Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom

Construction Boom in JSG

Architect Hugo Coello has designed master plans for the bigger projects in Santos Guardiola.
For a long time now, Santos Guardiola has been the forgotten, ugly sister of Roatan. But lately, that forgotten sister has been getting an increasing number of suitors asking for a dance. Developers are buying up sizable pieces of land and dividing them into smaller lots, creating networks of interior roads with underground wires and services.
On the east side of Roatan, near Mount Picacho, the island’s tallest hill, the views are often stunning. The nature is still relatively unspoiled, and perhaps most important of all for developers, there is a 10.6 kilometer road that is being paved that will reach the very far end of the island.
Paya Magazine has surveyed 18 housing developments in JSG at different stages of completion. The developers here are an international mix. There are Czechs, Danes, Americans, Canadians, and Hondurans. They have backgrounds in construction, sales, furniture, and even veterinary science. Roatan is a cake that has been cut into 20 different pieces. “The advantage that José Santos Guardiola [JSG] has is that it is a cleaner canvas,” said Hugo Coello, a Roatan based architect with 20 years of design experience here. “This municipality has an opportunity to create a great place.” In José Santos Guardiola, one can still find large tracks of undeveloped land. There is plenty of room to grow and the population is relatively small.

Camp Bay Beach for the Famous?

Camp Bay beach is still rugged, rough, and twice as long as West Bay beach. Its tourism development potential is indisputable. Some developers and many residents see it as Roatan’s second chance at creating a beautiful beachfront community – like the West Bay was in 2000. The question is whether the 1.6-mile-long Camp Bay beach will avoid the mistakes that were made in West Bay a generation ago.

Just like billionaire Kelcy Warren on JSG’s nearby Barbareta island, other rich and sometimes famous Americans have noticed the beaches’ beauty and potential. Actor Michael Douglas has been coming to Roatan for over a decade, and purchased 25 acres of land, with around 1,300 feet of water frontage. According to Erick Anderson, an American who has been living here since the 1960s and knows Douglas well, the actor is looking at a project to potentially incorporate organic gardens and solar power.

Anderson believes that good development is achieved by combining good master planning, good architecture, and good investors. If any one of these elements is missing, bad things begin to happen, especially in the challenging topography and sensitive environment of Roatan’s Far East.

According to Anderson, some developers see the limited in scope and quantity JSG municipal fines as a cost of doing business. “It is a moral failure on their [developer’s] part,” he said. “They need to understand they are destroying a resource that should belong to a community for a long term use.” Anderson says that it is bad for the neighborhood to have developments like that on Roatan. These types of developments discourage potential investors that are looking for pristine, beautiful environment to situate their development.

Diamond Rock Rocks

The Czech investment in land development on the island’s Far East dates back to the early 2000s. Businessman Iri Maska has built a brewery off the main road south of Punta Gorda, and since then has had many Czech investors come to the island.

The biggest of them all is developer Ivan Soška, who came to Roatan 14 years ago. In 2013, he purchased 13 acres with the idea to develop 53 homes in Diamond Rock. “I started to feel the nature here,” says Soška. “The municipal requires a 10 percent green area to be set aside. I set aside 65 percent. If I cut a tree, I plant 20 other.”

After selling out the lots to his fellow Czechs, Soška purchased another 27 acres up the hill from his development and named it Diamond Hill. In 2018, he added another 40 acres to his growing development right on the waterfront.

His sensible approach to developing land is paying off. Soška believes that the green, respectful-to-nature Diamond Hill development has attracted a more varied clientele for his house lots which now include Americans and Canadians. “They are using construction with step-down instead of just counter livered instead and of cutting the hill with big bulldozers,” said Anderson. “That would create erosion and upset the environment.”

The locals have taken notice and warmed up to the tall Czech developer and his three sons. “They are one of the better developments out there,” said Anderson. “They did a good job with landscaping and respect for the environment.”

Santos Guardiola has been the forgotten, ugly sister of Roatan.

Paya Bay for Boaters

Paya Bay has been a sleepy, overlooked, and spectacular beach just west of Camp Bay beach. Now, even sleepy Paya Bay is getting its share of development dollars. The gated, high end community will have access to Paya Bay Resort.

The project consists of two parts: a 180 room condo hotel on the beach and 18 canal front house lots.

Managing partner for the project is Henrik Jensen, a long time Danish Roatan businessman who has build both commercial and housing projects all over the island. The development is located on 19 acres and should be operational by 2027.

Golfing in Luna Azul

Bordering Media Luna to its West, Luna Azul is the largest development ever undertaken in José Santos Guardiola. The 110-acre development, with 380 lots, even surpasses the large 200-acre Parrot Tree development with the number of lots.

Adam Gram, a Danish developer who developed several projects on the western side of the island, is the developer of this now third golf course community project on Roatan. The development is planned in three phases and centers around a golf course, a beach club, a tennis court, and a private beach. As of March 2024, around 60 percent of the roads have been completed, and the golf course design is in progress.

No More Stilts

Scott Miller has stealthily become the man with the most land under development on the island. He is developing three projects in and around Camp Bay: Caribbean Bliss, Camp Bay Estates, and Sunset Vistas. Miller is also developing a project inside West End’s Luna Beach, as well as his biggest project called Sea Breeze just east of Luna Azul. While most of Roatan developers started locally, or came from abroad and focused solely on one development, Miller comes with plenty of experience, cash, and a soon-to-boom vision for Roatan.

Miller comes from a long line a bridge and dam builders in California and Arizona. He has also developed resorts and properties in Belize and Costa Rica. He has three development companies in the US: one in Arizona, one in California, and one in Washington State. He has also developed resorts and apartment complexes all over the Caribbean. “I depend on a really good team of professionals,” says Miller.

They need to understand they are destroying a resource.

In 2013, Miller came to Roatan scouting the island for Hilton Hotels to see if the island was ready for the chain. “I told them it wasn’t,” said Miller, who ended up building a house on the island the following year. “I love it here. People are not after your money like in Costa Rica or Belize,” says Miller. Now Miller believes Hilton and Marriot should be just about ready to invest here.

Camp Bay Estates is right next to Las Vistas in Camp Bay.

Back in the US, Miller is friends with quite a few professional athletes potentially interested in having second homes here. With new roads and new airlines eyeing Roatan, he believes the island is on a trajectory to attract a more affluent and demanding clientele made up of home owners from the US. “One thing they will not do is live in a house on stilts,” said Miller. That is the main reason his developments create slab-on-grade type of construction, which require aggressive soil displacement, something some of his neighbors are not always happy about.

Above Punta Blanca

Punta Blanca is Santos Guardiola’s north shore community and dates back to the 1990s. It is surrounded by rolling hills with plenty of development opportunities and fantastic views to the north, south, and east.

Fernando Santana found his 5.5 acre Aroha Estates Punta Blanca development site almost by chance. “As I was walking through the jungle, I found an old ‘for sale’ sign on the property,” said Santana, who was a furniture vendor several years before transitioning to being a home construction supervisor and developer.

The property was originally called Buena Vista, and featured sprawling views in all directions. “I called the person and purchased it even before seeing what I was purchasing. It was a leap of faith,” said Santana, who also helps a local architect with design ideas.

Developer Fernando Santana at one of the houses in Aroha Estates.

Las Vistas in Camp Bay

Las Vistas is located right across from the entrance to Camp Bay’s public beach. Las Vistas was originally five acres of development by American developer Blaine Bell, who later purchased another six acres adjacent to the property, and the Port Royal National Park. There is an added ecological responsibility to building next to a [Port Royal] National Park. “The idea is to build something in an eco sensitive feel,” said Hugo Coello, a principal at Hugo Coello Architects and also a builder for Las Vistas.

Las Vistas development is planned to accommodate 40 home sites. Underground utilities have been laid in place for the first 25 lots and an impressive entry gate is almost finished. Coello is working with Bell, who has been on the island for ten years and decided to become a developer.

Coello believes the roads should follow as much as possible the contour lines of the topography of the often steep landscape on the island. The idea is to disrupt the soil as little as possible and maintain the location of the site. Acting a bit like a “horse whisperer,” Coello depends and listens to his surroundings to tell him what is appropriate and what is not. “I wait for the land to suggest what is needed,” said Coello.

Coello is known for making master plans, and he created the master plan for Las Vistas and Luna Azul. “Clients hire me because they want something nice, in budget, and something that is respectful of the ecosystem,” said Coello. He makes an effort to give a distinctive identity to each of his projects with materials, colors, and details. Coello has been designing homes on Roatan for 20 years. “We pick the type of home, the type of material that fits,” he said. “I like glass walls, to take advantage as much as possible of the views.”

The Concerns

There are quite a few people concerned with how quickly the land is being developed, and with how it is being done without much regard for the fragile environment of the island. One of these voices is Erick Anderson, an expat who has lived on Roatan since the 1960s. He founded Bay Islands Conservation Association [BICA] from his home in Port Royal.

Anderson says he supports projects that are respectful of the environment, architecturally attractive, and provide a sustainable and long-term benefit to the community. Local jobs are important, but preservation of the soil and vegetation and protecting animals is as well. That, according to Anderson, does not always happen. “I used to push, push for developments and roads and infrastructure,” said Anderson. “What I am worried about is too much development too fast, and that it would spiral out of control.”

East of Roatan has a different climate than the west of the island: different vegetation, different soil. Building here is a bit trickier than on the west side. “They are destroying the exact thing that makes it attractive and beautiful,” said Anderson. “We [BICA] have been petitioning through for SERNA to come and look at these developments so they can understand what is going on.”

The idea is to disrupt the soil as little as possible.

There are new developers, good developers, and sometime not so good developers. Some developers get in trouble on the financing front, others get in trouble working on steep sites that are all over Roatan. “They don’t have a right to destroy this if you have a good master plan,” said Anderson. “They [some developers] are cutting all the trees on site, and cutting them down with bulldozers.”

Anderson believes the JSG development projects should be done with proper master planning, in a way that is sustainable for the future of the community. “Someone who is doing a master plan has to be someone who has a huge experience in what they are doing,” said Coello. “The most important is the approach of the design,” said Coello. “There are several examples [of development] that are just terrible.”

Environmental licenses are given out by SERNA, and typically are not easy to get. “For my lotification [at Camp Bay beach], it took me two years and $20,000 for my development to get all the permits,” said Anderson. “The idea is to protect the reef, mangroves, and all the assets that we have.”

Unfortunately, as copies of SERNA or Municipal permits are not displayed on construction sites, it is difficult for the public to understand what is planned. When work takes place, it is all yesterday’s news. There is no manner to move back hills, uncut roads, replant 100-year-old trees.

The projects that have caused environmental damage are usually an example of the failure of four entities: the failure of supervision on the national Honduran level by SERNA- the Honduran Ministry of Environment, the JSG Municipality’s environmental department, the developers themselves, and the local communities themselves, represented by patronatos.

Unspoiled land in José Santos Guardiola is like Bitcoin.

The Future

What could lie ahead for the island are zoning laws like in the nearby La Ceiba. According to Coello, some more populous municipalities in Honduras developed zoning restrictions and enforcement as they grew in size. Those are principally cities of Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, and La Ceiba. Coello believes building restrictions on Roatan should be done not on a zoning level, but on the consciousness level of the stakeholders involved in developing land across Roatan. The architect believes that more education of people doing master planning and construction should be done.

Much of the land on Roatan’s Far East side remains unspoiled, filled with rolling hills of old growth forests and teaming with wildlife. That is what past generations of islanders have bestowed to the Roatanians in the 21st century. That innumerable resource is not always appreciated.

The Roatan land has served as shelter, food and building resources for islanders for 227 years now. Today, that resource is at risk. If it is destroyed, there will be practically no way of getting it back. The haphazard development of West Bay hopefully will serve as an example of what to do, and what not to do.

For now, the unspoiled land in José Santos Guardiola is like Bitcoin, the longer you keep it as it is, the higher value it will achieve – barring any unpredictable world crisis and catastrophic weather events, of course.