The demolition of old houses causes a public outcry

Demolition of old Caymanian houses August 2022

(CNS): The sudden demolition of two historic Caymanian homes on the George Town waterfront over the weekend stunned the community and lit up social media. Both houses were built in the 1930s and are listed on the Nationals Trust Heritage Register. Benny Bodden’s housewhich recently housed the Da Fish Shack restaurant, and Ainsley Bodden’s houseboth located on North Church Street, were bulldozed on Sunday to make way for new commercial development.

According to planning documents from November 2016, JIL Construction Ltd has obtained planning permission to construct a commercial building on the site, which will include retail shops and two restaurants with terraces extending to the shore, although it is too close to the ocean.

The proposed development was refused planning permission by the Central Planning Authority in September of the same year because the plans did not meet the minimum requirement of setback from the high water mark and it did not there were not enough parking spaces. The request indicated that the two historic buildings on the site would be relocated.

The application returned to the CPA in November 2016, when Carolyn Johnson, Ian Kirkham and architect Rob Johnson appeared before the panel and presented slightly revised plans. Although they still failed to meet the high water mark setback, the new plans included additional off-site parking and the project was given the green light.

But for a long time nothing happened. Signs were reportedly posted on the site several years ago regarding a potential new development and CNS understands that no objections were ever raised. Although we have not been able to confirm the timeline for the project, there are indications that it was supposed to start in 2020, but was delayed by the pandemic.

News last month that Da Fish Shack had closed was the first indication that the project could be back on track. The owners of this restaurant reluctantly closed after We told me that they must vacate the premises by July 31.

It is not clear if the project ever returned to the CPA for further modifications in the intervening years or if further changes are expected with a new application, but it appears that the planning permission granted more of six years is in force until November of this year.

On Saturday, posts and videos of the demolition were shared hundreds of times across social media platforms and messaging services, with many expressing shock at how quickly it happened. Two buildings that were around 90 years old were lost within hours without any notification of the planned destruction, fueling calls for protests from some local activists, as people said how helpless they felt over the loss continuity of assets for commercial development.

It is unclear whether the National Trust had the opportunity to preserve elements of the two traditional buildings, which instead of being moved were crushed and taken to landfill, regardless of their historical significance. The CNS has contacted the Trust and we are awaiting a response. However, it appears that the nonprofit was likely aware of the impending destruction, as Ian Kirkham, one of the promoter’s representatives, is a member of the National Trust Council. He is also a member of Planning Minister Jay Ebanks’ local district council in the North Side.

The Trust formally established a Historic Preservation Fund in January specifically for donors to directly support preservation, the protection and promotion of Caymanian built heritage throughout the Cayman Islands. There are no laws in Cayman or quality lists to protect old buildings. Hundreds of traditional homes and buildings remain under threat, but they can be expensive to buy and maintain.

When the new fund was launched, the Trust’s Executive Director, Annick Jackman, said: “It is of the utmost importance that efforts are made to reach out to the public for help at this time, as Cayman culture and heritage has never been more threatened by the rapid pace of development and a general knowledge deficit around the Cayman Built Heritage Area.

Recently a cottage over a century old was moved from the site of the Foster supermarket in West Bay. Although there were discussions about the grocery store owners having to maintain the old house on its site, they received planning permission for an extension project on the land and the chalet was been moved.

Work began last month and the oldest part of the property is set to be moved to Frank Sound, where a traditional home enthusiast will work to restore the house to its former glory.

See the minutes of the ACP meetings in the CDS Library
(scroll down to JIL Construction)