Old woes hurting New Kingston - Commercial operations taking over residential community
The Sunday Gleaner continues its series of once-thriving residential communities which have started to decay because of crime and other factors, such as the illegal operation of commercial activities. If your community is dying a painful death, email email@example.com and a team will visit the area to highlight your concerns.
New Kingston is known for its many commercial entities, recreational hotspots, its vibrant nightlife, but it is also home for several persons who say their community is dying as they are plagued by several ills.
At the top of the residents' lengthy list of complaints is the many unregulated commercial enterprises that have brought with them a slew of undesirables, criminal activities, and total disregard for their peace of mind.
"To make matters worse, it is as if the authorities don't care," charged Roger Chang, vice-president of the New Kingston Citizens' Association.
"The concern is commercialisation of the residential area. A lot of it is illegal. People are setting up business offices, factories, garbage collection entities, offices ... and we have been trying to get them out with some success, but the process and the systems, the legislation is too cumbersome and costly in the courts," said Chang.
"If someone is committing a breach for example, going to a house and setting up a business which is in breach of the covenant, the title, and the zoning arrangements you have to hire a lawyer to get them out," added Chang, as he argued that the authorities are dragging their feet and failing to address the concerns that headline every association meeting.
Authorities 'took forever'
"If you rely on the KSAC (Kingston and St Andrew Corporation), NEPA (National Environment and Planning Agency) and the relevant authorities, they are understaffed and for them to take action it is going to take you a few years. They don't have the resources, they don't have the teeth," said Chang.
The long-time resident of New Kingston said the citizens association has provided the authorities with a list of illicit establishments that ought to be targeted, but they "took forever" to act.
"There are many commercial entities along Haining Road. There is also an open lot and they're planning to put commercial buildings there. There's a restaurant where Heather's use to be, two town complexes along that stretch, and in the middle there is a disguised gentleman's club," charged Chang.
One resident, who asked not to be named, said she suffers dearly every Sunday as shouts from a church service held at a nearby recreational spot interrupts her sleep. That is compounded by the fact the persons often park their motor vehicles anywhere they can find space.
"What you find happening is that the density of the commercialisation cannot support the amount of parking required, so parking is a problem. People are now parking on the roads inside the residential areas," explained Chang.
According to Chang, the erection of No Parking signs at certain locations by the KSAC and last year's removal of homeless and homosexuals from the Shoemaker's Gully have helped to reduce the crime problem, but there is still a long way to go, he said.
"When I moved to New Kingston in 1989 it was all residential. All of those high-rise buildings and commercial entities were not there. It was all a nice, peaceful, residential neighbourhood," reminisced Chang. Today, the area has been transformed into a hub for nightclubs, banks, telecommunications companies, prostitutes and drug dealers, he said.
"Peter Knight is the single person that is causing the destruction of the New Kingston residential area. He is the head of NEPA, and he has said that New Kingston must be developed. He doesn't want anybody to live here anymore. He wants the area commercialised," said Chang,
He charged that Knight has sanctioned the erection of commercial and recreational spots, which are in breach of the relevant building permits.
However, Knight last week defended the actions of the agency he leads.
"We are trying to build a city, and if we are trying to build a city, what happened in 1950, 1960, 1980 and 2000 is not what goes now. You have to have different considerations," said a seemingly perturbed Knight, who confessed that the residents complaints have come before him in the past.
"A city brings with it commercialisation and development. So how have we commercialised New Kingston? We are not trying to build a city at the expense of the residents but we have to build a city based on planning concepts, infrastructure, government policy, and based on what is in the development orders. The point I am trying to make to you is that the city is not going to look the same today as it did four years or five years ago," argued Knight.
"The residents want things to remain as they are and we cannot have that. There is no way that NEPA would support a development that is going to cause traffic to overrun people's private residences. So that is an issue that is always looked at," added Knight, as he charged that the onus is with contractors and entrepreneurs to build suitable parking garages within their projects.
However, Knight's position has not found favour with councillor for the area, Kari Douglas, who is upset that the residents are being affected by the commercialisation.
Douglas, who is a board member of the Town and Country Planning Authority, says she has tried to prevent the commercialisation.
"I have made noise and objected to everything that I know goes against the residents' will and desire ... because I cannot agree with converting their community and with giving approvals on their boundaries that becomes a nuisance to them," Douglas told The Sunday Gleaner.
"However, I am one member of 15 people; I have one vote. So all them do is vote me out," added Douglas.
The People's National Party councillor also expressed concern about loopholes in the system which allow persons to establish commercial entities in New Kingston.
"I don't know if it is by design or negligence but our enforcement systems are weak, which then cause some of these entities to become legal over time," said Douglas, as she noted that if action is not taken against violators, within 12 years the State is barred from any further legal action.
"In some instances, persons have applied directly through the Town and Country Planning Authority for what is known as a change of use, and the discretion is on the board of directors and the authority to approve commercial uses. The disapproval by the residents means little as this has no legal weight," noted Douglas.