Today’s Opinion: Only in St. Maarten

POSTED: 05/22/11 5:06 PM

We have of course our own problems with buildings popping up around the island without proper building permits, but somehow our government or the owners manage to find creative solutions for these thorny issues. The Coral Beach Club in Oyster Pond stopped halfway while executing a demolition order and suddenly found a way to legalize an illegal situation. Samir Andrawos illegal concrete box in Cay Hill is also built without proper permits but this project will turn out to be a goldmine for the owner once Justice Minister Duncan decides to turn the place into a second prison.

The owner of a pub called Café ‘t Skûtsje in Harlingen surely wished that their establishment had been built in St. Maarten. On Thursday owner René Dijksen demolished the covered terrace in front of the pub following a court order.

The covered terrace had been a fixture in Harlingen for twenty years. Recently somebody at the municipality discovered that the terrace had been built without a proper permit. Talk about dedicated civil servants….

Of course there is more to this story. Last year legislation kicked in that prohibits smoking in pubs and restaurants. As a result, patrons at the pub increasingly sought their comfort on the covered terrace. They didn’t only smoke there; they also drank to their heart’s delight. This combination of alcohol and tobacco had fatal consequences for the terrace, because the drinking and smoking patrons turned out to be a noisy bunch. That was okay when they did their stuff inside the pub, but the noise they produced on the covered terrace irritated neighborhood residents.

No wonder that they went looking for the proverbial stick to hit the dog. When they found it the pub owner had the choice between breaking down the terrace and paying a €750 (almost $1,100) fine per day. He soon concluded that his noisy customers did not drink enough to make this latter option a profitable proposition.

A spokesman for the municipality said that customers sometimes stood smoking outside the pub (and outside the covered terrace) the whole evening – and we guess, into the wee hours of the morning.

The municipality decided that the terrace had to go and that the fact it had been there for twenty years was irrelevant. That would be unfair towards other entrepreneurs, they said with mind-bending logic.

The municipality also maintains that the pub is a protected monument –a discovery that apparently remained a closely kept secret for the past two decades.

And the pub owner did not get a St. Maarten peace offer in the form of a belated building permit. No siree, that’s not how they do things in Harlingen. Only in St. Maarten.

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