Limits placed on studios
Real estate developers of studio units now have a new set of guidelines restricting the size of such residences to 400 square feet, a move aimed at curbing the abuse of planning approvals and the resultant environmental impacts.
The planning guidelines presented to sector interests in January aim to arrest the "uncertainty as to what constitutes a studio or the allowable size of a studio within a multi-family development".
It is common practice among developers who obtain approvals for what should be studios but pitch them to prospective buyers as convertible one-bedroom or two-bedroom homes.
By developing the residences as studios, developers also skirt the requirements for infrastructure such as sewage and parking in developments they fully expect to grow beyond the initial density.
"The planning guideline for a studio is, therefore, being issued to guide planning authorities as to how to treat with applications for the grant of planning permission for studios," said the document issued out of the Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change.
"The overall purpose of this policy guideline is to guide professionals, members of the public, and the planning authorities by providing clarity on the size and other appropriate criteria/requirements for the construction of a studio unit," the document said.
It proposes that the standard area of a studio be no more than 37.16 square metres, or 400 square feet, in size, inclusive of "bathroom, kitchen, and all other areas within the studio".
"This will ensure the adequacy of the sewerage system, open-space requirement and parking," the document stated.
Developments that exceed the stipulated size for studios will be assessed as one-, two-, or three-bedroom units for each additional 100 square feet beyond the new stipulation.
The guidelines took effect in January, with several developers rushing to submit plans for approvals ahead of the overhaul, said a member of the architectural community.
The move has not come as a surprise for the Realtors Association of Jamaica (RAJ), whose president, Edwin Wint, conceded the guideline would bring order to the market.
"We think that it will bring some order into the planning process. If you have a studio that is 1,000 square feet, that is not a studio. You can simply convert it after that fact and have three bedrooms, which has implications for the sewage and parking," he said.
The RAJ will assess the 400 square-foot limit for its practicality, according to Wint, who said his group was not consulted prior to the drafting of the guidelines.
"We agree in principle that there was need for regulation in that area - not that we are in full agreement with the size," he said.
Delroy Alcott, chief executive officer of at West Indies Home Contractors Limited (WIHCON), says the market has come to expect large studios, but that home buyers will just "have to understand that a studio is 400 square feet and below" and adjust accordingly.
He said, too, that the real estate is likely to end up being priced higher per square foot because developers will have to fulfil infrastructure requirements.
The studio guidelines will not apply to resort developments, motels, or guest houses registered with the Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association, nor to shared facilities such as homes for the elderly, educational institutions, or places of safety for children.