REDEVELOPMENT plans for the 110-year-old Vivekananda Ashram came under fire for the third time as the board of trustees applied to build a luxury condominium in its vicinity.
The trustees had tried to sell the land twice before — the first time about 25 years ago and another attempt 10 years ago for RM15mil.
The plans were aborted after public protests.
StarMetro broke the story on the latest plan to redevelop the site, reporting that the ashram’s board of trustees had approved the decision to sell the 0.4ha plot of land to a developer to build a 23-storey residential tower with 264 apartment units and an eight-storey carpark.
Vivekananda Ashram chairman Tan Sri Dr K. Ampikaipakan, who declined to disclose the price of the land, said the money would be put into a secured fund and used for the institution’s community work.
Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) put up a signboard in front of the iconic building calling for the public to give their feedback by Nov 11.
Stakeholders formed a Save Vivekananda Ashrama Brickfields (SVAB) group and went all out on a signature drive to request DBKL to gazette the building. They managed to get about 50,000 supporters.
The outpouring of support to save the ashram and stop redevelopment even caught the attention of Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, who promised to reclassify the historical building, which is currently classified as a Category 2 heritage building in the Draft KL City Plan 2020 (DKLCP2020), and push it to Category 1 to ensure it was gazetted as a heritage site and prevent future developments.
Brickfields Asia College owner and philanthropist S. Raja Singham even pledged to contribute RM500,000 to the Vivekananda Foundation and help fund the four schools under the trust, on condition that the development plans were scrapped.
Planning and local government law expert Derek Fernandez said under the provisions of the Land Heritage Act 2005 (Act 645) and the Federal Territory Planning Act 1982 (Act 267), the Government could easily reject the proposed development on clear grounds.
Fernandez said Nazri could use his ministerial powers to immediately designate the Vivekananda Ashram as a heritage site under Section 24 and inform DBKL under Section 32, as well as make an interim protection order under Section 33.
Lawyer Sitpah Selvaratnam also pointed out that the trustees’ move to sell or develop the land would be contrary to the purpose and terms of incorporation of the organisation.
Based on the company’s memorandum and articles, she said, the trustees were holding everything including the ashram land on trust for the community whom they were intended to serve.
On Nov 17, a glimmer of hope was seen as Nazri announced in Parliament that a notice had been served to DBKL and the trustees to gazette the century-old ashram as a heritage building.