There are many issues affecting our cities these days. One critical one is green spaces – the essence of healthy, sustainable cities. Our city of Kingston is sadly lacking in public spaces where people can relax and enjoy a little bit of Nature, and where children can safely play. The more fortunate among us have nice green yards – but we are talking here about a community park, tended by residents, which has been taken over by a local gaming lounge and bar to use as a parking lot. No, KSAC, a park is NOT a parking lot!
This is the press release from Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) alerting us to this particular case. There may well be others in the Kingston area. We all have a right to enjoy the environment we live in. Or do we?
The members of the Dunrobin Park community are calling on the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC) to rescind a lease agreement with Macau Enterprises Limited (Macau) which allows customers of the popular gaming lounge to park their cars in the community’s park area. They have asked the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) and the National Integrity Action (NIA) for legal advice.
For over 25 years the residents of Dunrobin Park have enjoyed the benefit of the open space located at lots 1 and 20 as a community park. Through the Dunrobin Park Citizens’ Association, the citizens have worked together to maintain this park by installing a children’s play set, maintaining a lawn, planting trees and erecting a fence around the parameter of the property. Macau obtained a lease on the property from the KSAC on February 1, 2016. “The owners of Macau have been trying for years to persuade us to give them the park to use as a parking area. Because we refused they went to the KSAC,” said Paulette Corrie, a President of Dunrobin Park Citizens’ Association. Community members maintain there was no consultation with them. Instead, the KSAC relied on an undated petition with many signatures being from people who were not residents of Dunrobin Park. “When we heard that the KSAC leased the park to them (Macau), we wrote to the KSAC expressing our disagreement. We were told that they leased the property based on a petition from the community but most of us living here didn’t even know about that petition,” continued Ms. Corrie.
Under the lease, part of the community park has been fenced off by Macau, trees have been cut down, sections have been covered with asphalt, the remaining grass has been trampled and has started to die.
In response to the outcry of the community members, the KSAC has taken the position that the park should be shared between the community and Macau. At a meeting held on August 26, 2016 at the KSAC’s office Ms. Ketha Silvera, the KSAC’S Legal Officer stated that the term ‘park’ can be widely interpreted to include ‘parking lot’. But Volume 1: Planning and Development of the Development and Investment Manual, developed in 2007 by the Government of Jamaica in collaboration with the private sector, outlines the importance of open spaces, including parks and gardens stating that “small areas of open spaces in urban areas will be recognized and given protection by the planning authorities”. The Manual further states that “open spaces shall not be deemed to include buildings, parking areas, or other surfaces designed or intended for vehicular travel”.
Open spaces function as a natural runoff system as the ground absorbs the rainfall. They also filter pollutants and dust from the air helping to regulate air quality and climate; they provide shade and lower temperatures in urban areas reducing energy consumption by countering the warming effects of paved surfaces; they reduce erosion of soil and recharge groundwater supplies, reducing flooding and protecting rivers and the sea from polluted runoff.
“We have to start appreciating the value of green spaces in Jamaica, especially in towns and cities,” says Nastassia Robinson, JET’s Legal Officer. “The planning authorities have been far too willing to allow open spaces to be used for the parking of cars. One example is the section of National Heroes’ Circle being used as a parking lot for the Ministry of Finance”.
Although the title for the disputed property has an encumbrance that it “…shall be used as a park” the lease agreement with Macau states that “…the leased premises is… free and clear of all encumbrances” and that the property “…may be occupied and used exclusively by the Tenant to provide parking for patrons of Tenant business”. These terms disregard the restrictive covenant that is attached to the property and deprives the community of the environmental and social benefits of the park. JET joins the call for the KSAC to do the right thing in protecting our open spaces by returning the park to the community.
Legal Officer, JET
President, Dunrobin Park Citizens’ Association
Mr. Junior Henry
Resident of Dunrobin Park