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Old April 9th, 2008, 06:36 PM   #1
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HONG KONG | Staunton Street Redevelopments

Post-war Staunton St market will be preserved in revamp
8 April 2008
South China Morning Post

Hong Kong's first permanent post-war market - Bridges Street Market - will be retained in the redevelopment project at Staunton Street, Central, the Urban Renewal Authority said yesterday.

Five post-war tenement buildings and 100-year-old lanes will also be preserved under the authority's revised master layout plan submitted to the Town Planning Board. The new proposal will be released for public consultation today.

Authority executive director Iris Tam Siu-ying estimated that restoring the five dilapidated buildings would cost more than HK$20 million. But this would not add significantly to the total cost of HK$1.06 billion.

The development site was divided into three smaller sites because 19 per cent of the area, owned by Henderson Land, was excluded from the redevelopment area last year.

The authority was required to submit a revised master layout plan to the Town Planning Board.

"Apart from keeping the historic lanes and staircases, a few post-war tenement buildings and the first post-war market will be preserved," Ms Tam said.

According to the heritage assessment, the market is the first permanent post-war market in Hong Kong and was completed in 1951. It is also Hong Kong's first market built in the Bauhaus style - which can be seen in its asymmetry, extensive windows and utilitarian design.

Ms Tam said the market had two levels of historic value because it was also the site of the Preaching Home of the American Congregational Mission, where Sun Yat-sen, regarded as the founder of modern China, was baptised in 1883.

In December, plans were released offering the option of retaining the old market or demolishing it to make way for a Sun Yat-sen memorial square. The new plan saves the market, but the interior will be renovated to provide facilities for commemorating Sun's life and for community use. Open space on top of the two-storey market will be accessible from Shing Wong Street.

The new plan has still not gained full support from activists, who expressed concern that two planned 30-storey high-rises would block air flow and create a damaging visual impact on the area.

"Why can't we keep the current height and density?" Central and Western Concern Group spokeswoman Katty Law Ngar-ning asked.
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Old May 1st, 2008, 08:12 AM   #2
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Renovation faces URA scrap heap
28 April 2008
South China Morning Post

A tenement building in Central that featured in Ang Lee's film Lust, Caution is likely to be demolished by the Urban Renewal Authority, despite millions being spent to renovate it.

The 57-year-old building at 64 Staunton Street - known for its distinctive green shutters - was bought by investment advisory company Sausalito last year. The firm spent HK$30 million to buy and renovate it, but the beauty of the structure is going to be short-lived as it falls within URA redevelopment plans.

Juliette Chow Lip-ming, chief financial officer of Sausalito, said the building would provide both an office and staff quarters. "It is our wish that our colleagues can work in a homely environment without having to walk past a cold lobby or cram into a crowded lift," she said.

Ms Chow said the company knew the building fell inside the redevelopment zone when they struck the deal last December. But, at the time, no acquisition offer or detailed redevelopment plan had been disclosed.

"We heard that redevelopment schemes usually dragged on for years," she said. "We also believed that we would be able to voice our suggestion about how the area should be developed. But then a plan was released this year which said ours and the neighbouring blocks would be pulled down and replaced by a very tall building."

The redevelopment project in Staunton Street and Wing Lee Street was one of 25 projects announced by the Land Development Corporation - the precursor of the Urban Renewal Authority - in 1998.

The Town Planning Board endorsed the development plan for the Staunton Street and Wing Lee Street project in 2003, but details were only unveiled this month. Under the plan, a residential building of 28 storeys will be erected.

Ms Chow said their plan kept the original flavour of the block, including the patterned floor tiles. And new green window shutters were also ordered to match the originals. "We are worried that all our money and efforts will be wasted," she said. "I told the URA about our situation, but they did not address our concerns."

The URA has offered compensation, but the company says it is not enough. A URA spokesman said residents and local organisations were briefed on the progress of the project during meetings, and relevant information had been discussed in meetings of the Central and Western District Council over the years.

A spokeswoman for the Central and Western Concern Group, Katty Law Ngar-ning, said it would create extra construction waste if the building was torn down so soon after being renovated.

The Town Planning Board has invited comments on the redevelopment project until tomorrow.
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Old July 15th, 2008, 05:44 PM   #3
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士丹頓街收購反應冷淡
15/07/2008


【本報訊】市區重建局以天價每呎近萬元收購上環士丹頓街物業,但反應未如理想。該項目的收購期限上月底屆滿,至今只有三成多業主接受收購,遠低於過去可達五成多的接受率。由於該項目的反對聲音強烈,市建局正研究修改有關項目的設計,增加綠化及休憩的面積,市建局已向城市規劃委員會申請,押後原定於本周五進行的審議工作。

上環士丹頓街重建計劃波折重重,繼早年掹基申請司法覆核,成功將原來位於重建區內尚賢居剔出重建範圍後,位於區內的業主亦強烈反對有關計劃。市建局今年四月就該重建項目進行公眾諮詢,結果收到多達超過一千五百份反對意見書,不少市民批評該計劃的發展密度過高,擔心會影響鄰近大廈的景觀及通風。有個別人士更去信申訴專員公署,投訴市建局的公眾諮詢工作失當,雖然有關投訴最終未能成立,但卻對市建局帶來沉重壓力。

市建局擬增綠化空間
消息人士指出,市建局擬因應市民訴求,研究優化項目設計,包括加強保存街道氛圍及進一步增加綠化空間,但他強調,士丹頓街重建後樓宇最高僅二十五層,可調低的空間不多。城市規劃委員會原計劃今年五月底審議該規劃大綱,因應有關的改動,市建局已再次向城規會申請押後審議的工作。
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Old July 16th, 2008, 07:57 AM   #4
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Councillors urge URA to redraw development plan for Staunton St
16 July 2008
South China Morning Post

District councillors will propose a motion calling on the Urban Renewal Authority to redraw its controversial plan for the historic Staunton Street area. "We want to ask the URA, is their way really the only way?" Central and Western District councillor Tanya Chan said yesterday.

She said private developers such as Juliette Chow Lip-ming, who bought and renovated a building at 64 Staunton Street, could provide better solutions, she said.

She and four other councillors toured the site with a district concern group that has been lobbying for the URA to rethink the plan, which has been criticised by opponents for destroying the area's cultural and historic character.

Ms Chan, district council chairman Chan Tak-chor and councillor Cheng Lai-king will propose the motion at a council meeting tomorrow, calling on the URA to respect residents' opinions on density, height, traffic, land use and safety, and to draw up a new plan for the site, designated H19.

URA director of planning and design Michael Ma is expected to attend the meeting.

"Hopefully, we can get support from members in other parties to pressure the URA to rethink its plan," Ms Chan said, noting that because the URA was applying to the Town Planning Board for permission for the plan, it could still be changed.

A URA spokesman said the authority had asked the board to defer consideration of the H19 application, "mainly to hear more opinions, at the Thursday meeting and from other people in the area".

The board was to decide on the application this month.

The URA plans to construct one eight-floor and two 30-floor buildings on an area of 3,568 square metres along Staunton, Bridges and Wing Lee streets above Sheung Wan. Residents fear the plan will obliterate the area's cultural and historic value - dozens of presses churned out printed materials in the area for decades, and more recently Ang Lee filmed Lust, Caution at 64 Staunton Street.
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Old September 2nd, 2009, 11:48 AM   #5
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Flat owners attack URA over threat of legal action
2 September 2009
South China Morning Post

The Urban Renewal Authority has been accused of threatening the independence of the Town Planning Board by seeking to take it to court over the truncated Staunton Street redevelopment.

Owners of properties who want their buildings excluded from the scheme said yesterday the authority should follow established procedures for challenging the board's decisions instead of taking legal action.

Their statement came a day after the authority's board agreed to seek a judicial review if the planning board removes the three tenement buildings in question from the already much-reduced scheme in Central.

The newly renovated buildings were bought four years after the authority announced the redevelopment in 2003.

Owners' spokesman Dare Koslow said the authority was threatening the board. "When the board decides to change the zoning, the authority has a right to object to that zoning," he said. "Why can't the authority follow the usual legal process rather than threatening legal action before a final decision is made?"

Koslow said the owners' plans to preserve the old tenements were a reasonable alternative to the authority's proposal for a 28-storey tower on the site.

Central and Western Concern Group spokeswoman Katty Law Ngar-ling said the residents did not know the impact of the redevelopment until the authority released its master layout plan with design details.

The board's decision on whether to remove the tenements from the redevelopment hinges on a yet-to-be-completed study by the Planning Department.

Meanwhile, two blocks away in Staunton Street, a boutique hotel proposal by Sino Land has failed to win the blessing of the Planning Department.

This is the second time the developer has come up with a proposal for the site, now occupied by two low-rise residential blocks more than 40 years old. Last year, the planning board rejected its proposal to build a 25-storey office block.

In a paper advising the board, the department said the 33-storey hotel would be incompatible with the low-rise character of the neighbourhood.

Approval of the hotel plan would "set an undesirable precedent" for similar hotel developments in the area, and the cumulative impact would damage the area's amenity, the department said.

Of 12 hotel applications in the Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun district in recent years, half were approved.

The department also cited traffic concerns, saying the site was too small for transport facilities for a hotel with 144 guest rooms, and the carriageway and footpath at the front were too narrow. There was no waiting space and taxis, private cars, coaches or goods vehicles might have to wait on the street.
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Old September 8th, 2009, 11:03 AM   #6
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URA set to take planners to court
Authority to fight more shaving of Central site URA set to fight planners in court if Staunton St project shrinks again

1 September 2009
South China Morning Post

The Urban Renewal Authority is preparing to throw down the gauntlet to the Town Planning Board over a controversial Central project - a move that could present the rare spectacle of one statutory body taking another to court.

A majority of authority board members agreed at a meeting yesterday to seek a judicial review if the planning board further shrinks a much-reduced development site in Staunton Street.

At issue is an application by the owners of five tenement buildings in Staunton Street and Chung Wo Lane for their recently renovated properties to be spared redevelopment.

Although land registry records show that some bought their properties four years after the project was announced in 2003, the planning board said it was impressed by the owners' intention to preserve the old tenement buildings. It has asked the Planning Department to study the feasibility of excluding the properties from the redevelopment site.

According to a person briefed on yesterday's meeting, most members agreed the authority should resolve the issue through legal action, including a judicial review. Members said the planning board should be challenged on why it could amend a redevelopment plan endorsed by the chief executive and Executive Council nearly two years ago.

"The financial loss is not the greatest concern," the person said. "The authority's renewal projects will be exposed to great risk if a precedent is set."

Under the Town Planning Board Ordinance, the board is empowered to demand changes to redevelopment plans with reference to public views and objections. But the Urban Renewal Authority Ordinance obliges the authority to begin buying and demolishing properties once the board approves a redevelopment.

"Both statutory bodies are performing their roles in accordance with laws but the outcomes are in conflict," the person said.

A member of the authority's board said the legal action would be taken in the best interests of urban planning.

"The town planning board is an independent body. This is the only way to challenge its decision."

The redevelopment had a chunk sliced off it in 2007 when Henderson Land was allowed to develop part of it into a block of flats, CentrePoint. That left the project consisting of three fragmented sites.

Its profitability was further reduced last year when the authority scaled down the density of the redevelopment by cutting 18 storeys off a planned 24-storey block of flats to address community concerns. As a result, instead of making HK$100 million under the original plan, the project was estimated to make a loss of HK$170 million.

If the tenement sites are removed from the redevelopment, the authority will have to give up building a 28-storey block of flats, leaving just two blocks, one six storeys and the other 13 storeys high, in stark contrast to the soaring towers that have marked other authority projects.

Members of the authority's board considered alternatives to resolve the issue, including giving up the tenement sites and transferring the development density to the remaining sites. But increasing the density of the other sites was seen as impractical, since it would encounter strong public opposition.

Alan Leong Kah-kit, a lawmaker and a former non-executive director of the authority, warned of the risk of a breakdown in the urban planning system. He urged the government to review the authority's role in urban renewal.

"It is possible for a statutory body to sue another statutory body, but two quasi-government bodies using public money to sue each other shows there's a very serious problem in our urban renewal process," he said.

Leong said the situation was very difficult for the authority, since current urban renewal strategy - now under review - required it to be financially self-sufficient.

A Town Planning Board spokeswoman said it was seeking legal advice, since the authority had already acquired eight flats, a quarter of the properties affected by the project.
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Old September 14th, 2009, 11:42 AM   #7
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High-rise plan for SoHo streets is inappropriate
9 September 2009
South China Morning Post

High-rise plan for SoHo streets is inappropriate

The Staunton Street-Wing Lee Street redevelopment project (H19) is a classic example of how the Urban Renewal Authority has failed our city. It provides a strong case for the government to herald a new era of urban regeneration in Hong Kong.

It is the wrong project in the wrong place at the wrong time. Since the project was first announced more than 10 years ago, the planning context (such as the surrounding environment) of the site has changed so much that it now cannot stand the high-rise redevelopment it originally intended.

The URA's dubious consultation process also kept members of the community uninformed about the project details. When the master layout plan was finally unveiled last year, the public was shocked to find that the URA would raze some renovated low-rises to build more wall-like high-rises.

The public is also shocked to hear that the URA does this in the name of financial viability and good urban planning.

Owner-initiated renovation of the Chinese tenement buildings is considered by many a viable means to preserve the character and the low-density of the area. All over SoHo, older buildings have been restored and upgraded in value. This kind of rehabilitation is exactly what the government is promoting.

In this regard, H19 could be the "model" project for public/private partnership in rehabilitation and redevelopment for public interest.

Provided that clear planning guidelines for keeping the low density of the area are in place, the H19 site could continue the kind of organic regeneration that is happening in SoHo. The original owners of the tenement buildings should be allowed to participate in the process.

The URA could help facilitate the rehabilitation, or in case redevelopment is needed, ensure that sustainable standards are observed.

An independent Town Planning Board is essential to safeguard our living environment. Of course, it has the right to overrule bad master layout plans such as the one submitted by the URA. Planning merits should be the most important aspect in its consideration.

The present deadlock between the URA, the board and the stakeholders in the H19 project could be resolved by seeing things out of the box and putting this challenge in the context of a new urban renewal strategy. If the government insists on pushing through the H19 project along its old ways, it will defeat the strategy reform which has just started to pick up momentum.

Katty Law, Central
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Old October 25th, 2009, 03:38 PM   #8
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Soho 8 Catch an antipodean wave with an Asian twist
15 October 2009
South China Morning Post



With the opening of the Staunton's Group's cocktails and surf 'n turf venue, one has to wonder if Duke's Burger is feeling nervous: the owners of Staunton's, Scirocco, Portobello and Yorkshire Pudding now inhabit three corners of the Staunton Street/Mid-Levels escalator crossing with just the upscale burger joint left defending its territory. The new Soho 8 is a small but eye-catching space with a nautical theme apparent through the giant whale on the wall outside, a long bar with wave patterns lit by bowler hat hanging lamps, and a strangely sad-looking aquarium at the back of the restaurant that partly conceals the bathrooms. It's a small space and tables are closely packed, but while the venue, once it has its liquor licence, aims to be a cocktail hotspot, the food is far from an afterthought.

Under the capable direction of executive chef Jeffrey Le Bon, the dishes are interesting and well handled, the appetisers having a touch of Asia - dare we say fusion - while the mains focus on meat and seafood from Australia and New Zealand. The roasted pumpkin soup (pictured above) seasoned with a hint of coconut milk and toasted shallots with ginger chicken dumplings (HK$60) for starters was flavoursome and comforting, as was the burger (HK$128), served New Zealand style with a slice of beetroot instead of gherkin. The 8oz patty, made from Australian minced beef, was topped with a tasty layer of melted Tasmanian gouda and it came with a generous heap of English chips and salad. The lemongrass and chive risotto with Japanese scallops and grilled asparagus finished with tomato concasse and mascarpone (HK$158) was unusual, the marscapone adding a sour richness, the lemongrass keeping it fresh. The two desserts we tried, black forest chocolate cake with brandied cherries, crème chantilly and chocolate shavings and the homemade kiwi pavlova with crème chantilly and mixed berries (both HK$70, pictured below) were both delicious - sweet and indulgent without being overly rich. VB

8 Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2536 9068
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Old January 1st, 2010, 06:24 AM   #9
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Written by one of our HK-based forumers, by the way

Creative bloom in wrecking ball's shadow
13 December 2009
SCMP

There is not much to indicate that the rundown shophouse on Shanghai Street, Mong Kok, houses anything but a pawn shop.

On the third floor, however, is Tong Saam, an unmarked space that has positioned itself on Hong Kong's creative vanguard. Since it was opened earlier this year by three friends interested in music and art, it has hosted film screenings and performances by underground folk singers such a Beijing's Zhao Yiran.

"Normally, you'd only be able to find this kind of space in an industrial area," says one of Tong Saam's founders, Charlie Wong Liang-yih, a freelance designer. "It's the perfect size and even has a balcony. Being in Mong Kok makes it even more special because it's so central and we're part of a real neighbourhood. Places like the Cattle Depot [Artists' Village in To Kwa Wan] are like warehouses for artists. This is more like a community space."

For all its ambitions, though, Tong Saam might soon be redeveloped. Shortly after they moved in, Wong and his partners heard rumours that the Urban Renewal Authority was planning a new project on the street. Even if that did not turn out to be the case, it was likely that other URA projects in the area would drive up prices and encourage owners to sell their properties to developers, he said. "We're surrounded by redevelopment projects," Wong said.

Tong Saam is not the only new venture to open in a neighbourhood targeted for redevelopment.

In Central, small businesses, art galleries and creative spaces are opening on the fringes of URA redevelopments in Graham Street and Staunton Street, leading some to question the way the government and the URA approach the revitalisation of old neighbourhoods.

In Graham Street, next to a controversial redevelopment that will see most of a century-old street market replaced by office towers and a hotel, an art gallery and several new cafes have opened in the past year.

"The whole street has changed since we opened last summer," said Tracie Ang, the owner of Berrygood, a frozen yogurt shop that sits just outside the URA's redevelopment zone. "There are lots of new cafes and shops. Foot traffic has increased."

Next door, UFO Gallery specialises in "low-brow" pop art. It opened last April.

"We want to show something different from the other galleries on Hollywood Road, so this is a good place to be," said manager Kate Tai. "Being in the street market makes us very accessible. People can just wander in when passing by."

Nearby, on a quiet lane near the URA's planned redevelopment of Staunton Street and the Bridges Street Market, the finishing touches are being put on Fungus Workshop, a design space that will open later this month.

"This place is quiet and it has an open area that we can use in front, and the rent is much cheaper than further down on Staunton Street or Hollywood Road," said Philip Lau, one of the space's owners. "We hope they can keep these old buildings around here. They're short and they don't block the sun, and we'd like to see some space for design exhibitions or galleries. If they could be reused for creative media, it would be great."

While the URA's mandate is to improve living conditions in dilapidated areas, it is mostly a vehicle for property development, said Dr Li Ling-hin, an associate professor of real estate and construction at the University of Hong Kong. As it took up properties to redevelop, it needed to maximise their potential profit, which often meant replacing inexpensive low-rise properties with high-rise, high-end buildings.

"It's a question of money," Li said. "If there is no extra value from the site, who is going to pay the bill to rehabilitate it? People who are living there might be unable or unwilling to do it. Unless the government can point to some value, like architectural value or historical value, there's no incentive to restore it and it will be demolished. If we as a society decide it's worth paying for preservation and reuse, it's something we can do. Otherwise, under the current system, redevelopment is inevitable."

In cases where private owners can independently improve their properties, however, Li said the URA ought to reconsider its approach.

"If its reason for moving into an area is to beautify it and improve its living situation, and that has already been done by private owners, it should withdraw."

Many of the older projects initiated by the URA and its predecessor, the Land Development Corporation, involved the demolition of low-rise, mixed-use blocks for malls, hotels and office buildings. More recent projects, by contrast, pay more attention to historic preservation and the adaptive reuse of existing buildings. The Graham Street project is slated to include the restoration of a century-old grocery store and a so-called Old Shop Street of low-rise buildings.

In Mong Kok, the URA will preserve and restore rows of pre-war shophouses on Shanghai Street and Prince Edward Road, with space leased to businesses that provide "daily necessities", according to URA spokesman Jimmy Sha.

"We strive to preserve and restore buildings, sites and structures of historical, cultural or architectural values, and to keep the local colour of the community and the historical characteristics of different districts," he said. "As far as practicable, the preserved heritage buildings would be put to proper community, public or other beneficial adaptive reuse."

Sha said that no project had been announced for the block around Tong Saam, and declined to speculate on future projects in the area.

The URA's efforts at preserving and reusing existing buildings have received mixed reviews.

"I don't have high hopes for its latest projects," said Peter Li Siu-man, campaign manager at the Conservancy Association. "Conservation comes in two parts. One is to preserve buildings, and the URA has done a pretty good job of doing that, but the other part is to make them useful to the community. Look at the old pawnshops in Wan Chai that were turned into The Pawn - it turned something that was very down-to-earth, to which the man in the street had an emotional attachment, into something very high class that only appeals to rich people. That's not what we call revitalisation."

The problem, according to Li and other critics, is that the URA's projects replace a diverse mix of affordable buildings with higher-rent, centrally managed space. Areas surrounding URA redevelopments see a rise in property values that puts pressure on the small buildings that act as incubators for small businesses and creative spaces like Tong Saam.

"The URA argues that it's demolishing slums and providing community services, but all it's doing is maximising underutilised air space," said John Batten, a founding member of the Central and Western Concern Group, which serves as a watchdog for urban development.

"It's putting in 30-storey buildings where there are buildings no more than 10 storeys. The debate hasn't moved very far in terms of holistic urban planning."

Both Peter Li and Li Ling-hin suggest alternatives to urban renewal. One is more stringent conservation laws that would make it harder to demolish or redevelop buildings. Another is to transfer development pressure away from sensitive areas by allowing building owners to sell the development potential of their property to developers who can then add the extra density or height to projects in other parts of town.

"If we have a transfer-of-development-rights programme in place, then maybe we could just sell a site with the condition that it remains as it is, and the URA wouldn't have to get involved," Li Ling-hin said.

At Tong Saam, meanwhile, Wong and his partners, illustrator Kou Chin-ngai and clerk Lam Chin-to, plan to continue hosting regular events, even with the knowledge that their space may one day disappear.

"Creativity can't be boxed in, it must be allowed to flow, and you need this kind of space for creativity to blossom," Kou said. "Not everything can be planned. If this place goes, all of this energy will be lost. You can't replace something like this."
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Old January 2nd, 2010, 08:07 AM   #10
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The vertical garden is an amzing idea for hiding the garage. I can see this whole complex work in Toronto. (Minus the screen towers)

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Old January 28th, 2010, 05:12 AM   #11
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Central homeowners capable of renewing district without URA
27 January 2010
South China Morning Post

Taking our inspiration and encouragement from the voices being raised to challenge Hong Kong's development policies, the owners of properties in Staunton Street are united in their fight to keep their homes, which is their lawful right.

The Urban Renewal Authority owns only 24 per cent of the units in the affected area on the street. Those opposed to its plans own the other 76 per cent. Despite the URA's minority interest achieved only within the past year through new acquisitions, it is still trying to push through its development plans that would include forced resumption and demolition of the existing low-rise buildings to make way for another 20-plus-storey building on what is already a congested street.

There are many people living in areas of Hong Kong who would welcome intervention by the URA. However it has set its sights on Staunton Street, an area where no help is required. It is doing this because of the large sums of money which will be gained from the reselling of its properties to a large developer.

The URA claims that the buildings are in a run-down state and beyond repair but many of the current owners have already upgraded their flats to a very high standard. The whole of 64 Staunton Street has been renovated. It is a fine example of what can be done in this area of Central if the URA was not involved.

The only flats yet to be upgraded are the few that the URA owns or those apartments where the owners are concerned they will be forced to sell to the authority.

Officials claim that allowing the current owners to continue the process of gentrifying the neighbourhood with their own funds would jeopardise the authority's strategy.

If this strategy is failing the public then it should be abandoned. In this street the URA has failed to execute its stated mission "to create quality and vibrant urban living and acting on their priorities with ingenuity and sensitivity, join forces with their partners and nurture our people".

Its only partners are the big developers. It has never attempted to work with those Staunton Street residents who want to keep their homes.

Dare Koslow, on behalf of Staunton Street residents in Site C
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Old February 3rd, 2010, 08:06 PM   #12
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URA lowers density of Staunton St project
30 January 2010
South China Morning Post

The Urban Renewal Authority adopted government advice to lower the density of a Staunton Street redevelopment after the Town Planning Board rejected a proposal by owners of buildings involved in the project yesterday.

A Town Planning Board spokeswoman said the board rejected the owners' proposal - rezone tenement buildings at 60-66 Staunton Street as residential with a lower density and preserve refurbished blocks - because it might not be feasible.

The spokeswoman said interviews conducted by the Planning Department with some owners of tenement buildings found that not all owners in the redevelopment site objected to redevelopment, "they are just dissatisfied with the price offered by the authority," she said. Also, under zoning laws, the owners' plan would not stop redevelopment of high-rise buildings on the site in future.

An authority spokesman said the authority had decided to adopt Planning Department advice to lower the site's redevelopment density from plot ratio 4.5 to 3.9, meaning the residential block proposed would be reduced from 28 storeys to 20 storeys.

The spokesman said the authority's proposal would allow better visual links in the area and improve pedestrian circulation. "There will be a 7.5-metre visual corridor between the new and existing developments," he said.
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Old February 22nd, 2010, 06:52 PM   #13
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Opinion : Tragedy must not be green light for URA
8 February 2010
SCMP

It is alarming to hear calls to speed up the Urban Renewal Authority's "deadlocked" redevelopment projects after the fatal building collapse in To Kwa Wan ("Collapse triggers calls for change", February 2).

This is a dangerous proposition as it may fail to identify the true reasons behind the collapse (the case is still under investigation) and may even point to the wrong direction. Equally dangerous is that it fails to analyse the real causes for the deadlock and the URA may use this as an excuse to push through problematic projects that have been widely objected to by the public.

Law Chi-kwong, who made this call, has worked as a consultant for many URA projects, including the H19 project for Staunton Street and Wing Lee Street in Soho. He should know better than others why this project has met with serious public objection.

The community has protested for years against this project as the URA has proposed adding more high-rise towers in an already densely packed area. One of the URA's earlier master layout plans proposed building a 30-storey tower on top of the Bridges Street Market and a narrow terrace that would endanger nearby retaining walls and building foundations. The latest plan still proposes a high-rise that will form a continuous wall of towers with adjacent buildings on Staunton Street.

Community members also see the efforts by individual property owners in renovating their low-rise buildings. This is regarded as a positive contribution to the area's regeneration, compared with the URA's tactic of high-rise redevelopment.

The H19 project is a classic case of the URA's malfunction: that it tries to push for redevelopment in an area that, in fact, has the power to regenerate itself through private renovation - that it is targeting "profitable" areas instead of areas in need.

When one hears that the URA has estimated a loss of HK$170 million for the H19 project, one wonders why this money is not used to help places with serious urban decay but is instead used to buy out newly renovated properties for demolition.

There are better alternatives for the H19 project, such as a combined renovation and small-scale redevelopment scheme. Resources should be spent in areas most in need.

Katty Law, Central
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Old March 11th, 2010, 12:32 PM   #14
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Opinion : Towards a blander HK
19 February 2010
SCMP

I am writing to express opposition to the Urban Renewal Authority project on Staunton Street.

That project will contribute to the demise of SoHo, one of the most charming neighbourhoods in Hong Kong.

What makes it so charming? It is a combination of the trendy, with boutiques and restaurants, and the traditional, with the older buildings and nearby wet market that reflect the history and cultural heritage of Hong Kong. The URA is hell-bent on destroying all the traditional aspects of SoHo by tearing down heritage-worthy buildings and replacing them with impersonal, soulless high-rises.

The result will make the area look so uncharacteristically Hong Kong, so featureless that it could be anywhere else in the world. SoHo, as it is now, reflects Hong Kong. It looks, feels and tastes of Hong Kong.

The government talks of making Hong Kong Asia's world-class city. That is impossible with the URA's current renovation plans. Bear in mind what makes Paris the premier city of the world. It is that Paris carefully preserved its historical, cultural centre.

Paris looks like no other city. It has soul. Hong Kong needs to keep its soul, its uniquely characteristic neighbourhoods and its cultural heritage. Otherwise, it will look like every other big, grey Chinese city, full of concrete, glass and pollution.

Jane Ma, Central
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Old August 24th, 2010, 04:41 PM   #15
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Boutique hotel bid worries concern group
Sino Land tries for third time to get SoHo development approved

24 August 2010
South China Morning Post

Concern over SoHo's redevelopment is mounting a month after a developer filed a third application regarding a site in Staunton Street.

This time the application is for a boutique hotel - the same developer's two previous applications over the past three years were rejected.

Sino Land applied to the Town Planning Board last month to turn its two five-storey residential tenement buildings at 20-26 Staunton Street - about 50 metres from the Mid-Levels escalator - into a 25-storey boutique hotel. The low-rise residential blocks are more than 40 years old.

If permission is granted, construction of the 95-room, mid-tariff hotel with a restaurant would be completed in 2013.

In its application to the board, Sino Land said the development would be compatible with the high-density area where there was a trend towards commercial development.

It would create a substantial number of job opportunities and commercial business in the local community, and would not set any undesirable precedent for similar applications in the area, the company said.

But Katty Law Ngar-ling, spokesman for the Central and Western Concern Group, objects strongly to the plan, saying it is not in keeping with the area, which has a quaint, low-rise, open-dining street appeal.

"It would set a bad precedent if this gets permission," she said. "Similar developments would sprout up and completely destroy this unique neighbourhood, which blends residential and entertainment."

Art gallery owner John Batten of the concern group also opposes the plan.

He said the Central, SoHo and Mid-Levels areas were already highly built-up and suffer from chronic traffic problems.

"Pedestrians already often walk on the road. The hotel would only exacerbate the problem," he said. "If there were an emergency in those high-rise buildings, I don't believe emergency vehicles could adequately manage in those narrow streets."

Last year, in a paper on the second application's rejection, the board said the 33-storey hotel with 144 rooms that Sino Land was then proposing would be incompatible with the low-rise character of the Staunton Street neighbourhood.

It also said approval would "set an undesirable precedent" for similar hotel developments in the area, and the cumulative impact would damage the area's pleasant atmosphere.

The department also cited traffic concerns, saying the site was too small for transport facilities for the hotel, and the carriageway and footpath at the front were too narrow. There was no waiting space and taxis, private cars, coaches or goods vehicles might have to wait on the street.

In 2007, the board rejected Sino Land's proposal to build a 25-storey office block.

The board is accepting comments on the development plan from the public until Friday.
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Old August 25th, 2010, 02:15 AM   #16
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Interesting reads. Let's hope Staunton street can be saved. Low density is the charm of this street.

The truth is that Soho is a victim of its own success. Some restaurants have had to move out due to high rents already. A move west towards Sheung Wan where the rents are much lower seems to be taken place.
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Old August 25th, 2010, 03:55 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ribarca View Post
Interesting reads. Let's hope Staunton street can be saved. Low density is the charm of this street.

The truth is that Soho is a victim of its own success. Some restaurants have had to move out due to high rents already. A move west towards Sheung Wan where the rents are much lower seems to be taken place.
Yes - I'm seeing an increasing number of decent and reasonably-priced restaurants in the upper reaches of Sheung Wan. Soho is getting a bit overpriced and touristy now.
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Old August 25th, 2010, 10:35 AM   #18
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Urban renewal has no place for hungry ghosts
23 August 2010
SCMP

Redevelopment looks like ending two historic Yu Lan (Hungry Ghost) Festivals.

The festival is a month-long effort to appease restless spirits of the dead. But threats from urbanisation are forcing communities in Central, Kwai Chung and Wong Tai Sin this year to stage what are likely to be their last celebrations.

The festival falls on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, and more than 60 celebrations take place across the city throughout the month to pacify roaming hungry ghosts.

Worshippers make offerings of food, letters and fake cash to satisfy the hungry spirits.

The Ministry of Culture in Beijing is likely to name the festival, and three other traditional Hong Kong events, as part of the nation's intangible cultural heritage later this month or early next, said conservationist Roger Ho Yao-sheng, who is familiar with the Hong Kong government's approaches to Beijing on the matter.

The three other festivals are the Cheung Chau Bun Festival, the dragon boat water parade at Tai O and the Tai Hang fire dragon dance.

The prospect of gaining national status delighted Wong Kan-oi, chairman of festival organiser 30 House Yue Lan Associates, last year. He has been organising hungry ghost events in Central, Mid-Levels and Sheung Wan from his shop at 62 Staunton Street since 1996.

But he said an Urban Renewal Authority decision to redevelop the area which encompasses his shop has confused and depressed him and his neighbours.

People in the area began to celebrate the festival there more than a century ago, but their evictions, scheduled for February 11 next year, to make way for an urban renewal project, means the forthcoming celebrations Yu Lan festival on September 2 will be the last in the area.

"You're trying to make the festival a national heritage and meanwhile you're kicking us out. This is contradictory," Wong said. "We're deeply saddened by the way the government treats us."

Redevelopment projects, such as the one affecting Staunton Street and also Wing Lee Street, target old, dilapidated buildings with poor living conditions, and transform them into open spaces and community facilities, the authority says.

Ho, a heritage writer, said: "The group shouldn't be expelled. To dismiss them would be like terminating the historical pulse of this quarter."

Other celebrations in Yan Oi Court, Kwun Tong, and Choi Wan Estate in Wong Tai Sin are also facing the same threat from urbanisation or noise complaints.

One site at risk is the park in Hill Road, Pok Fu Lam, which might have to make way for the MTR's West Island Line.

Ho said festivals usually occurred in grass-roots areas and served important social functions because the government often could not, or did not, give smaller, poorer communities the care they needed.

"It's from ... meetings like this that a sense of local recognition and belonging is created, which is essentially what the government calls a `harmonious society'. These festivals peter out owing to redevelopments or people's deaths. Consequently, local culture vanishes.

Clairvoyant and exorcist Yik Yuen-ling, the honorary chairman of 30 House, said: "Since the community here has been feeding the hungry ghosts in this neighbourhood for many years, they are accustomed to this treatment. When they, the ancestors, arrive next year only to find nothing is prepared for them, they may think nobody cares about them and will create troubles like car crashes or fires."

Ho said: "If Yu Lan becomes a national heritage event, the government should actively look for sites nearby to keep the traditions."

The festival is often celebrated on soccer pitches or in parks, mainly by the Chiu Chow community, estimated to number 1.2 million.

Legend has it that Mu Lian, then the oldest Buddhist monk, discovered that his mother was a hungry ghost who was suffering in hell due to her misdeeds in life.

The monk used his magical powers to offer food to his mother, but the food turned into charcoal in her hands. Buddha advised him to ask monks and others to recite sacred scripts and perform rituals on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar in order to temporarily release all hungry ghosts - including his mother - to receive food.
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Old February 22nd, 2011, 03:52 PM   #19
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Hungry Ghost team's office gets another life
URA says festival planners can stay

7 September 2010
South China Morning Post

Organisers of the threatened Hungry Ghost Festival in Central have been told they will not necessarily have to quit their headquarters when their latest one-year lease with the Urban Renewal Authority runs out in February.

But the 30 House Yue Lan Associates say they still have a sword hanging over their heads because the authority cannot give them a definite time frame for their use of the shop at 62 Staunton Street for the festival, which takes months to organise.

There had been fears that last week's celebration might have been the last, but the authority said the festival could carry on until it had acquired enough properties in the area to launch the redevelopment, which could take years.

"We don't know when we will actually reclaim the shop because many property owners in the area haven't shown interest in selling their places to us," a spokesman said.

Celebrations of the Hungry Ghost or Yu Lan festival - marked across the city in late summer or early autumn - have been held in the area for more than a century, and Wong Kan-oi has been organising it from the shop since 1996.

Wong said he was happy that he could stay on a bit longer but wanted to know when he would have to leave. "We hold the celebration once a year and have to plan months ahead, so it'd be best to know when they will take the place back.

"In a few years' time when they have taken it back, I think I will still do it, but the scale will be much smaller than now," he said.

The authority spokesman said the festival did not necessarily need a physical headquarters.

"Such celebrations in other districts don't necessarily use a shop, they do it on soccer pitches and in parks," he said. "Perhaps they can still hold it without having a shop in the future."

Conservationist Roger Ho Yao-sheng said the authority's reassurance after much debate in the media signified the government's lack of along-term policy to protect cultural heritage. "The URA apparently felt the pressure of public opinion in the media. I dread to think what they would have done if there was no public discussion" he said.

"These celebrations are part of the intangible cultural heritage of our city. The government must devise a long-term plan to protect them. Renewing its contract month after month is not the solution."

In response to the spokesman's suggestion that they might not need their own shop, Ho said: "Where do the people there gather if they lose the place? A place where people can get together is essential for a tradition like this.

"If they don't need a place, perhaps the URA doesn't need an office either. Just drive out your bulldozer and work," he said.

Redevelopment projects, such as the one affecting Staunton Street and also Wing Lee Street, target dilapidated old buildings with poor living conditions, and transform them into open spaces and community facilities, the authority says.

The festival falls on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, and more than 60 celebrations take place across the city throughout the month to pacify roaming hungry ghosts. Worshippers make offerings of food, letters and fake cash to satisfy the hungry spirits.
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