Contrary to the past, there are many condominiums coming up today to satisfy the growing space demand of the rising population. Lush green stretches have now been replaced by sky high buildings. Though condominium construction is considered to be a lucrative business, they facilitate many to move into urban cities. However, original residents often oppose such constructions because they may create disturbance to their usual routine. While residents have the right to petition against such constructions and demand for their rights, it should be noted as many authorities pointed out, that such development constructions were essential in a rapidly modernizing world where there is an acute lack of space.
Pics by Damith wickramasinghe
n a string of such constructions and objections, the latest endeavour to create turmoil is the proposed condominium in the Epitamulla Road in Kotte. Sources (Daily Financial Times - October 17) state that the proposed construction would house 99 apartments in 21 floors. When the Daily Mirror visited the property in question, we found that construction has not yet even begun.
Residents of the area allege that the construction is illegal as the proposal has not met stipulated requirements. However, when we spoke to the relevant authorities we found that this project had been approved under various conditions which eventually satisfy the requirements for condominium projects. Nevertheless, the approval has now been suspended as a result of the many complaints made by residents. Authorities have urged residents to take a more progressive approach in accepting change and development.
Residents of the area have formally petitioned against the construction. The first petition containing 41 signatures was sent to the Minister of Finance, Ravi Karunanayake, with the hope that he would intercede and convince the Municipal Council Commissioner, Shantha P. Liyanage to look into this issue. The petition notes that the construction violates the ownership rights of the residents as there is a narrow access road, threats of environment pollution, traffic movement etc.
Minister Karunanayake in turn, has written to the Municipal Commissioner asking her to ‘stand against this colossal damage to the environment and cancel the approval granted to build this condominium.” In his letter to the Commissioner he has reiterated the grievances of the residents adding that as the Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte zone was below sea level and therefore, all the government offices and the parliament sewerage were physically moved by gully bowsers and dumped into the sea.
The residents told us that they received information that the MC had granted approval though they had been verbally informed by Municipal Council Officials that approval was pending. Accordingly, they sent a second petition to the Kotte Municipal Commissioner seeking information citing the RTI Act. In this petition they have asked as to whether approval has been granted for the construction and if so, on what grounds it had been done.
“This project is illegal for several reasons. A condominium of this nature can only be constructed provided that there is an access road with a minimum width of 9 metres at the entry (where it branches off the main road) to the property. The idea here among other reasons is that the fire risk in a condominium is higher than elsewhere, and a fire truck has to travel in case of any emergency. The Epitamulla Road does not conform to these requirements. In certain stretches of the road, the width is not even 4.5 metres,” said Ranjan Mendis, a senior lawyer who lives in close proximity to the property.
However, the Daily Mirror learned through UDA sources that the road width requirement is considered for the roads adjoining the property and not for the whole road. “At the entry point at the Epitamulla road, it is more than 60 feet wide and subsequently it narrows down. On any road, you can’t expect the same width from the entry to the exit point. Some people have also encroached on the road. In most parts of this road you find fences instead of walls as you are legally responsible when walls are erected. So we don’t consider the whole road. The road width requirement is applicable to the roads surrounding the property,” UDA officials said.
Another UDA officer who visited the site said that the road width was not adequate for construction at the moment. “But the developer has promised to give a stretch of this land to the Municipal Council to widen the three roads concerned, and therefore, the road width requirement would be fulfilled,” he said. Further, UDA officials informed us that fire clearance has been obtained for the project.
Residents also complained that as certain stretches of the road were narrow, there were frequent traffic jams during rush hours. “The ‘Mission Lane’ which is a by- lane connected to the Epitamulla Road would become uni-flow during certain times of the day. There will definitely be severe congestion on the road,” said a resident. “ During the morning hours, the road is anyway congested. You would find bottlenecks right along this road,” said another resident under conditions of anonymity.
According to Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation sources, the Jayawadenepura Kotte zone lies below sea level. Hence if sewage is disposed into the ground it could contaminate ground water and the wells of the neighbouring houses. “There is no practical way of disposing waste in this 60- perch land in a manner that is acceptable and meets the present day engineering requirements. This has not been looked into by the officials who have granted approval,” said Mendis.
“At the moment, we have individual drainage systems organized by the householders themselves,” said another resident.
Iranganie Serasinghe, the veteran cinema and TV artiste and a famed environmentalist who is also a resident of the area voiced concern in respect of this matter. “Most of these houses have wells and there’s a huge possibility that they could be contaminated as a result of this massive construction. I am very perturbed. It’s quite a disastrous situation as this sky scraper is to be erected in the midst of a whole lot of small houses,” she said.
“How are they going to dispose of their waste? How are they going to get the water they require to run such a big establishment? The road is not wide enough to accommodate vehicular traffic. How did they get the approval?”
- Residents "
Nevertheless, the Central Environment Authority (CEA) told us that the CEA clearance has been issued to this condominium project under various conditions of which one is that waste water will not be released to the environment. According to a CEA official, the proposal submitted mentions that waste water from regular day-to-day consumption would be reused, while in exceptional emergency cases bowsers would remove the sewage.
UDA officials told us that when construction began, the developer would have to sign an agreement with the Municipal Council with regards to how waste would be disposed. However construction has not yet begun.
Noise pollution and damage to houses
“The construction will have a deep excavation. While construction is underway the whole area will reverberate. This will be a great disturbance to the surrounding houses,” Serasinghe added. However, the UDA officials told us that the CEA was responsible for examining noise emissions, and accordingly, the project has obtained the CEA clearance. Its officers said that during construction a noise exceeding 60 decibels could not be emitted during the day and construction was prohibited strictly during the night. Abiding by these conditions (among many others), the CEA clearance has been granted.
Other residents who requested anonymity expressed fear for their houses as their houses could collapse due to their inability to withstand the pressure exerted by the deep excavation for the construction. “Cracks could appear on our walls and the house itself may collapse,” one resident said.
When we asked the UDA about this they said, “The structural engineer issues a certificate and also certifies the plan. He has to give a detailed structural plan instructing construction to be done in a manner that it will not be an obstacle to neighbouring houses. So there is a condition that neighbouring houses should not face detrimental consequences as a result of this construction. Further, there is an insurance coverage for damages that could be incurred by the neighbouring houses and even to the roads. So they are liable for any damages caused to the roads, walls of neighbouring houses etc. This insurance is obtained just before construction. These are all conditions stated when we give approval for any construction,” they said.
Residents also allege that the condominium would generate a huge demand for water which in turn would affect their water pressure. However, officials from the Kotte Water Supply and Drainage Board informed us that they always acted on the best interest of the people and would not in anyway give clearances for condominiums which could affect those already residing in the area. When asked about the condominium project in the Epitamulla Road, he said that the project had been issued with a clearance certificate though certain requirements have been put forth. “When we issue clearances, especially to such condominiums, we make sure that the nearby residences will not be affected. In this case we have issued a certificate signed by the DGM under the condition that certain improvements are made to meet our requirements” he said.
When we contacted the Kotte Municipal Council, its Engineer Thivaharan told us that though approval had been granted for the project, it has been temporarily suspended at the moment. “We have received several complaints from residents. We also found that certain documents have not been submitted. When the lacking 10% of documents are submitted, we can proceed. Several parties have written to us regarding this matter and we hope to send reports to all of them during the course of this week,” he added.
An officer from the UDA under conditions of anonymity said that the UDA approval was pending while the Kotte Municipal Council approval has been temporarily suspended. “This project has obtained all the permits relevant to the building, approvals and clearances except for the approval from the UDA. There is no regulation or law asking for a UDA approval, but as a practice, the developer is required to furnish all the documents when the construction begins including the UDA approval. At the moment, the construction has not begun so he is not obliged to furnish them,” she said.
When asked as to why the UDA approval has not been granted, she said, “Many residents have complained and have even met ministers. This has made the developer hesitant to come to us and obtain the approval.” Referring to the suspension of the approval by the Kotte Municipal Council, she said, “Approval was granted under the condition that a stretch of 20 feet is handed over to the Municipal Council. For the other two roads concerned, we have asked them not to construct in the stretch ranging 20 feet from the middle of the road to the property. So the building plan has been drawn outside this stretch. We asked the developer to get all the clearances (such as the CMA, CEA etc) and to legally handover the stretch of land to the Municipal Council within two weeks. But as they failed to do this within two weeks, we received complaints regarding this project and the approval was suspended.”
“Most of these houses have wells and there’s a huge possibility that they could be contaminated as a result of this massive construction. I am very perturbed. It’s quite a disastrous situation as this sky scraper is to be erected in the midst of a whole lot of small houses,”
- Iranganie Serasinghe, veteran cinema artiste, environmentalist and area resident"
When asked if the project could still obtain the approval she said, “Approval could be obtained. Since the residents have made complaints, there would be some difficulties in getting it.”
“People complain because they see such condominiums as a threat to their tranquil and serene neighbourhood. Usually when such a project comes up, the client (developer) has to ensure that they get the blessings of the neighbours as well. In other condominium projects, the developer offers jobs and houses to residents, thus establishing trust and faith with them. But in this case, the project has not even begun. It is just on paper,” she added.
Meanwhile the Condominium Management Authority has issued its clearance certificate for the project.“But this is not a final approval. It will still need the UDA and other local authority approvals in case they have not yet been obtained,” said Kapila Wickramasinghe, the Assistant General Manager of the CMA. Elaborating on the responsibilities of the CMA he stated, “We see if the specified requirements have been fulfilled. For instance, we look into whether the condominium has a maintenance room, committee room, facilities available for disabled people, security and parking facilities.”
Among many allegations that the relevant authorities were not very cooperative, one resident specifically stated that she had met the CMA General Manager, who said that the clearance certificate had been issued. However, the chairman had voiced the negative though he had later admitted that it had been. However, they had not provided her with a copy and have asked her to get it from the developer.
“We sent a decoy to Capital Trust who was told that the Housing Development Authority HDA had approved the project,” said a resident who wished not to be named. But when the Daily Mirror contacted the HDA, it learnt that they were not authorized to give approval to such condominiums.
i have asked uda, mc to answer residents
Harsha de Silva,
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that the residents of the area have complained to him about the proposed project. “I have asked the Kotte Municipal Commissioner, UDA Chairman and the chairman of the CMA to submit a status report with regards to this matter. Meanwhile, I have asked the UDA and MC to answer the queries raised by the residents,” he added.
A national issue
Stating that this was more of a national issue, veteran artiste Serasinghe added “Sri Lanka is running out of space. Our population has increased and there is no space to accommodate them all. There is not enough space to grow food and we see jungles being felled. Sky-high buildings would be a solution to this issue when it comes to space. But when they erect such constructions, they have to analyse as to whether the site is suitable for such a condominium.”
Residents who are in favour of the construction
Meanwhile, certain residents allege that it was a group of people who were against the construction. “There is one group of people who try to infuriate other residents by pointing out issues such as waste disposal and water consumption.
But there are condominiums coming up everywhere now with solutions. They fear that the value of their property would go down, that there wouldn’t be sufficient air and sunlight coming into their houses.
There are narrow stretches on this road, but we do manage. I also think that this condominium would increase security in this area,” said one of the residents who was in favour of the Epitamulla Road condominium project.