Sunday, May 18, 2008

Developments Raise Concern

Developments raise concern
Tumon set for a boom in luxury condo construction
By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno
Pacific Daily News
May 19, 2008

Despite Guam's one million tourists a year, island residents can still take walks, nap on the sand and go snorkeling in Tumon Bay without getting that too-crowded feeling.

But that might not be the case for too much longer.

The tropical feel in Tumon Bay and in other parts of the island could change irreversibly, said some island residents who voiced concern about the lack of a comprehensive government approach to review a resurgence of proposed high-rise projects.

Japanese investments fueled the Tumon Bay hotel construction boom in the 1980s. This time, proposed high-rises are primarily for luxury condominium projects.

Several Tumon Bay condominium development projects have been approved by the Guam Land Use Commission since last year, which will add almost 1,500 condo units to the local real estate inventory -- if all are built.

A few more applications await the GLUC decision, including Ypao Luxury Resort Condominiums, which proposes 608 condo units and 32 villas on a vacant property next to Ypao Beach Park.

But while there's support for condo high-rises for the jobs they create, the taxes they contribute and other economic reasons, some residents said they don't want to lose the few remaining open spaces in Tumon Bay to towering concrete structures.

Losing the view
A Tumon Bay area resident, local attorney Jay Arriola, said he doesn't want development to run rampant.

The Arriolas' ancestral home will be obstructed by the twin, 32-story high-rises proposed in the Ypao Beach area. But Arriola said the issue is bigger than just losing an ocean view.

Arriola questioned whether there's enough of a market for all the luxury condo units being proposed in Tumon Bay and areas within about a mile of Tumon's hotel row.

"The worst-case scenario is these towers will be empty," he said.

The proposed site for the Ypao condo project and the Ypao Beach Park next to it are some of the few remaining open spaces in Tumon Bay.

"The negative impact on the public interest ... seriously outweighs any need for more high-end condos," Arriola stated.

Linda Flynn, a former Guam Land Use Commission member, said without proper government controls and a comprehensive approach to review major projects, Tumon Bay will turn into another Waikiki, where towering high rises leave small open spaces between concrete structures.

"The island needs to decide: What is it that we want? What are our priorities? Do we want to maintain a certain amount of tropical atmosphere of Tumon Bay, or do we want to be a Waikiki?" Flynn asked.

In a recent Land Use Commission hearing on the proposed twin, 32-story high rises next to Ypao Beach Park, some of the area's residents opposed the project.

A 15-story condominium project is also proposed on a lot between the 32-story twin towers project and the Proa restaurant in the Ypao area.

Owners' rights
The proposed Ypao Luxury Condominiums is seeking GLUC approval to build about 150 more units than what regulations would normally allow for that land size.

GLUC Chairman Jay Lather said he understands residents' concerns. Lather said that as a private citizen, he too thinks it's a "bad idea" to add more high-rises on Guam. But as chairman of the Land Use Commission, Lather said he must balance the residents' concerns with the developers' property rights.

Landowners have a minimum expectation to have the best current use of the property they paid for, Lather said.

Earlier this year, Ino Corp. paid $19 million for a piece of non-beachfront land across from the Fiesta Resort for a 396-unit condo and commercial development. Ino Corp.'s project has received GLUC approval.

After the GLUC approval, other agencies must sign off on a project, such as the Guam Waterworks Authority for water and sewer connections and the Department of Public Works for the construction permit.

In the area where the 32-story Ypao luxury condo is proposed, hotel and condo high-rises are allowed, as illustrated by such nearby existing projects as the Pacific Islands Club tower, Lather said.

The Land Use Commission postponed its decision on the proposed Ypao Luxury Resort Condominiums project while waiting for an opinion from the attorney general's office regarding how to proceed.

The AG's opinion is being sought in light of an ancient bull-cart trail that dissects the proposed Ypao Luxury Resort Condominiums' site. The local government owns the trail, and it takes legislative authority to relocate it or for entities other than the owner to use it, Sen. Ben Pangelinan said.

The project's developer still has to obtain proper government approval on how to work around or relocate the trail, and until that's resolved, the Land Use Commission won't be able to make a decision, Lather said.

The bull-cart trail, however, does not lead to the beach and instead ends at the PIC boundary, Lather said.

'Open mind'
"We approach this with an open mind. Generally, (the commission) supports what I call intelligent development. We don't approve projects that don't make a lot of sense," Lather said.

The proposed Ypao condo project is a major project for Guam in terms of its impact on the economy, Lather said.

"There are some benefits to Guam and the people of Guam and we have to look at what drives the economy on Guam," he said.

The Ypao Luxury Resort project's developer was unavailable for comment as of press time.

First lady's support
First lady Joann Camacho testified in favor of the proposed Ypao Luxury Resort Condominiums earlier this month.

"The administration has worked very hard to change that situation ... over the past year or so, we have seen several substantial world-class (proposed projects) ... these projects mean hundreds of millions of dollars in investments in Guam, more jobs for our people and more revenues for the island," Camacho wrote to the GLUC on May 9.

Design elements
Michael Ysrael, of hotel developer Tanota Partners, said he "kind of likes the way it's been working out" in terms of how the Land Use Commission has dealt with development applications.

"I think GLUC has been very good in balancing," Ysrael said of concerns about keeping the tropical look of Tumon Bay and at the same time approving projects that blend well in the area.

Ysrael's family owns the 600-room Outrigger Guam Resort and a couple other smaller hotels. In March, they broke ground on The Bayview 5, a luxury hotel high-rise project next to the Outrigger.

Ysrael mentioned the Pleasure Island area as an example of a development that involves structures that stand close to each other, but still look nice overall because of the buildings' architecture, landscaping and other design elements.

The Land Use Commission attaches stringent conditions to projects that it approves, Lather said.

For example, the commission recently approved a townhouse development on Nimitz Hill, on the condition the developer will build water and sewer systems that will benefit the entire Nimitz Hill area, Lather said.

The infrastructure improvements that are required of the Nimitz developer will cost about $4.5 million, Lather said.

The proposed Emerald Ocean View Park will add 260 condo units and 20 villa-style luxury homes along a cliff-line property in Tamuning. In response to already strained infrastructure in the area, developer Younex International will install an additional water line from the water tank at the Nissan dealership in Upper Tumon, according to Pacific Daily News files.

The project also includes plans to install sewer lines that will be used not only for the Emerald project, but which can increase capacity for existing customers and future developments in the area.

Another developer, which has received GLUC approval for a $250 million high-rise condo and hotel development in the Gun Beach area, also has had to work out a solution to utility challenges. Kyung Maek C&D LLC has made initial discussions with GWA for a wastewater line to be routed away from Tumon and toward the GWA wastewater treatment plant in Dededo, according to Pacific Daily News files.

Flynn said she's been voicing concerns that when major projects do get approved, there's a lack of follow-through from the different government agencies on whether developers comply with land-use applications.

Public Works is supposed to issue notices of action when developers don't comply, but the local government's pool of prosecutors is so strained, there aren't enough people to take on criminal cases, she added.

The local government approach to hold developers accountable has been what Flynn called "too wishy-washy."

"We can't afford to keep developing like that," Flynn said. "We are just at a point where we are seeing another boom, and part of it is speculation."

Members removed
Flynn was supposed to have stayed on the commission until her term expires on June 25. But a recent letter from the governor stated her service to the commission has ended.

Lisa Arriola, Jay Arriola's sister, also recently received a letter from the governor, ending her term on the commission.

Flynn said the governor's letter didn't state why her term on the GLUC was cut short.

Governor's spokesman Shawn Gumataotao said the members of local government boards and commissions "serve at the pleasure of the governor."

Gumataotao didn't specify why Arriola and Flynn have been removed from the Land Use Commission.

Lather said he's sorry to see Arriola and Flynn leave their seats on the commission.

The governor "wanted to make a change, and we all serve at his pleasure," he said.

Asked about Gov. Felix Camacho's position on the debate over high-rise development projects, the governor's spokesman said, "The governor believes that all development should be measured and responsible and that is why we have commissions such as the Guam Land Use Commission in place."

"This commission is tasked with taking concerns such as these and those of the community into consideration," the governor's spokesman added.

The first lady's support of the proposed Ypao Luxury Resort Condominiums, Gumataotao said, was made "in her personal capacity."

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