The island’s oldest environmental charity backed yesterday a redevelopment plan for a former golf course.
The Audubon Society said it supported the proposal to create a nature reserve on the site of the old Riddell’s Bay Golf Club.
Karen Border, president of the Bermuda Audubon Society, said that nature reserve status would allow “a great deal more protection for the land” than its present designation as recreational land.
The golf course’s new owners proposed to build houses on part of the site, but create a 66-acre conservation zone on the rest of the course.
Ms Border said: “While we are loath to see any of our precious remaining open space given over to development, we accept that in this case there is a pragmatic need for the new landowners to sell some lots for development in order to be able to set aside a sizeable area as a reserve which will benefit Bermuda as a whole.”
She added the society had reached its decision based on information given to David Wingate, a committee member.
Ms Border said two factors had influenced the group’s position. She explained: “One is that the new development will not be high density but is on large lots, which will retain the rural character of the area.
“The other is that the proposed nature reserve will be of much greater environmental value than the existing golf course, which, while valued open space, is relatively sterile in terms of biodiversity.”
The comments come after one of the property’s owners told The Royal Gazette that they wanted to create a conservation zone combined with “very-low-density residential areas”.
The spokesman said the project was being undertaken “in consultation with Bermuda’s leading environmentalists”.
Jonathan Starling, executive director of environmental charity Greenrock, said the organisation did not have any “major concerns” about the majority of the land being protected.
Mr Starling explained: “If anything we saw that as a potential planning gain for the people of Bermuda in terms of expanding the land back to protected green space.”
He said that “important biodiversity spots” on the property would be strengthened by the rezoning.
Mr Starling said he understood concerns about rezoning as being a “double-edged sword”.
He added: “However, we don’t have an issue with changing land use from one zoning designation when it strengthens the protection of that area in terms of going from, say, commercial to nature reserve or woodland reserve.
“The opposite direction would be problematic and the prejudice should be strengthening protections and expanding protected nature areas.”
But other environmental groups said they had adopted a wait-and-see approach.
Bill Zuill, executive director at Bermuda National Trust, said his organisation was “monitoring the proposals” for the site.
Mr Zuill added members of the trust had met the property’s owners as well as people concerned about the prospect of houses being built on the site.
He said: “The trust has not seen detailed final proposals for the property and has therefore not yet taken a formal position.”
Mr Zuill added the trust looked forward to “continued dialogue with all parties”.
Kim Smith, executive director of the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Task Force, said the organisation would wait for the results of the owners’ consultation with planning officials before they commented.
The Riddell’s Bay Members’ Committee has raised concerns over an application to subdivide the property into two plots.
The group claimed the move would lead to “at least” 42 acres of recreational land being turned into private homes. It also said the move would create a legal precedent allowing other recreational areas to be built on.
A petition launched to protect the property has attracted 700 signatures — although these included Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, and Fidel Castro, the late prime minister of Cuba.