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Sh28 billion Watamu hotel project faces headwinds

In Summary

•The Tourism Ministry, hoteliers, and surrounding community oppose the project

•Tourism CS Najib Balala is said to have written to the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) seeking to revoke a license it had issued for the construction of the property

Tourism minister Najib Balala
Tourism minister Najib Balala
Image: FILE

Controversy surrounds the proposed construction of the Sh28 billion Palm Exotjca high rise resort in Watamu, Kilifi County, as the Tourism Ministry, hoteliers and surrounding community oppose the project.

The ministry is against the 61-storey building that is expected to house a hotel and residential facilities within proximity to the Watamu Marine National Park.

The Star has established the ministry is concerned over environmental issues and location of the 370-metre tall building planned to be constructed between Turtle Bay Hotel and the marine park.

Tourism CS Najib Balala is said to have written to the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) seeking to revoke a license it had issued for the construction of the property, which is pitted to be the tallest building in Africa.

Sources close to the CS yesterday told the Star the CS remains opposed to the “skyscraper”.

“The CS has maintained his position on the project. The right procedure have to be followed when coming up with such a facility to ensure we get it right both on location, environmental issues among other aspects of construction,” the close associate of the CS told the Star.

In a separate move a section of the community has sought the services of Nairobi based law firm- AF Gross and Company Advocates, to have approvals for the project by Kilifi County government revoked.

They include the Kilifi County Alliance, Watamu hoteliers, local ocean conservation, Watamu Marine Association, A Rocha Kenya, Watamu Against Crime, Watamu Property Managers and Jiwe Leupe Community Association.

Through advocate Anthony Gross, the community and the respective groups have questioned the country government’s move to approve the project, despite pending issues raised by the National Director of Physical Planning.

“The national director questioned the legality of the development planning application concerning physical planning laws and other laws regulations and the inadequacy of available infrastructure to support a proposed project of such excessive height and density,” Gross notes in a letter to the Kilifi County chief officer , department of lands , housing, physical planning and urban development.

The national physical planning had also on July 12, 2019 raised concerns over the inadequacy of the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment study report, poking holes on how the project was approved, documents seen by the Star indicate.

“In view of the foregoing, we advice that you suspend the approval of the proposed development to allow proper review and audit to establish its sustainability,”  Gross said, “The community hence requests information pertaining to the steps the authority hs taken to implement the national director’s recommendations.”

The community has further expressed dissatisfaction with a recent public hearing (on October 3) saying it did not provide an adequate forum for discussion of issues around the project, taking into account “the complex and technical issues” around the project.

The project investors — Italian veterinary doctor and property investor Giuseppe Moscarinno and Career Private Fund manager Oliver Nepomuceno– were expecting to commence the project in December, to be implemented in phases.

Moscarinno last week said the project will be constructed by Dutch company Drees and Sommers, which has offices in 23 countries.

"We are now waiting for the final decision from Nema so that we start," he said. 

The luxury hotel will be operated by a yet-to-be disclosed global hospitality chain with several hotel floors reserved for presidential suites.