The number of applications for hotel projects has been going up in the last five months, such that zoning applications to accommodate hotel projects are always included on the Zoning board’s agenda.
Two applications to set up a guesthouse in Sadog Tasi and a bed-and-breakfast in Chinatown are on the calendar for today’s Zoning public hearing at the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Hall in Susupe at 5pm.
Zoning board vice chair Bruce Bateman attributed this increase to the entry of casino developer Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC.
“Applications have vastly increased since one key thing happened, when a major corporation, Imperial Pacific, came along and showed strong belief in the CNMI economy by investing hundred of million of dollars. They changed the economy here,” he said.
With the current economic development and rise in tourism, there is still a need for more hotel rooms.
“The hotels are full and hotel accommodation is maxed out. We have to fill up this demand gap. The gap between the demand and supply of the hotel rooms is the reason why hundreds of these bed-and-breakfast and guesthouses are on the rise,” Bateman added.
According to him, the need for new hotel rooms is high on the list.
“Going up doesn’t mean you would need more and more people. At the Marianas Visitors Authority, the focus is improving the quality of tourists that come here. How? Better places to stay. That’s why we need the new hotels to be built.”
“Some hotels on island need renovation because the only way to draw those upscale customers is to give them something upscale to…stay in while they are here. We need hotels, we need them to be in business and we need them to be upgraded,” added Bateman.
The urgent need for hotels does not mean that the Zoning office and board approve every hotel development application that come their way.
According to Bateman, before the application even reaches the board, it has been vetted for all of its details by the Zoning staff.
“They go over the application and they decide whether or not it even meets the criteria. In some cases, if the building being proposed does not meet all the qualifications—whether it’s a gas station or hotel—it never comes to the board at all,” he said,
“If [the proposed project] meets all of [Zoning] requirements, then you could do it. The Zoning staff is empowered to, and most of the time, either approve or deny based on that,” he added.
“The board determines whether the project is compatible with the surrounding neighborhood. What we are doing is have compatible uses in compatible areas and do segregation. If there are questions that are out of our purview, then we refer them to the people that they need to see about that and we tell them to go to this office or agency. Otherwise, they will never get the thing built if they don’t meet those criteria,” he said.
Bateman said one can get approved by Zoning but if other agencies or offices do not approve the project, then there will be no business.
Under its mandate, the Zoning board recommends any rezoning application to the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation.
“When you come to the Zoning board, you have a fair platform to present the parameters of the development that you want to do and find out the reasons why you want it rezoned. After careful consideration, the board and Zoning staff determine whether to suggest to the Legislature that such is to be approved for rezoning.”
Bateman said the board welcomes the current economic dynamics and that the public can expect due diligence from the board when it comes to considering rezoning applications.
“Businesses are growing as we have more business applications than we’ve had since the early ’90s and it’s been a long time since this place has actually boomed. Our economy is booming,” he said.
“All that money circulates around the economy and goes back to the Everyday Joe. Now if the average Joe wants to get a job, he can get one, unlike five years ago [when] there wasn’t a job to be had. The growth is organic. It’s not only the rich who reaps the benefits but everyone,” he added.