Elderly couple being bullied by St Regis determined to fight for fair resolution of property dispute
In what has been described as a modern day David versus Goliath contest, two elderly St George’s property owners are being forced to engage corporate giant Hotelco Bermuda SGC, the firm behind the St Regis hotel development in a land battle in the Olde Towne.
After placing a large gate on Somner Lane, thus preventing vehicles from accessing various properties, including that of 92-year-old Shirley Gibbons and his 80-year-old wife, Gardene, which lies on adjoining Secretary lane, the hotel operators had the gall to remove stakes placed on a path used by golf carts, which crosses through property owned by the Gibbons.
The battle between the Gibbons and Hotelco, which leases hotel land from Government, has been going on for approximately two years without resolution and appears to be headed to the courts for ultimate resolution.
Phil Perinchief, lawyer for the Gibbons and a former Progressive Labour Party (PLP) MP, told of the, unfair, domineering and, potentially, illegal manner of the hotel operators, the inaction of Government and the brave resistance of an old couple simply trying to enjoy their twilight years at home.
“There is a situation that has developed which involves the Gibbons, which are clients of mine at the Somner Lane site and the Sf George’s Club site,” said Perinchief. “The St George’s Club – or St Regis – lease the site from government there is a question of residential land for my client, with regard to having vehicular access to it.
“The altercation that took place is that a barrier, in the form of a gate, has been set up on Somner Lane by Hotelco – St Regis – and my clients in fact set up a barrier on their property, which goes across a golf path, preventing the usage of their property being traversed in order for the golf carts to move between holes two and three.
“It appears that the hotel staff have been sent to cut down the barriers of the Gibbons, which is now going to leave to a challenge, perhaps a legal challenge one way or the other by government or the Gibbons.
“So, that’s where the situation is at the moment. Our position is that our clients should have equal access to their property and easy vehicular access to their property. And that’s to all of their property, not just to some of it.
“This is an arrangement that was put together back in 1985, 1986. Actually, MP Kim Swan, he in fact oversaw and managed this transformation of the golf course into the byway that it is at the moment.
“When the access, at that time, was taken away from the Gibbons, Shirley Gibbons in particular, it was thought that we would be given access through the Somner Lane facility.”
However, during the period of the 80s, there was no St Regis to consider, rather just the golf course, under the management of The St George’s Club, which was a much more amicable ‘neighbour’.
St Regis has proven a hostile tenant, having shown little compunction in bulldozing St Georgians that they might deem to be intruders upon the area lands they rent.
“There have been negotiations more recently, from January until now, which broke down,” added Perinchief. “And those negotiations, in my view, were not of the quality that would bring about resolution of this matter.
“We’ve asked for certain things, which I cannot go into at this point, because it could bring about prejudice with regard to the negotiations. But we put forward a resolution that we thought would work, but we got no concrete resolution in return.
“I want negotiations where we have Government, because Government are the legal owners of that property and St Regis or Hotelco are the lease holders of that property at the moment.
“So it is very strange that Hotelco, as leaseholders, would travel among my clients property and cut down barriers on their property.”
It was suggested to the lawyer that Minster of Works and Engineering David Burch was a signatory to the lease agreement document and so it seemed the situation was within his remit to resolve.
However, Perinchief was reluctant to place specific blame as to a specific department or ministry, suggesting that TNN ask Government directly.
Said Perinchief: “He Is the minister and it is his department, so you would have to put questions for to him in that regard or to the ministry and/or PS Rochester.
“I don’t know what their position is, but this is a matter that has been ongoing for close to two years.
“I have not been hired that long, it was only this January that I was hired by my clients and others on their behalf about this process which has been going on for quite some time.”
He also revealed that Government and Hotelco were getting paid relative to operations at the property, while the Gibbons, whose property is also being utilised as such, are not being remunerated for their property being used by golfers and the workers charged with maintaining the golf course.
Further, he noted how the barrier had created a land-lock situation for the Gibbons’ property, thus diminishing the property’s value and saleability.
“Another thing is that the government is receiving remuneration from leasing this particular property and the hotel are receiving remuneration from the golf carts, etc., that travel over this property,” said Perinchief. “But there’s been no arrangement whatsoever or quid pro quo, if you will, for the Gibbons to have compensation and free and easy access to the property.
“In my view the solution would be that they have an electronic gate under a cut or with a clicker that would allow three parties to access the property we’re talking about, the easement that we’re talking about. And that would be the government, St Regis, my clients and their invitees.
“Because, if the Gibbons don’t have easy access to their property, they cannot sell it all. That is, one of the lots. And, if they do, in its present condition, they will, in fact, have to do so at a devalued rate.”
Bluntly asked is he anticipated a commercial court battle as the likely means of settling the matter, Perinchief said that the Gibbons were determined to fight for a reasonable resolution to the matter no matter what route they are required to take.
“I’ll put it this way,” said Perinchief. “If the two parties or three parties are not able to settle it then that seems to be the final course of action, the final form that will have to be used to determine then matter.
“One way or the other we are determined that it will be settled, but we do not shrink away from having to sort this matter out in court if we have this as the only way this matter has to go.”
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