Monday, January 8, 2018
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
SCHOONER Bay's developer has sought to rally homeowners - including Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis - after Tribune Business exposed its questionable Crown Land and real estate management.
Dr David Huber, the Abaco-based project's principal, in a December 21, 2017, letter to real estate owners pledged that the developer had "always and continues to operate in accordance with the laws of the Bahamas".
The letter, which has been obtained by Tribune Business, warned that "a lot of additional capital" was still required to turn Schooner Bay Ventures' vision into a reality, although it did not specify where such investment will come from.
Dr Huber also called for the "continued support" of homeowners following this newspaper's revelations about how Bahamian entrepreneurs were being booted off Crown Land in seeming violation of the terms of Schooner Bay's licence from the Government.
Tribune Business also revealed complaints about how the 220-acre South Abaco project has been violating Bahamian real estate laws, particularly the Real Estate (Brokers and Salesman) Act, through the foreign developer running its own property sales, management and vacation rental business. Foreign developers, under the Real Estate (Broker and Salesman) Act, can only sell and manage the real estate that they own. Once such property is sold to third-party buyers, the Act prevents them from engaging in re-sales of that real estate, and operating their own property management/vacation rental businesses.
In Schooner Bay's case, it has only sold lots to home buyers who were then responsible for vertical construction on their properties. Thus it cannot get involved in managing these homes and/or renting and leasing them out.
Among Schooner Bay's homeowners is Dr Minnis, who owns a property called the 'Island Cottage'. Multiple sources familiar with the project have alleged that the Prime Minister's house is being managed by the developer in violation of the Act.
"That is managed by Schooner Bay Ventures, the developer, which is illegal under the BREA Act," one source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Tribune Business.
This newspaper subsequently contacted Anthony Newbold, the Prime Minister's press secretary, to confirm if Dr Minnis's property was being managed under this arrangement, whether he was aware of this, and if he planned to do anything about it.
"He's not given me any indication he wants to comment on that," Mr Newbold replied. "The Prime Minister has not given any indication he wants to comment at this moment." He suggested Carl Bethel QC, the Attorney General, had already commented on Schooner Bay via an earlier interview with Tribune Business.
There is nothing to suggest Dr Minnis, or any other homeowner, has done anything wrong in relation to Schooner Bay, or that the Prime Minister was aware of the arrangements for managing his home. The project is one of the few developments outside Nassau to attract Bahamian buyers, who are also understood to include Dr Ronald Knowles, the former minister of health.
But Dr Minnis's status as a homeowner adds a new twist to the Schooner Bay situation. Christine Wallace-Whitfield, the Bahamas Real Estate Association's (BREA) president, confirmed in a late December text message to Tribune Business that the developer's licence was due to expire on New Year's Eve.
"They are not allowed to conduct any resales nor any management," she confirmed of Schooner Bay Ventures. Tribune Business sources have also revealed that, in response to this newspaper's revelations, the Attorney General's Office has asked the Bahamas Investment Authority (BIA) to supply it with its Schooner Bay 'file'.
Dr Huber, meanwhile, said Schooner Bay Ventures "takes great exception" to Tribune Business's articles, adding that "a lot of misleading and incorrect information has been provided to many".
"All actions taken by Schooner Bay Ventures have always been employed after much deliberation regarding all parties involved and/or attempts to reasonably resolve open issues," the letter, which bears his name, states. "Schooner Bay has always and continues to operate in accordance with the laws of the Bahamas.
"Events like these that seek to only roadblock the path to success will not prevail...... We ask that our owners be mindful of what should be a shared goal of success at Schooner Bay."
Tribune Business, though, has numerous documents - and has conducted multiple interviews with named and unnamed sources - that back-up its articles.
Dr Huber, meanwhile, said he remained committed to Schooner Bay, having hired Construction Management and Development (CM&D) and Legacy Global Development as the owner's development/project representative and real estate sales team respectively.
"We share your commitment for Schooner Bay to be a success; a thriving community that is a place for all of us to create a lifetime of memories. To that end, we have recently hired a world-class development team," he wrote.
"Schooner Bay Ventures is pursuing a plan to develop a resort community that is enabled by the sale and rental of real estate. We are choosing to maintain the continuity of beautiful Bahamian architecture that has been established at Schooner Bay.
"A vibrant community will enhance the property values at Schooner Bay, and will produce construction and service sector employment for Bahamians. A lot of additional capital will be required to make this vision a reality."
No specifics were provided on how this 'vision' will be translated into reality, and Schooner Bay contacts who have seen the letter told Tribune Business they were distinctly unimpressed.
One source, speaking on condition of anonymity, questioned why "a lot of additional capital will be required" when Schooner Bay's infrastructure - including roads, utilities, harbour and sea walls - was already largely in place.
They said what remained was for the developer to sell the remaining inventory of lots, but added that sales had slowed to a trickle since ties were severed with then-development partner, Lindroth Development Company, in 2013-2014.
The source added that Lindroth Development's plan envisaged Schooner Bay attaining 'critical mass' of 75-100 homes by this year, thereby creating a sustainable community that could also support Bahamian entrepreneurs on the 100-acre Crown Land tract known as 'The Commons'. They added that the project was currently nowhere near this level of build-out.
Dr Huber, meanwhile, signed off: "My personal commitment to Schooner Bay is evidenced by the enormous financial commitment that I have made to Schooner Bay, and that I continue to make. We seek your continued support of Schooner Bay as we take the next positive steps toward building our community."