A poorly attended open meeting
counted little more than 20 people who came to hear comments on the San
Mateo Subdivision issue. Organized by President of the Belize Hotel
Association Julia Edwards, those attending included Area Representative
Patty Arceo, Mayor Alberto Nuñez, Councilors Arceo and Vasquez, President
Mito Paz of Green Reef, George Hanson of the Ministry of Natural
Resources and concerned citizens of San Pedro.
Addressing the crowd, Area Representative
Arceo expressed that there was a great demand for land on Ambergris Caye.
She stated that although one subdivision, San Pablo, had turned out good,
there were three others that were not correctly done. Stating irrational
political decisions as the reasons behind this, Ms. Arceo estimated it
would take another $190,000 to upgrade San Pedrito; $200,000 more to
finish San Juan and at least 1.16 million dollars needed for Boca del
Rio. She added that at least 20 people in this last area would need to be
moved to enable them to fill this area properly. It was further explained
that these subdivisions were not ordained by Central Government and
bypassed the regulations set up to ensure proper
The Area Representative accepted
responsibility for setting up the surveying of San Mateo before an
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was done to determine if the land
was indeed suitable for development. She assured that the Town Council
would now request that an EIA be done and given to the Ministry of
Natural Resources and that all other pertinent agencies also be
contacted; laws all developers must adhere to. The land then would or
would not be developed
based on their recommendations. Ms.
Arceo confirmed that, "if only ten acres are available for development,
then that is all we will develop." Questioned on the means of disposing
of human waste in the development, the Area Representative stated that in
the initial stages it would not be possible to have the town water and
sewerage hookup, but it would be done at a later date. One person voiced
concern about this statement because underground channels exist under
this land and empty out to the reef. It was asked what safeguards could
be employed to assure that contaminates and human waste are not
discharged into the wetlands or into the sea, as is happening in other
developments. Ms. Arceo replied that an alternative way of disposing of
the waste would need to be found.
She then responded to local fishermen's
concerns, saying, "we are not looking to fill or destroy that area" and
realize the mangroves and wetlands are essential to the existence of the
barrier reef. When asked about suggested plans for a satellite town
complete with sports arena, she replied this was "ten years down the line
when and IF the land is available."
George Hanson of Natural Resources then spoke on the
urgency of an immediate feasibility study, stating if this had been done
first, "we wouldn't need to be here." He further stated, in his opinion,
even the higher lands of this 590 acres would need to be filled. He also
expressed concern over the proper agencies not being contacted before
surveying, that survey markers appeared to move the existing road back
and questioned why other markers had crossed ponds.
Another question from the crowd focused on the
availability of any other lots in San Pedro. The Area Representative
responded that all lots have been given out in the three previously
mentioned subdivisions. She did say there were 20 lots that have not been
developed and owners will be advised that if no development takes place
soon, they will be forfeiting these. Explaining the criteria for
obtaining land, it was stated, 1) you must be a born or naturalized
Belizean and 2) you cannot already own land. She mentioned that
out-district people that live here are actually creating a sub-culture
and also need land. It was disclosed that Cabinet had introduced a new
computerized system to show how much real estate is owned by everyone in
the country. The Area Representative was then asked about the large tract
of government owned land to the west of the San Mateo Subdivision. It was
stated this area has enough high ground to develop several towns the size
of San Pedro. It was questioned why this land is not being considered for
development instead. Ms. Arceo explained that electricity is more readily
available in the area being proposed, which brought up the next question.
"Who is in charge of planning the development of Ambergris Caye, elected
officials or Belize Electricity?" The consensus was that if this area of
the "people's (government) land" were used, all those applying for lots
would be satisfied and building in a wetland area would not be necessary.
They stated it would only make good business sense for BEL to install
power lines to service this growing community to which Ms. Arceo replied,
"this land is not accessible to us."
When questioned about a counter-proposal
from a local resort, Town Council representatives related that the
proposal made by El Pescador (to buy the land for US$100,000 and
subsequently donate it to Green Reef) would not be considered. They
stated the land was not for sale, even if it could not be developed, as
it could be used for collateral. Whereby the question was asked, "what
bank would give a loan for land that was worth nothing?"
More concerns were raised as to how Caribbean Coves
was able to trade this type of land for taxes; how bigger, wealthier land
owners are allowed to owe so much in back taxes; and why the town could
not negotiate a better deal for some of these back taxes. The time it
would take to sue these people in court was one reason mentioned why this
was not pursued. Additionally, there was talk about developers from
Rosewood and Hyatt hotels speculating about property on North Ambergris
Caye and if they could be solicited to provide infrastructure and a
housing project as part of their proposal.
Other issues concerning town problems were then
addressed such as: street vendor locations and child curfews. The
attendees were advised that all these matters had recently been discussed
in a Police/Citizens Advisory Committee meeting and actions being taken
to alleviate them would be revealed at a later date. It was announced
that Minister Ralph Fonseca would be here in June and hopefully he would
be able to answer more questions at that time.