DBKL assures protection for Vivekananda Ashram but concerns remain

KUALA Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) says specific control measures are in place to protect the historic Vivekananda Ashram in Brickfields despite the area being rezoned for commercial development.

In a statement to StarMetro, DBKL said the measures included the planning control layer for zones and heritage buildings in Kuala Lumpur.

DBKL, however, did not specify the measures, apart from saying that they were outlined in “Volume 1 Part 1: Development Control of the Draft Kuala Lumpur Local Plan 2040 (KLLP2040)”.

Muhammad Bakhtiar agrees with residents’ request to ensure proper buffer zones are put in place surrounding the building.Muhammad Bakhtiar agrees with residents’ request to ensure proper buffer zones are put in place surrounding the building.

The local authority said this was despite the area the ashram is located was designated as “Main Commercial Land Use Zone” in the KLLP2040.

The statement also said the Vivekananda Ashram was classified as a “Category 1 Heritage Building” under the National Heritage Act (Act 645).

Consequently, any development or modifications to the building must be approved by the National Heritage Department (JWN).

ALSO READ: More calls to protect ashram

DBKL said this in response to a March 23 StarMetro report that highlighted residents’ concerns in a briefing with Save Kuala Lumpur Coalition (SKL).

Alarmed by the rezoning of the land surrounding the heritage building for high-density commercial development, residents voiced concerns about potential redevelopment and the future of the area’s cultural heritage.

The issue was also addressed in a recent Parliament session by Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform) M. Kulasegaran, who responded to a question by Senator Nelson Renganathan regarding the land classification issue.

Flashback to the StarMetro report on March 29.Flashback to the StarMetro report on March 29.

Kulasegaran reiterated DBKL’s stance that buildings like Vivekananda Ashram, Carcosa Seri Negara, Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad and Royal Selangor Club, all gazetted heritage sites under the Act, were protected.

When contacted, Kulasegaran told StarMetro that DBKL would not approve any development that contradicted its heritage status.

“This includes any work done to the building such as modifications, alterations, annexes and even paint work, which must receive prior advice and feedback from the Heritage Commissioner under Section 40 of National Heritage Act 2005,” he said.

He added that consultations with the Heritage Commissioner was required for any proposed work within 200m of the ashram.

Kulasegaran said the designation of the land as main commercial only pertained to the general zoning for Brickfields and did not affect the ashram’s protected status.Kulasegaran said consultation with Heritage Commissioner is required for any proposed work within 200m of the ashram.Kulasegaran said consultation with Heritage Commissioner is required for any proposed work within 200m of the ashram.

Stakeholders, on the other hand, argued that DBKL’s statement was contradictory and misleading, which could potentially lead to future complications.

Resident P. Tamilwanan said in KLLP2040, there was detailed breakdown of 10 primary classifications and 25 sub-classifications of land use.

He said Vivekananda Ashram fell under the major commercial sub-classification – designated for high-intensity commercial use aimed at generating employment and attracting skilled workers.

“According to the plan, areas zoned as major commercial must allocate at least 90% of the land for commercial purposes, with a specific target of 676ha outlined for major commercial development, including the area where the ashram is situated.

“We are disputing this zoning proposal and advocating for the ashram to be categorised under the public facilities sub-classification.”

Tamilwanan said this designation was tailored for community-centric activities such as those related to religion, culture, recreation and healthcare, aligning closely with the ashram’s mission over its 120-year history.

When contacted, former deputy Tourism, Arts and Culture minister Muhammad Bakhtiar Wan Chik said the ashram’s heritage status would not fully protect it from future development or encroachment, as he had seen happen with Carcosa building.

“When a third party carried out renovation and repairs on the iconic building, it was not sanctioned by JWN,” he added.

“During my tenure as deputy minister, I was informed that during the filming of Crazy Rich Asians, refurbishment and painting were carried out without permission from JWN, compromising the integrity of the heritage building.

He agreed with residents’ request to rezone the ashram and putting in place buffer zones surrounding the building.

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