Zoning board gives New Century the green light

The Sebastian commercial building is seen right across the Tanapag Middle School where a developer is looking to convert the three-story facility into a 48-room hotel. (Jon Perez)

After a lengthy public hearing, the Commonwealth Zoning board approved Monday night the conditional use application of New Century Hotel LLC to take over the three-story Sebastian Building in Tanapag Village and convert it into a hotel.

The application gained both support and opposition from Tanapag residents.

In written comments, the office of Zoning administrator Therese T. Ogumoro said that New Century’s application “is not entirely compatible with the immediate surrounding uses in terms of overall use characteristics.”

The Sebastian Building is right across the Tanapag Middle School, with the soon-to-be built Saipan Garden Resort of Hong Kong-based American Sinopan LLC just in front, along Chalan Pale Arnold.

The board, voting 3-0, approved New Century’s application. Those who were in favor of the application were acting chair Mariano Taitano, secretary Jose Ayuyu Jr., and member Patrick V. Reyes.

Board chair Diego C. Blanco was off-island, while member Joel C. Camacho, who is running for one of the two House seats in Precinct 4, excused himself since the Sebastian Building is owned by his grandfather, David Camacho.

Ogumuro’s Zoning comment stated that any development must be compatible with existing or allowable uses of adjacent properties as stated in CNMI zoning laws. “This project’s compatibility is relative to the recently permitted resort development, which is situated directly across from the east of Chalan Pale Arnold.”

The unpredictable volume of vehicles, vans and buses, and the nature of activity in the planned hotel project is also not compatible to its surroundings that include the Tanapag Middle School, American Sinopan’s hotel, and the residential neighborhood, she said.

The Zoning administrator said, though, that their staff recommends approving the conditional use application if the board see fit New Century’s bid to occupy the abandoned facility.

Different views

Tanapag residents who were given a chance to speak were split, with some supporting the project, while others voicing opposition due to the proximity to the school and other areas like the youth center and basketball court.

Ignacia Evangelista, a longtime resident of Tanapag, opposes the project since it is right across the school. “Let’s keep in mind the safety of the kids, the students, and residents because of the expected traffic congestion.”

“No matter what the traffic analysis says, it is different from reality. The project is not compatible with our surroundings. We have a basketball court, the youth center, the [Natibu Sports Association] building that caters to the youth.”

She pointed out that the Zoning board has already approved two hotel projects in one year.

“And now we are accommodating another in our village? You approved a bed-and-breakfast for 18 units with 20 parking spaces. Now the proposed [project] is 48 units with 36 parking spaces. …We don’t want this.”

Sheila Babauta, who is running as an independent bet for one of two seats in Precinct 4, questioned setting up a hotel in the village. “For many years it was an apartment building. Right now, we are experiencing a high demand for apartment units. I wonder if the board asked the developer why they felt the need to turn the building into a hotel. We have a high demand for apartment units. And we don’t know what would be the impact of the traffic analysis.”

Bud White, who is also a village resident, said they have a petition that was started by Tiara Evangelista. “We have been circulating a petition in paper and on the internet and about 270 have signed up. I know the developer has spent money…but this is not the right thing to do since it is across the school.”

Tiara Evangelista said the petition is legitimate and she started it about seven hours before the public hearing. “We have our reasons why we are opposed to the project and I am sorry that some who signed the petition weren’t able to come here at such a short notice.”

Supporters of the project, like Benigno Magofna Sablan, said he sees the business activity that would result from the project. “I’m a senior member of the village and I am in support of the proposal. I really wanted to see community enhancement through all of the business activities. …I urge you to approve the investment opportunity in our village.”

Rep. Alice Igito (R-Saipan), who is running for re-election in Precinct 4, expressed her support in a letter read by Tanapag Community Enhancement Association official Juan I. Tenorio.

She said the property opened in 1990 as a commercial building that was an apartment, grocery store, Laundromat, and a poker game room. “The CNMI economy was booming in the 1990s so the businesses operations at the building was busy. The traffic was extra busy since the poker room was operated for 24 hours, seven days a week.”

“The proposed transformation of the Sebastian Building into the New Century Hotel for 48 rooms will not in any way cause traffic congestion that will hamper the daily operations of the Tanapag Middle School, the Tanapag village, the [other] villages in the north, and other businesses in the area.”

“I further believe that the proposed hotel project will definitely provide employment opportunity to the residents, most especially those with transportation problems, contribute to social events in the village, and perhaps educational support to the middle school.”

Jonathan Camacho, whose grandfather owns the property, questioned the legitimacy of the petition and asked why most of the people who signed it are not present at the meeting. “There’s about 290 that have signed the petition but most of the people are unaware of what’s going on in the meeting.”

“I don’t see more than 200 here. If this petition is truly [legitimate], there are only 10 who are [opposed to the project]. If people don’t want development for this small hotel to be built, [then] stand up. I don’t see that much.”

Former Precinct 4 representative George Camacho said he supports the project. “I’m also a resident of Tanapag. …I’m no traffic expert but I don’t see the hotel proposal to be devastating. Garapan Elementary School is surrounded by hotels.”

“Traffic happens usually after school and it won’t be a big thing. This was a former poker arcade and, given a choice of a hotel that is lit at night and spruced up, I take the small hotel with 48 rooms any day rather than have a dilapidated building.”

Rep. Vinnie Sablan (Ind-Saipan), who is running for senator in this year’s elections, supported the planned development and the property is listed as village commercial. “I leave it up to the board to decide. I do really hope their [investor] partnership with the community won’t be a one-time thing but it would continue to benefit both.

Community involvement

Tony Muña, a consultant of the investor, assured that traffic won’t be a problem since their expected guests would be arriving during non-peak hours. “As to the project itself, it will be located not within the village itself but along Chalan Pale Arnold Road. By hotel standards, it is a small one.

“It will not be intrusive to the everyday goings-on in Tanapag village… It will have 48 rooms and 36 vehicle parking spaces. The traffic is during non-peak hours as package tours guests will be bused in from the airport to the hotel. They would arrive at the hotel between 1:30pm to 6:30pm. The departure would be from 11pm and 5:30am.”

He added the investor is also committed to helping Tanapag through community projects. “New Century recognizes that and is willing to make contributions to maintain or improve the quality of life of Tanapag residents and be a good business resident of the village.”

He pointed out that New Century has already sponsored or made a contribution to the local baseball team and they would do it annually. They are also willing to renovate and maintain the village’s basketball court, while also building spectators seats. Docomo Pacific’s antennae would remain on top of the building so it won’t disrupt the cellular and internet services.

Jon Perez | Reporter
Jon Perez began his writing career as a sports reporter in the Philippines where he has covered local and international events. He became a news writer when he joined media network ABS-CBN. He joined the weekly DAWN, University of the East’s student newspaper, while in college.

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