Mayor says residents must decide on ashram’s fate

In the balance: Ahmad Phesal said that it was up to the public to decide whether the century-old Vivekananda Ashram is preserved.

KUALA Lumpur mayor Datuk Seri Ahmad Phesal Talib has placed the ball in the residents’ court over the issue of planned development at the century-old Vivekananda Ashram in Brickfields.

“It is up to the community if they want to preserve it or not,” Ahmad Phesal said.

“As far as we are concerned we have not issued any DO (Development Order) yet.

“We told the Vivekananda Ashram Trustee to send in their plans first.

“We have given them some feedback to ensure that the original building is retained and that we will take their views into consideration, but at the same time it is up to the community to voice their concerns over this development,” he said.

“If the community says no, then we will ask the project owner to sit down the community and discuss the matter,” said the mayor.

He added that the heritage element must be given sufficient consideration in a city’s landscape.

Real Estate and Housing Developers’ Association immediate past president Datuk Seri Michael Yam said heritage was an important part of a growing city such as Kuala Lumpur.

“World class means different things to different people.

“Although every city is intensifying its development, if you just give way to development, plot ratio and high-rises then a city’s soul will eventually get lost,” he remarked.

Yam, who is also a City Hall Advisory Board member, said to counter that, elements such as heritage trails and heritage buildings are put in place to give the city character.

“Just imagine if Sultan Abdul Samad building was not there,” Yam pointed out.

He said there were other ways for owners of heritage buildings looking at redeveloping their properties.

“One way to do it is to transfer the plot ratio or development elsewhere, to another building or land.

“If one could not develop the property because the building was a heritage site, one could build in another place,” he said.

StarMetro reported that the Vivekananda Trustee intended to redevelop the historical landmark and build a 23-storey residential apartment on top of the ashram, as it had no funds to manage the building and four schools under its trust.

The trustee had previously tried to sell the land — the first time about 25 years ago and another attempt 10 years ago for RM15mil.

The earlier project was aborted after public protests.

At the time, the board had defended its move, saying it wanted to buy a plot of land in Sungai Buloh to build a residential school.

Currently Kuala Lumpur City Hall runs a free guided tour of Brickfields every Saturday to introduce the many charms of Little India, especially the township’s historical landmarks, which were built between the 1920s and 1980s.

The guided walks kick off at the Vivekananda Ashram and feedback from tourists through their blogs and postings showed their fascination with its history.

Shocked and outraged over the proposed redevelopment plans, netizens took to The Star Online facebook page to express their unhappiness over the project.

The page had over 460 shares and hundreds of comments from people nationwide protesting the move to build the tower over the historical landmark.

Facebook user Arif Gul wrote: “The architecture of the building is incredible.

“It is hard to find architecture like this in Malaysia these days.

“I can’t believe they will tear this down to make a residential tower because the area is not really suitable for more homes.

“They are going to make passing that notorious traffic light in Brickfields even harder.”

Another user by the name of Siu Ling Hui wrote: “The proposed redevelopment is completely unsympathetic to the architecture of this beautiful building.

“This is part of the country’s history.

“Thank goodness Georgetown, Penang, is listed as a World Heritage Site by Unesco. Look at how many beautiful old buildings are being restored to their former glory whilst still serving commercial purposes (e.g. boutique hotels).

“That’s what attracts tourism — not more of the faceless concrete towers.”

Rajeevan Gopala Krishnan wrote: “There are plenty of residential towers around Brickfields but we only have one Vivekananda Ashram.

Some Facebook users like Rohaiza Basir wrote to clarify that the building would not be demolished but would be retained, saying: “Read first. No demolishment at all, in fact, it is a condition attached to the contract.

Several people responded, such as Nicola KW who replied: “Yes and it is still such a shame...look at what they did in Penang to the building near Citibank...literally building a modern building on top of a heritage house.

“History should be left as it is and preserved for generations to come.”

Meanwhile, Deputy Federal Territories Minister Datuk Loga Bala Mohan advised the community not to jump the gun as nothing was confirmed yet.

“It is private land and they (the Trustee) have the right to submit plans requesting for planning permission. But Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) will make a decision over the matter.

“DBKL will have to see if it is institutional land or whether the density requirement has been met,” he said.

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