Fri | Nov 17, 2017

More high-rise homes for Kingston

Published:Sunday | July 9, 2017 | 12:00 AMAvia Collinder
Leonard Francis, director of the Spatial Planning Division, National Environment and Planning Agency.
Peter Knight, CEO of the National Environment and Planning Agency.
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Builder Phillip Smith, who purchased land currently housing the Redbones restaurant in New Kingston, says he has plans for a multi-storey development at the location.

His is one of several developments approved against the background of rezoning which is likely to change the face of Kingston, allowing developers to build up instead of out.

More than a year ago, the planning authority increased the density for allowable habitable rooms per hectare of land, and since then 12 applications for multi-storey and high-rise residences have been approved.

Four of the projects are already under way.

 

WAITING TO BREAK GROUND

 

Smith is among those waiting to break ground. He plans to put up a five-floor complex on two-thirds of an acre.

"We are waiting on the tenant to move so we can begin construction," he said, noting that the project would cost upwards of $400 million.

Guardian Life Limited is going even higher to six, seven, and nine storeys on two residential blocks under a $6-billion project for two residential complexes in New Kingston. That project is under way.

The rezoning allows more habitable rooms per hectare of land. The policy change allows developers to build an additional 25 habitable rooms per hectare, up from 50 in low-density areas; and up to 175 more rooms per hectare in high-density communities from a former high of 250 habitable rooms per hectare. High-rise is defined as developments of 250 rooms or more.

In downtown Kingston, where land space is limited, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) defines density according to 'plot ratio'. A ratio of four times the building space to land has been introduced.

Habitable rooms include living room and bedrooms, but exclude verandas, bathrooms, kitchens, and small rooms. Plot ratio refers to residential square footage in relation to land size.

"In an attempt to increase the number of residential units downtown, one can now get four times the building area to land," Leonard Francis, director of spatial planning at NEPA, told Sunday Business.

The rezoning decision, which applies nationally, was taken at the board level at NEPA, but will be concretised in a new development order now at the Government Printing Office waiting to be gazetted. The last development order was done in 1966.

Francis says he expects an "avalanche" of applications, once the order is gazetted.

Humphrey Taylor, president of the Incorporated Master Builders Association of Jamaica, says he is yet to see the new development order detailing which zones now permit multi-storey developments, but said the change has been long-awaited by private builders as well as state agency National Housing Trust.

"Especially in Kingston, in places like the 'Golden Triangle' where land cost is millions per plot, it does not make sense to buy it and put three houses on it," he said.

 

EVIDENT CHANGES

 

Francis says the rezoning changes should be evident in the Red Hills Road area of Kingston, where several multi-storey plans are in development. Other affected nodes and corridors, as NEPA calls them, includes Half-Way Tree, New Kingston, and Cross Roads, where developments can range up to 375 habitable rooms per hectare or HRH.

Previously, most of those areas were only allowed 50-100 HRH.

Up to Friday, AMANDA, the online application processing software used by government agencies, was showing 12 approved high-rise developments. They range up to 11 floors in height.

Government Town Planner and CEO of NEPA, Peter Knight, says the new densities are meant to combat urban sprawl and "promote smart growth" while preserving agricultural and environmentally sensitive lands.

"The decision to increase residential densities and heights within the Kingston Metropolitan Area was reached after careful research and analysis," he said.

"The benefits of developments within high density areas include less building coverage on land (or footprint), more green areas and open spaces including amenity areas, lower greenhouse emissions and reduced storm water run-off."

The town planner said, based on planning concepts, such as smart growth and compact walkable cities, it became necessary to rationalise the use of land space.

"As such, the planning authority has sought to encourage high-rise developments in specially zoned areas ...," said Knight. "These are mainly done within major nodes and along corridors."

Francis said hotels will be permitted in areas zoned as high density, that is, up to 375 habitable rooms per hectare.

avia.collinder@gleanerjm.com