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National Trust Wants to Buy Back Donated Land
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Posted by:Aug 29th 2010, 12:56:52 pm
Fig Tree News TeamBahamas National Trust Seeks To Buy Back Donated Land That It Sold To The Bahamas Government: Call for foreign ownership block on several acres of Harbour Island land

By NOELLE NICOLLS

Tribune Staff Reporter
nnicolls@tribunemedia.net

LOCALS are calling for restrictions barring foreign ownership to be placed on several acres of land on the north end of Harbour Island that the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) is seeking to acquire.

[Briland.com: The land in question was donated to the Bahamas National Trust several years ago by the long-time American expat Pyne Family, upon the sale of their Dugdale House in the Narrows to Ron Perelman of Revson. During a low period in its revenue, the Bahamas National Trust then put the five-acre parcel at the northern end of Nesbitt Street on the open market.]

The land in the Narrows was purchased by the government from the BNT about five years ago. Now the BNT is interested in "acquiring it back", confirmed Eric Carey, BNT executive director.

"The Harbour Island sale was the first investment property to be sold. It was selected because it had the highest value. It is situated at the end of 'millionaires row'. The land is currently in abeyance. We are interested in acquiring it back from the government. The Prime Minister has said if we find the funds he will put it back in the Trust's hands," said Mr Carey.

Several local residents claimed the land in question covers about 13 acres. Mr Carey estimated the land was only three to four acres. "I would not like to see the land given back to the BNT. Only if some restrictions were put on the land because the government should do something to it to allow it to be used by the community," said Darrel Johnson, chief counsellor on the island.

"Who is to say they would not put it back on the market again. If it is given or sold back to them there has to be some restrictions to say this parcel of land should not be sold or the government has first preference," said Mr Johnson.

His suggestions was to divide the approximate "13 acres" into one acre lots and sell them at an affordable price to Bahamians. He said some of the land could be used to create "green space."

The property in question was one of a few investment properties under management by the BNT. Investment properties generally have lower "conservation value" than conservation properties, and higher commercial value. Some residents said neighbouring property is valued at $2.5 to 10 million dollars.

During a cash crunch in the late 1990s, the BNT borrowed over $3 million from its endowment, the Heritage Fund, to subsidise its general expenses. The Trust was "expanding", and it was not meeting its "fund raising targets". The Trust's general fund was in an overdraft state, according to Mr Carey. Gary Larson was the executive director at the time, and in charge of fund raising.

The BNT expended its budget on the "internationally recognised" Bahama Parrot public education campaign; developing teacher resource books; fighting poachers in the Exuma Land and Sea National Park; and general staffing and programme expenses, according to Lynn Gape, deputy executive director.

"We made a decision that we would not close down. We would borrow from the endowment to support us. The decision was to sell the property on the open market. The PLP decided to purchase it at asking price," said Mr Carey.

The money from the sale was used to "replenish" the endowment.

Opinions vary about what the former government planned to do with the acquired land, and what the present government's plans are.

Mr Carey said the BNT was "told the government purchased it to build low cost housing." Tribune sources say residents of the area are not supportive of that idea, fearing it will reduce property values.

The area is said to be home to "folks like the owner of Revlon Cosmetics, Kellogg's Cornflakes, the Miami Dolphins football and baseball teams; a French guy who owns the most exclusive magazine in France, the owner of Aventura mall, and the list goes on."

When contacted about the issue, Alvin Smith, member of parliament for North Eleuthera, said he had not heard anything about the BNT seeking to purchase the land. Mr Smith noted that there were attempts by the local PLP leadership to make the land in question a "political issue" during the last election, when it was rumoured that a government subdivision would be erected on the property.

"But that was never in any plans. You will never find any concrete plans for any housing facility (there)," said Mr Smith. "There were never any plans for a subdivision. That was a sham."

Chief counsellor Johnson agreed, saying: "As it relates to it being purchased for a subdivision or low cost housing, I know it was more purchased to save the land. I think it was purchased simply to save the land rather than it being sold out to a foreigner."

Mr Smith said that if BNT does in fact purchase the land and later decides to sell it, he would prefer the goverment to have first choice. "I would not want to see it get into the hands of foreigners, personally, but I am not certain what plans the government has for it before I can support the BNT reacquiring it. I haven't heard anything about what BNT plans for the property either," said Mr Smith.

Mr Smith said he would support efforts by the government to acquire more land in Harbour island because "there is a shortage of land and with an expanding population there is a need for expanded government services and other facilities."

Questions about the land in the Narrows were raised during a town meeting in 2007, according to one resident. He said after the election the issue was dropped.

Another resident said there was consensus that foreigners or "destructo-developers" should not be allowed to purchase the land. "I think they need to build some middle class homes that Bahamians can afford. More than three quarters of the island is bought out by foreigners. We are being pushed out of our own land. The foreigners have taken us from the top and the illegal immigrants have taken off the bottom," said a local resident of 40 years.

"We don't have the opportunity to sit and look over the ocean and watch the beauty of the sunrise, the tranquility of a sunset. It would be a wonderful thing for 'Brilanders to be able to enjoy that," he said. Nesbitt Road, which leads to the properties in the area is not paved. It is a "long and narrow and rocky" public road, said one resident.

"These wealthy owners don't want the roads paved," said another resident.

"I am sure that will cause a problem when you are going to build those properties out there. To build affordable homes for Bahamians is going to cause another uproar," he said.

Published On:Thursday, August 26, 2010

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