Plan to redevelop Vivekananda Ashram is put on hold

Vivekananda birthday celebration at Vivekananda Ashram in Brickfields.(11/01/2015/S.S.KANESAN/The Star)

KUALA Lumpur mayor Datuk Seri Ahmad Phesal Talib has postponed all matters pertaining to the request for planning permission requested by the trustees of Vivekananda Ashram Kuala Lumpur to redevelop the century-old building, until the site is gazetted as a National Heritage site.

This also means that the application process under Rule 5 has been put on hold for the time being.

Rule 5 is a provision of law that requires the mayor to refer to the registered owners of the adjacent land, through advertisements in newspapers and exhibition to invite objections to the application for development that involves the conversion of land use, zoning or increase in residential density. It is part of the Planning Development Amendment Rules 1994, a bylaw under the Federal Territory Planning Act 1982.

“We are postponing the process of planning approval until the Heritage National Commission gazettes the site (as a National Heritage),” said Ahmad Phesal.

“They (Heritage Commission) have notified us of their intention to gazette the site and in respect of that we will postpone the Rule 5 process until everything is clear,” he elaborated.

“Once it is gazetted, we will reject the application,” he added.

Meanwhile, local government and planning law expert Derek Fernandez said Ahmad Phesal was correct in his approach, explaining that there were only two options available to him: “The first, the hearing under Rule 5 is stayed or postponed until the process under the Heritage Act is completed. Or he proceeds with the hearing and rejects the application on the grounds that a process has begun under the Heritage Act and the Interim Protection Order effectively makes it impossible for the applicant to succeed at the hearing. In addition, the application itself contradicts Kuala Lumpur City Hall’s own Draft Plan,” he said.

“The mayor is being fair to the developer by staying the hearing and that is the right thing to do to enable them to meet the heritage process first,” he added.

Meanwhile, Heritage Commissioner Dr Zainah Ibrahim has already made an application to gazette the site and it is awaiting the Attorney-General’s approval.

Dr Zainah has also applied for an Interim Protection Order under Section 33 of the National Heritage Act 2005 to protect the ashram from any immediate threat while the department processes its application to gazette the iconic structure in Brickfields as a heritage building.

Such an Order is made under the Heritage Act to protect places and objects of heritage significance that are under immediate or imminent threat.

The Save Vivekananda Ashramam Action Committee (SVAB) will be having a press conference tomorrow to update the public.

Its chairman G. Gunasegaran said: “This is a major victory for the community. Our concerns about the ashram redevelopment have been validated. The mayor’s decision is a victory for everyone who has worked tirelessly to save a part of our heritage.”

On the matter of Jalan Travers’ name change, Ahmad Phesal said DBKL only implemented the Cabinet decision.

However, he clarified that it had not been DBKL’s practice to consult the public when it came to changing street names.

It was reported that the Brickfields community was unhappy with the decision to rename Jalan Travers to Jalan Rakyat and they were planning a protest to voice their dissatisfaction if no answer was forthcoming from DBKL.

Last week, the 300m stretch of Jalan Travers was changed to Jalan Rakyat.

Jalan Travers was named after Dr Ernest Aston Otho Travers, who set up the Sungai Buloh leprosy centre.

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