son, Dion Zabaneh, are set to receive over a million dollars in compensation from the government of Belize (GoB).
In 2006, Zabaneh, 30 at the time, was called out for “reclaiming land” at the western end of Seashore Drive in Buttonwood Bay. Zabaneh had started placing large amounts of filling in the shallow portion of the sea near the shore in an effort to create a plot of land for his mother, who was 63 at the time.
This property, #4670, despite showing up as an actual parcel of land on the government’s maps, in reality, was at the time located in the seabed, and Zabaneh’s efforts to fill that seabed was interrupted when an injunction was brought against him by David Medina, Sr., who had a property along the seaside that would cease to be seafront property if Zabaneh reclaimed land in front of it. Zabaneh’s efforts to reclaim the land then came to a pause for about 12 years.
In 2019, after the injunction had been lifted, Zabaneh resumed refilling his mother’s land, only for reports to later surface that the land was no longer owned by Gabourel but was now public property, i.e. owned by the government. By this time, however, lawsuits against the mother and son had already been filed, and they were expected to appear in court to answer for 4 different offenses.
These offenses were failure to obtain environmental clearance prior to development activity; failure to comply with an enforcement notice; hindering or obstructing an officer in the conduct of his duties; and proceeding with a project without complying with environmental clearance.
Eventually, after numerous discrepancies were discovered among the documentation of the Lands Department, the Ministry of Sustainable Development, and the Department of Environment, all charges were dropped and Zabaneh and Gabourel were free to leave.
However, as a result of their huge investment in what had now become government property, compensation was pending, since government had acquired the private property.
Now, on Monday of this week, the government was ordered to pay Gabourel and Zabaneh one million and fifty thousand dollars in compensation as well as three hundred thousand dollars for landfill.
Gabourel’s initial evaluation of the property was estimated to be around $8 million; however, the government has also appointed an expert valuer in an effort to determine the accurate value of the property.
And as they await the results, additional compensation is expected to be paid by the government, based on the estimation of this second evaluation, as well as for the legal costs incurred by Zabaneh and Gabourel.
Notably, no lawsuits were filed by Gabourel or Zabaneh throughout this entire process.