Councillor buys contentious squatter lands
A People’s National Party (PNP) councillor with eyes firmly set on succeeding Dr Peter Phillips as the member of parliament for St Andrew East Central when he retires has purchased the Lyndhurst Road property on which individuals aligned to the party have settled for decades but which became tenuous in recent years.
Councillor Dennis Gordon, who represents the Maxfield Park Division in the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation, confirmed to The Sunday Gleaner on Friday that he has purchased the property through his company. JACDEN outfit, a group of companies the base of which is industrial sanitation.
“Yes, I bought the property for the asking price of $20 million,” he admitted when our news team made contact.
The sale was concluded about two weeks ago, and Gordon said the property will be developed in two phases.
“The purchase has done two things. It has settled the issue of tenancy for the people who have endured a lot in recent years. Myself and the member of parliament, Dr Peter Phillips, had to go there one morning at 4:30 a.m. to stave off eviction, and it just couldn’t continue.
“It will house a residential part and a commercial part at the front. The residential part will settle the issue of proper housing for the residents and access to roads, water, and electricity, and the second phase will see the development of a commercial health facility,” he explained.
The property, located at 59 1/2 Lyndhurst Road, and which housed an estimated 100 persons up to 2018, was secured at the full asking price.
Gordon made no bones about his wider political ambitions in the constituency.
“I will replace Dr Peter Phillips as the representative for the constituency whenever he decides to go,” Gordon said bluntly, although this has not been confirmed by the PNP hierarchy.
Attorney-at-law Ayisha Robb Cunningham, who handled the sale for the previous owner, Paul Mullings, the director of Auto Rock Imports Limited, said representatives of both major political parties reached out to her when the tension began to grow with a view to acquiring the property and giving the settlers some security in 2016, the general election year.
“I have been handling the case from the start. I was there when the owner sought to evict the squatters, informal settlers, and also when both political parties reached out with an aim to purchasing or compulsorily acquiring the land until when this company made a more lucrative offer, which was accepted,” she told The Sunday Gleaner.
“The owner is happy to see the back of this matter,” she added.
The aggrieved occupiers had disputed Mullings’ claim of ownership of the property, which is a bastion of the St Andrew East Central constituency.
Efforts to forcibly remove them in the past led to violent clashes with police officers and bailiffs. Several persons had also been detained in the aftermath of the scuffles.
The occupants told The Sunday Gleaner that they were given permission to occupy the land almost 60 years ago, with some having their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren born there.
They said that their troubles began more than 30 years ago when someone claiming to be the new owner of the land demanded that they leave.
When eviction notices were served in 2018, residents lamented that despite their commitment to politics, they had been used by the process.
Vincent Clarke, who was months away from his 80th birthday, was the longest-living resident then. He told The Sunday Gleaner that his six children were all born there and that he had been living on the property for 48 years. The last known owner, who he named as a ‘Mr Darby’, gave him and his wife permission to reside there.
He was the property’s caretaker.
Over time, other individuals showed up, claiming ownership, he said.
Robb Cunningham, who also sits as chair of the St Catherine South adjudication board, explained the process by which such a body settled disputes over private properties that are illegally occupied.
“As chairperson, we assist them to acquire titles after hearing their evidence, which is sworn before a panel comprising of a justice of the peace, a surveyor, a community member, and the minister’s representative for that constituency. After hearing them, we come to a decision, and if it is determined that the case complies with the 12 years undisturbed possession, and based on the evidence given by the individuals and their declarants who are present at the meeting, then a positive record of decision is granted for an order for title … ,” she explained.
“Thereafter, the [National] Land Agency would deal with the procedural aspect of the process by finalising the applications in order that the applicants would be provided with a duplicate certificate of title in their name. They would be considered to be first owner of the property in terms of the land registration and titling system,” she said.
Robb-Cunningham noted that the issue of land settlement in Jamaica has been contentious over the years and appealed to the legitimate owners of properties to secure them from illegal occupation.
“They need to secure their properties and rights of ownership so they do not have conflict with squatters,” she stated.
While there is gratitude for institutions like the National Housing Trust, she said that many contributors to the body will never be able to afford land prices, especially in the Corporate Area.
Other property squabbles
There has been no word of settlement in the 867-acre Little Bay, Westmoreland, property, which had also been in dispute.
Former Member of Parliament Dr Wykeham McNeill told The Sunday Gleaner on Thursday that discussions on a way forward were taking place with government officials.
“I have not heard of any further developments in the last year, but there were discussions about the legal aspects of the situation for both parties, and that’s why Government was brought in,” he said.
When owner John Eugster was murdered at Little Bay, his wife, Kathleen, put the property for sale for US$60 million. The property houses a mixture of multimillion-dollar residential and commercial operations of goods and services.
McNeill said that in 90 per cent of the cases, an amicable resolution is usually reached.
A dispute also arose over two parcels of property on Red Hills Road between 2016 and 2020, with a boisterous demonstration in 2016.
Karl Samuda, the St Andrew North Central member of parliament, had previously told our newsroom that “both properties at 85 and 85 1/2 Red Hills Road were acquired by the Government” during his tenure as minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation.
He did not disclose the purchase cost.
The Government in 2016 placed the area under the coverage of The Special Improvements (Infrastructure) Area 85 Red Hills Road, St Andrew, (Inspection, Objections and Representations) under the Local Improvements (Community Amenities) Act.
It gave the minister power to declare an improvement order for any land, settlement, building, or tenement and prevent the eviction of any existing tenancy.