Charles battles with HLDC over land
May 15, 2009
Charles battles with HLDC over land


by Jamila Soso-Vincent

For many years, Sanford Charles and his wife dreamt of retiring and returning to St. Vincent to enjoy their golden years. They never dreamt, however, that the bliss of retirement would be tainted by an ugly land dispute with the Housing and Land Development Corporation (HLDC), over the development of lands at Queensbury – right on their doorstep.{{more}}

According to Sanford, his woes began in June 2007 when the HLDC began widening an estate road that leads to 15.7 acres of lands adjacent to his property that the Corporation had purchased for EC$1.2 million – intended for a housing development scheme. The access road to the land earmarked for development passes through Charles’ 12 acres of land. Originally, the road was only cleared for a 7 – 8 ft wide passage. The road was eventually widened to 20 ft on July 17, 2007 by the HLDC.

Charles’ related that when he originally purchased the land in 1990, it was separated from the road by a barbed wire fence – which he naturally assumed indicated what land was his, and what was the road. Therefore, according to Charles and his wife Anita, the HLDC has encroached 12 ft into his property along the length of the road – and he is demanding compensation for it.

On August 27, 2007, Charles recounted that a surveyor and some workers returned to the road and began putting up markers. Charles admits that he removed one of the markers because it was on what he regarded as his land. Two days later, HLDC General Manager Morris Slater returned to Charles’ residence with a police officer from the Pembroke Police Station. According to Slater, he brought the policeman with him because his workers had reported that Charles had accosted them in an aggressive manner. “I got a corporal and asked him to accompany me up to Mr. Charles to explain… that we are looking at a road that we have gotten plans for… to see if we can find markers.”

Slater continued: “As soon as I came up to him (Charles)… he punched me in the face… the policeman got mad, but he didn’t want to create a scene.” It was then that they left Charles’ property. Charles’ version of events is somewhat different. He insists that despite several warnings to vacate his property, Slater and his entourage would not leave. He added that this perceived “harassment” caused him to lose his temper and physically assault Slater.

Still visibly irate at the matter, Charles recalled that on August 31st, 2007, at approximately 5:55 am, he and his wife were awakened by six heavily armed police officers. He alleges that he was arrested and charged with two criminal offences, then released on bail. The case has been in the court system for well over a year.

Speaking to SEARCHLIGHT, Slater claims that Charles and his wife are not allowing the HLDC to have dialogue with them, and, had they done so, the confusion over the widened road would have been resolved a long time ago. “If he had given us the opportunity to sit down and explain… we would not be in this situation.”

Slater exhibited a plan of the contentious lands at Queensbury, and pointed out that the estate road that divides Charles’ land is supposed to be 20 ft wide in certain sections. Moreover, he identified a section that measures 35 ft wide but has been left at 20 ft.

Slater acknowledged that the estate road was previously only cleared for a 7 – 8 foot passage, but that, he said, is only due to lack of use. This “easement”, he said, had never been pitched because only a handful of houses had been there. Slater explained that, historically, the government would not have pitched roads leading to sparsely populated areas. Those who lived there would have to create their own ‘road’. This would have been time-consuming and expensive, so instead of widening the road to the size stated on the plan, it would be cut to the minimum passage possible.

Slater maintains that the HLDC and the government do not owe the Charles compensation because they have stuck to the size indicated on the plan of the area. “Nobody can sell public road!”

Charles is not convinced that the housing development plans are totally above board, however. “I think it’s a scam,” he declared, likening it to the Ottley Hall fiasco. In the mean time, Charles has been openly defying the powers that be. Pointing to a section of his land, he declared: “I deliberately went there and killed those trees so that they have a problem putting a back wall here… this is my land… I can do what I want!”

Additionally, Charles insists that proper procedure was not followed in the construction of the road, and that a letter of the HLDC’s intentions should have been issued to him and his wife. “If they had come to us in good faith, things would be totally different.”

At some point during 2002 – 2003, Charles recalled that he had approached a government official to report a matter of an underground spring that floods the said road whenever there are heavy rains. He appealed to the official to fix it, he said, but was told in no uncertain terms that the government was not obliged to fix it because it is his private road. Charles bitterly commented that it is ironic that the government is now arguing that the road is a public one. Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Housing Kenrick Glynn declined to comment.

And, to add insult to injury, Charles is highly dissatisfied with the manner in which his lawyer, Emery Robertson Snr., is handling his case. “He’s dragging his feet!”

Charles’ wife, Anita, even claims that she received a call, telling her to warn her husband that threats are being made against him.

HLDC General Manager Morris Slater lamented the fact that the matter is tied up in Court, but believes that this is the only way it will be resolved now. “Whether we are wrong or right, that is what the Court is for… we have a justice system.”