JOHN BATTEN GALLERY / 20-26 Staunton Street /
20-26 Staunton Street, Central
KEEP SOHO LOW!
Another application has just been filed with the Town Planning Board and the deadline for comments is 20 March 2007. Again, unless you actually travel down to the Town Planning Board office in North Point, you will not know what the proposed development entails.
I will briefly explain their plans and give an example letter - which you can copy and send to the Town Planning Board.
Sino Land wish to develop 20-26 Staunton Street (currently two separate buildings) into a 24-storey office tower and 5 levels of restaurant space – the façade of one building, Staunton House, will be retained.
The major problems with Sino Land's proposal is:
PLEASE make your views KNOWN to the Town Planning Board.
Comments can be sent direct to the Town Planning Board to:
Keep SOHO Low!
THIS IS THE LETTER I WILL SEND TO THE TOWN PLANNING BOARD – IT IS DETAILED AND OUTLINES SOME OF THE OBJECTIONS WITH THE PROPOSED DEVELOPMENT AT 20-26 STAUNTON STREET
PLEASE USE ANY OF THIS INFORMATION IN YOUR OWN LETTERS TO THE TOWN PLANNING BOARD.
Secretary, Town Planning Board
Dear Sir / Madam
Re: 20-26 Staunton Street, Central, Hong Kong - Proposed Offices, Shops, Eating Places and Services
Application number: A/H3/377
I live nearby to this proposed development and I, until last year, ran an art gallery in SOHO. I know the area well.
I strongly object to the applicant's proposed re-development of 20-26 Staunton Street, Central for the following reasons:
1. The SOHO Area
The area is in the middle of ‘SOHO' – an area that presently comprises restaurants, bars (most with liquor license conditions that restrict bar operating hours), boutiques, galleries and designer shops. The area's unique character will be adversely affected by the applicant's office tower development.
2. A Commercial Building in a Residential Area
The applicant wishes to build a 24-storey office building, however this is totally unacceptable as the area is currently NOT a commercial area. The applicant justifies their application proposal by using the Kinwick Centre on Hollywood Road as an example; Hollywood Road, however, is an established commercial area; SOHO is not . By allowing this proposal, the special characteristics of the SOHO area will be compromised. I demand the Town Planning Board maintain the current restriction of any commercial activity to only be allowable on the first three floors of any building in the SOHO area.
When the first restaurants and bars were set-up in SOHO in the mid-1990s (just after the construction of the Mid-levels Escalator), residents complained of noise – but the mix of people and businesses has changed over the last 10 years - the residents who NOW live in SOHO have made a conscious decision to live in this vibrate cosmopolitan area; these new residents are generally younger and single. Many of the old tong lau have been successfully converted, renovated and upgraded by small property investors and new property owners. Older residents and previous property owners have also benefited by the increase in property prices.
3. Building Height Limitations Needed in SOHO
The proposed building height is TOO TALL. The applicant's proposed 24-storey development is just bad urban planning. Such a development does not complement the character of the buildings that are adjacent to this site; low-rise tong lau buildings that are appropriate for the steep narrow streets and the few vehicular transport options currently characterize this area.
Such a high-rise development is also out of keeping with current public expectations that Hong Kong urgently needs to deal with traffic congestion, overcrowding, air pollution, and an end to the construction of buildings that create ‘curtain walls' and ‘canyons' of buildings. Tall buildings are not good planning in this area – there are already too many tall buildings in Central and Mid-levels – it is over-built.
An acceptable height in SOHO is 8 storeys. We demand that the Town Planning Board enforce a height restriction of 8 storeys in any present and future developments in SOHO.
4. Misleading Heritage Statements
The applicant says that its development will “help preserve the unique cultural and historical character of the area and to integrate more coherently with scale and architectural character of the surrounding buildings, the existing 5-story Staunton House will be retained.” The current building, named Staunton House, has NO particular historic features worthy of preservation. The applicant is being duplicitous and intentionally misleading by stating that the FAÇADE of Staunton House will be retained - the building is not historic nor, by building a 24-storey office and commercial building on the site will the “scale and architectural character of the area” be preserved. The Town Planning Board should dismiss and censure such misleading statements by the applicant.
5. Answers on Form S16-5 Need Substantiating
The applicant completed information on Form SI6-5 that was submitted in their application to the Town Planning Board. One question on the form asks: “would the development proposal cause any adverse impacts?” on the following:
The applicant ticked the box ‘no' for each of these questions.
I believe, that the applicant needs to substantiate these answers – otherwise, these answers appear to be a seriously casual approach to completion of an official form. I note the following:
Another tall building will block natural sunlight; block airflow; trap pollution in the narrow streets of SOHO; block views for residents in adjacent buildings. The proposed building will add to the degradation of our environment.
Is the applicant seriously suggesting that, by building a 24-storey building to replace the present 5-storey building, that vehicular traffic will not increase? The applicant argues that the development is near to the Mid-levels Escalator, but ANY building attracts a wide variety of activity – not just pedestrian traffic. To suggest that vehicular traffic will not increase is seriously wrong. The applicant has provided no traffic impact study related to this development to substantiate their assertion.
A traffic impact report undertaken by Wilbur Smith Associates – traffic consultants and submitted in relation to the Urban Renewal Authority's Rezoning Application for Comprehensive Development at Graham Street, Gage Street, Peel Street, Central (Town Planning Board application A/H3/375) indicates that the Aberdeen Street/Hollywood Road intersection will become seriously congested. Staunton Street runs into Aberdeen Street and the applicant's development will add further pressure to the already serious traffic congestion and traffic noise of the area.
The water supply for Mid-levels has recently been upgraded (new pipes running along Peel Street have been upgraded – with construction lasting for over 2 years) due to the increased number of residential developments and a corresponding increase in demand. Has the SOHO water supply - with increased demand from restaurants - also been upgraded?
Drainage: the answer ‘no' is probably appropriate, however there is no mention that there are currently serious water drainage problems at the rear of the property.
Slopes/Affected by slopes:
The applicant has made NO mention of the dangerous retaining wall that will require upgrading and runs along the lane at the rear of 20-26 Staunton Street. The Building Authority notified all owners of affected properties (including 20-26 Staunton Street) about the retaining wall features 11SW-B/R61 and 11SW-B/R62. Please refer to Building Authority orders: DH33/HK/96/C; DH34/HK/96/C; DH59/HK/96/C; DH79/HK/99/C; DH80/HK/99/C DH81/HK/99/C.
I believe the applicant should have addressed some issues relating to the retaining wall e.g. would a development such as the applicant's that requires foundation pile-driving cause instability to the retaining wall and/or adjoining properties; would the current leaking wall and heavy flow of water make the ground of adjacent properties unstable etc.
Landscape impact/visual impact:
Despite identifying the heritage features of SOHO and the area as one of Hong Kong's ‘nodes' for tourism – the proposed design of the applicant's 24-storey is just a standard boring office tower. There is NO distinguishing or special architectural features in the applicant's proposed building. The design is not environmentally friendly nor of a sustainable design. The ‘sky garden/refuge' is, despite its name, not a garden but an unfriendly concrete space that will be enclosed be the tower block above it – the term ‘refuge' is undefined; but probably refers to a space for rubbish to be kept (as there appears to be no other space for rubbish to be stored in the proposed design)!
6. Mixed Use of Building
The applicant is vague about their term ‘mixed use'. It is implied in their proposal that the 24-storey office tower could also house other restaurants, cafes and/or entertainment facilities. But the design of the building makes it bad for any people-orientated/entertainment operations such as restaurants e.g. what special kitchen facilities; storage; waste disposal; separate air-conditioning for each office unit etc has been incorporated in the proposed design? The proposed design appears to be a standard office tower and allowing other uses – e.g. karaoke bars, restaurants etc – would be highly inappropriate.
7. Unsafe Rear Lane
The applicant's proposed design has an emergency exit leading to the rear lane (a pedestrian-only lane and access via slippery steep stairs at the Cochrane Street end of lane) – as previously pointed out there is a dangerous retaining wall running behind 20-26 Staunton Street. The applicant has not noted that this lane is not safe due to the slippery path caused by inadequate drainage. One end of the lane is presently blocked by two illegal building structures (despite orders for their demolition, they are still standing).
An emergency exit leading onto this lane is problematic – a report from the Fire Services Department would make interesting reading!
8. Public Demand for Low Buildings
A related application - not far from the applicant's site - that the Town Planning Board will soon consider is the Rezoning application for the Former Police Married Quarters (TPB Application number: Y/H3/2). This application received 1,200 letters of support for the rezoning of the Former Police Quarters to GIC and Open Space – a review of these letters will show that many people demanded that the building of inappropriate tall buildings cease in the SOHO and Mid-levels area. The area is over-built and people are demanding a cessation to construction noise; more open views; access to sunlight; open green space; the preservation of heritage areas and no more tall buildings.
9. Narrow Footpaths
The SOHO area has extremely narrow footpaths – the footpath in front of 20-26 Staunton Street is narrow and it is impossible for two people to walk abreast without one person needing to step into the street when passing. SOHO is a restaurant area, so the delivery of goods, fresh food, ice, and beverages is constant. There is little appropriate parking for delivery vehicles and, at night, pedestrian traffic is very high. The applicant addresses none of these issues and the proposed design of the building gives no solutions e.g. deliveries of food etc will go through the same front door as visitors to the office tower ( and the rear exit is unusable for deliveries).
10. Public Consultation and Signage
It appears that the applicant has not canvassed the opinion of adjacent properties and their owners, restaurant operators, galleries or boutiques. The area is a success already – the building of an office tower in SOHO would degrade and diminish the appeal of the area for the many people who visit it for what it currently offers.
The public notice calling for public comment makes NO mention that a 24-storey office tower will be built on the site. Why has this important detail been omitted from the official notice? The notices are also NOT facing the road, but are in the entrances to the two buildings – why are they not facing the road?
I demand that the Town Planning Board extends the public comment period and rectify the notices by accurately describing the proposed development e.g. clearly stating that a 24-storey office tower will be built on the site.
I hope my comments have helped the Town Planning Board consider this application and I urge that this proposed development application be rejected.
Member of Central & Western Concern Group