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Hotel construction questioned

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Construction of a five-story hotel project adjacent to the three-story Saipan Ocean View Hotel along Beach Road, Garapan was ongoing when Saipan Tribune took this photo Tuesday afternoon. (FERDIE DE LA TORRE)

The operator of the Saipan Ocean View Hotel and a landowner are questioning why the Department of Public Works is not stopping the ongoing construction of a five-story hotel at the site of the former Sunleader Mart grocery store on Beach Road in Garapan, despite a promise to do so, since there has been no soil testing of the site.

In her declaration, Charity R. Hodson, counsel for Trinidad Benavente, said the stop-work-order never materialized and that she called and left a message and emailed an assistant attorney general at the Office of the Attorney General’s Civil Division, to which she has not, to this date, received any response.

Hodson’s declaration was attached in support of Benavente’s and co-plaintiffs Modern Investment Inc.’s motion for preliminary injunction filed in the Superior Court against Sunleader (Saipan) Co. Ltd., Hui Tao Tsang, Dragon Pacific Corp., Sunyes Saipan Corp., and Yantze Corp.

Modern Investment runs the adjacent Saipan Ocean View Hotel, a 102-room, three-story building.

Benavente is one of the owners of a piece of lot in Garapan. The 10 unnamed co-plaintiffs of Modern Investment and Benavente are the remaining owners of the lot who may have an interest in the land.

Tsang is the sole director and shareholder of Sunleader Corp. and Dragon Pacific Corp. Tsang is also the sole director and officer of Sunyes Corp.

Tsang, who also goes by the name Franco or Franco Hui Tao Tsang, is a resident of the CNMI.

Yantze Corp. is a contractor engaged in the business activities of general construction.

In her declaration, Hodson said that representatives of Modern Investment Inc. and Benavente, their lawyers, and a structural engineer had gone to DPW on Aug. 31, 2019, and raised some concerns with DPW’s Building Safety official Casiano Bostre, Dennis Drew, building inspector Angelo Camacho, as well as CNMI Zoning’s Eubert Alepuyo. Those concerns, Hodson said, included the project’s inconsistent plans and damage caused to the plaintiffs’ neighboring buildings.

She said the structural engineer recommended that a geotechnical study needed to be completed to determine what needed to be done to stabilize the five-story hotel.

Hodson said that Bostre agreed that the damage presented by the plaintiffs was a public concern, that Bostre agreed that a stop-work order should be issued and kept in place until soil testing was completed by the hotel, and that he promised both to issue a stop-work order and to require soil testing.

At the time of that meeting, Hodson said, DPW had already issued a stop-work order against the project a couple of weeks before for failing to obtain a building permit, in violation of the Building Safety Code.

Hodson said Benavente believes the reason for the initial stop-work order was because debris was falling from the hotel’s construction site and causing a public safety issue for people walking in and out of the neighboring buildings and cars parked nearby.

The lawyer said that on Sept. 1 and 2, 2019, DPW investigators did a walk-through of the hotel’s construction site and DPW lifted the work order. She said construction began again, mere days after DPW had promised plaintiffs that no construction would continue without soil testing.

Hodson said she followed up with DPW’s Building Safety official with a call to inquire why a stop-work order had not been issued as promised. She said Bostre indicated that it was “a sensitive issue” and directed her to speak with DPW’s legal counsel at the Civil Division of the Office of the Attorney General.

Hodson said that she met with an assistant attorney general at the OAG’s Civil Division on the morning of Aug. 8, 2019, and was told that DPW’s walk-through confirmed that netting had been put in place to prevent falling debris.

Hodson said the assistant attorney general also stated that it was expected that DPW would issue another stop-work order that same day due to the lack of a soil testing, which DPW had required some time ago but never enforced.

The southern edge of the Sunleader Building and the norther edge of the Fun & Game Building touched each other or shared a common wall.

According to the lawsuit, defendants embarked on a plan to transform the Sunleader Building into a five-story building by adding atop its first story four new stories to transform it into a new hotel. This new hotel is planned to be called the Royal View Hotel.

The lawsuit alleged that the actual bearing capacity of the soil beneath the Sunleader Building is insufficient to bear the weight of the hotel.

In February 2018, construction began on the hotel. This construction included stories of the hotel that were built up to and touched the southernmost wall of Ocean View’s three-story building.

Beginning in July of 2018, Saipan Ocean View Hotel personnel discovered unexplained damage to the southern portion of Ocean View’s three-story building, including popped tiles, tilts in flooring, and cracks.

Meanwhile, Fun & Game personnel also discovered cracks in the northern portion of the Fun & Game Building, which started to appear after construction began at the hotel.

Fun & Game personnel have complained to Benavente about the cracks in the Fun & Game Building caused by the construction of the new five-story hotel. In turn, Benavente has complained about the cracks in the Fun & Game Building to the owners of the hotel project, DPW, and Hui Tao Tsang and Sunleader Corp.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com
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