Sun | Dec 4, 2022

Fesco investor working through standoff with NEPA

Published:Sunday | September 11, 2022 | 12:05 AMKarena Bennett - Business Reporter

National Environment and Planning Agency, NEPA, has rejected an application for the expansion of a petrol station in Hanover that includes the buildout of a restaurant and other businesses on the property, painting its owner as a repeat rule...

National Environment and Planning Agency, NEPA, has rejected an application for the expansion of a petrol station in Hanover that includes the buildout of a restaurant and other businesses on the property, painting its owner as a repeat rule breaker.

But businesswoman Anna Williams-Bacchus, the proprietor, is refuting the label and instead blames the rejection on what she describes as “property bad luck”.

Bacchus’ most recent application to conduct expansion work on the gas station she operates in Orange Bay, Hanover, was refused by NEPA for a raft of reasons. The agency has cited what it said were unmet boundary requirements, the existence of a nonconforming building on the property, the development’s design insensitivity to integrating surrounding areas, along with the applicant’s history of non-compliance with previous applications associated the site, according to documents seen by the Financial Gleaner.

Williams-Bacchus is the owner of two service stations operating under the Future Energy Sources Company Limited, Fesco, brand. In addition to the Hanover station, she also operates one in Montego Bay, St James. She is among the top ten shareholders in the fuel marketing company that has been listed on the Jamaica Stock Exchange’s junior market since 2021.

Williams-Bacchus did not disclose precise details of the development plan for the property and gave no indication of the projected spend.

While the buildings and operations at the location, where environmental and planning permits are being sought, will not be owned by Fesco, the expansion project appears to align with the fuel marketing company’s vision to build out what it calls “destination” service stations nationwide with revenue streams other than petrol. The concept generally includes an eatery, automated banking machine, supermarket and bill payment outlet to attract more customers to its stations and drive a higher level of business turnover.

To date, Fesco has five such service stations in its portfolio with most of them being dealer owned and operated. Still, Fesco earns most of its revenues from fuel supply.

“The development is lacking in regard for convenience and safety of the public and separation should be provided for (a) contiguous and nearby residential property,” NEPA said of the application in its board decision dated July 2022.

“Where a nonconforming use exists, the local planning authority will encourage its removal and will not grant any permission for extension or retention of the facility except in extreme cases of hardship. This does not obviate the fact that it will have to be removed eventually in such circumstances,” NEPA added.

Twice in its July decisions, NEPA showed that it refused environmental permits to Williams-Bacchus. The same reasons were given for each permit refusal.

NEPA had been reviewing applications from Williams-Bacchus over five years since 2017, and once during that time gave approval for the construction of a petroleum storage facility in 2018. Following a revision of what appeared to be an amended application in 2022, NEPA again refused permit for the facility’s development.

NEPA occasionally denies environmental permit to applicant’s for varying reason, but it is rare for the state agency and environmental regulator to call out an applicant for having a “history of non-compliance”.

Despite the standoff with the state agency, the businesswoman says she is pressing ahead to have the issues identified by NEPA corrected in the shortest time possible. As part of efforts to have the problem areas rectified, she is looking to acquire land next door the service station, Williams-Bacchus told the Financial Gleaner.

“That corrects all of what they are complaining about. I made an application to the Urban Development Corporation, who told me that they don’t have any objection so I’m just waiting to hear back from them,” she said.

“I’m also trying to submit the drawings to the (Hanover) Municipal Corporation,” she added.

The next round of NEPA decisions on applications for environmental and planning approvals for Hanover, is expected to be released later this month.

karena.bennett@gleanerjm.com