- April 1st, 2010
- in Yachting
Our natural environment, including our beaches, underpins our tourism product and remains a significant point of attraction for tourists and residents alike. Imagine stepping out onto your apartment’s balcony to be greeted by the soothing sea breeze, a spectacular skyline and the calming sounds of a ocean tide; or walking out of your backyard for a stroll along a white sand beach. Living in and enjoying an island tropical climate, which the British Virgin Islands affords, fosters a love for the natural environment, beaches and all that nature has to offer.
Acquiring and developing a beachfront property allows for the best of both worlds. However, before the groundbreaking, there are several important issues that must be given important consideration. Due to the special environmental considerations, the public right to access beaches, managing coastal land development requires particular consideration in order to avert potential problems which could prove costly.
The Town & Country Planning Department (the “Planning Department”), which polices the Physical Planning Act, approves any such development before the commencement of construction activity and monitors the ongoing activities for compliance with developmental approval. This ensures that standards and safeguard measures designed to address environmental concerns are adhered to and to ensure orderly development.
The law stipulates that certain developments along coastal areas require the commission of an environmental impact assessment in order to determine the potential environmental impact on the marine life.
Under current planning regulations, the main building forming part of any beachfront development must be constructed not less than 100 feet from the high-water mark and 50 feet for any ancillary building. Once a development plan has been approved and before any construction begins, the Planning Department must first conduct a site visit in order to confirm that the prescribed building limits are in place. Coordination with the Planning Department is therefore important so that the relevant site visits and checks can be made so that any possible deviations from the approved plan may be detected early.
The Building Authority must also approve the structural plans for the building and conduct site visits to the premises before and during construction phases. However, unlike the Planning Authority, the Building Authority charges a fee for each site visit conducted.
Another important consideration is the issue of public access to the beach. The Physical Planning Act stipulates that there shall be public right of way to all beaches in the territory. Where no public alternative right of way exists to access the beach, then access may be established over private property to the beach (s. 61 Physical Planning Act). This may be made a condition in any development approval issued by the planning department. As such, no developer or property can legally exclude any member of the public from utilizing their property for the purposes of accessing the beach.
Property owners will therefore have to become comfortable with the idea of the possibility of the public at large traversing their property to access the beach.
Notwithstanding any potential drawbacks associated with the ownership and development of a beachfront property, the potential benefits, not the least of which is the ability to enjoy nature in one of its most alluring states, is enough for serious investors to give consideration to a most attractive opportunity for property development or homeownership.