Daycare centres and the like may meet the needs of society, but what happens when they are in your neighbourhood?
SIX months ago, a home for old folks opened a few doors away from designer Carol Lau’s family home in George Town, Penang.
And it is “driving everyone crazy”, according to the 30-year-old who is firmly against businesses and homes being allowed to operate in residential areas because it puts the neighbourhood’s security, safety and comfort at risk.
Traffic congestion resulting from visitors who block the residents’ front gates and park haphazardly along the road are the least of their problems, she claims.
The sound of the elderly whining in the middle of the night and ambulance coming regularly is “quite disturbing”, she adds.
Lau sighs as she reflects on how the beauty of the neighbourhood has “gone down the drain”.
“Waking up every morning to a large group of wheelchair-bound aunties and uncles sitting out in the garden, and wet blankets and bedsheets lining the fence is not a very pleasant way to start the day,” she laments.
“If they can turn a residential house into a home for the elderly and infirm, I fear a beauty parlour and reflexology centre will come up next.”
A nursing home supervisor who declined to be named admits that senior citizens can, on rare occasions, be noisy.
“But if you speak to them nicely, they will pipe down. For those who are sick, with Alzheimer’s disease for example, we use medication to keep their episodes manageable to avoid disturbing the neighbours,” he says.
According to this nursing home supervisor, who manages two homes that have been in operation for more than two decades in Petaling Jaya’s residential areas, they have not received any complaints.
While non-profit organisations and business operators in residential areas are pleading for tolerance, residents who demand a “nuisance-free” neighbourhood are arguing that housing areas must be maintained as such. They feel that the local councils should not change the status of residential land for commercial purposes or allow homeowners to do anything other than live there.
Recently, a centre for children and adults with disabilities in Petaling Jaya faced possible eviction after neighbours filed a judicial review application to quash the planning permission granted by their city council allowing the premises to be used as a daycare centre. Citing nuisance and intolerable noise, they also sought a court order restraining the owner from using the house for any other use except as a dwelling area.
Daniel Cheng, who heads the recycling unit of the Beautiful Gate Foundation for the Disabled, says his organisation, which supports itself by selling recyclable items like newspapers, aluminium cans, used clothes and old books, has received a fair number of complaints.
Located in a residential area, the premises stores the recyclable materials they collect, and this has made some of the neighbours unhappy, he says.
“They claim it’s messy, dirty and unsightly and photos have been sent to the city council for action. Usually, we just keep quite and move as much as we can into the house,” he says, adding that people from other areas where the foundation’s recycling bins are located have also called to complain.
He pleads with such people to be patient.
“We are providing a service to those who do not have space for their junk while raising funds for our operations. Recycling is also good for the environment, so we hope that everyone can be more tolerant of us,” he reasons.
But for Edmund Ngo, 27, good fences make good neighbours. The post-graduate student insists that residents have rights too. A balance should be struck between the individual and community’s rights, he opines.
Stressing that while a little consideration goes a long way, those who move into a place that is noisy or dirty must have solutions to mitigate the problem instead of simply complaining.
Citing his parents who live next to a sewage treatment pond as an example, he shares how in frustration, they took the initiative to build a solid, high brick wall to keep the stench at bay.
A daycare centre operator in Bandar Utama says that as long as a business is operating legally, it should not be made to move.
The owner has invested a lot on renovating the premises so it would be unfair for unhappy neighbours to try and oust them, she says.
“The local council would have given due consideration to the application before issuing a permit,” she says.
“Problems arise because the guidelines of what kind of business is allowed in a residential area are too flexible to the point that anything goes. Ideally, stakeholders should try to find a win-win situation for all quarters and this means sitting down to talk about the dos and don’ts.”
The daycare operator, who requested anonymity, says she makes it a point to build close ties with her neighbours and the residents’ association.
She adds that she constantly reminds parents who send their kids to the centre to park their vehicles properly.
“Yes, the kids laugh and shout but that’s only during playtime, which is usually for 20 minutes at the longest. Most of the time they are learning quietly indoors,” she says, adding that most residential areas will have daycare centres for the convenience of parents.
“Clearly there is a demand for us to be here,” she says.
Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) School of Housing Building and Planning professor of engineering construction Datuk Dr Mahyuddin Ramli agrees, saying that caring for children, senior citizens and the disabled are among services that society welcomes.
Living with three daycare centres nearby has never bothered him, he says.
“It is common. Local councils usually allow businesses to operate in a residential area unless they cause pollution or are harmful to the health and well-being of the community. Obviously, factories will not be tolerated,” he says.
Dr Mahyuddin, who is also the National Council of Professors’ engineering, technology and built environment cluster deputy head, is urging local councils to balance the needs of businesses with the rights of residents.
For Michael Geh of Raine & Horne Malaysia, a firm of chartered surveyors and registered valuers, what some term a “nuisance” can actually enhance the value of the property in a residential area.
“Whether or not the services provided by these operators enhance the value of the property in an area depends a lot on how things are conducted. For instance, a home for senior citizens must be well-run, clean and pleasant (for it to be a considered a valuable service),” the property consultant opines.
Eden Handicap Service Centre (Penang) general manager Bertie Tye is grateful that the centre’s neighbours are an understanding lot who rarely complain.
The non-profit centre provides services such as free daycare, rehabilitation, living skills development and training programmes to those with disabilities.
“When parents drop off their kids, the neighbours sometimes get irritated because their cars are blocked. Otherwise, they’ve been very supportive,” he says.
Tye feels that homes for the old folks and the disabled should not be seen as a nuisance regardless of whether they are for profit or charity. Such homes should be considered residential rather than commercial, he suggests, adding that residents of these homes should not be treated “like a nuisance”.
“They may not look pleasant and can sometimes make noise but they are residents nonetheless. Ultimately, home operators will know how to manage their inmates so as not to disturb others,” he says.
Instead of finding fault, get to know the neighbours, he appeals.
This, however, is easier said than done, according to housewife Maggie Chan who lives in Kota Damansara. There are “countless” houses in her area that have been converted into daycare centres, she says.
“Sleeping past 9.30am is impossible because of the noise. Regardless of whether a daycare centre or whatever operation is for profit or not, no one likes to be inconvenienced and made to live in a loud, congested, busy environment. They (the operators) are making money but we are suffering,” she sighs.
Cafe owner Neoh Ghee Yea, 40, agrees.
For the past five years, her neighbourhood has been putting up with a mechanic who “reserves” the entire alley next to his workshop for his customers.
When there are no cars to be repaired, he puts up tables and chairs so that no one else can drive through or park their cars there.
“The problem goes beyond noise, water and air pollution. It involves the illegal and inappropriate use of public space,” Neoh says.
“Once a local council grants permission to whoever and for whatever purpose, they must monitor the operation closely. This is to ensure that our rights as residents are protected,” she points out.
MBPJ public relations officer Zainun Zakaria says feedback from neighbours is always obtained before planning permission is granted.
“Businesses are allowed in residential areas but if there are objections from the neighbours, we will not approve the application,” she explains.
And even after the planning permission is issued, residents still have a right to voice their grievances if the operator has not complied with requirements spelled out in the licence, she adds.