San Mateo Development explained and debated

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 10, No. 22            June 1, 2000

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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 development.    

    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.
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