Manila OKs Torre de Manila construction

Despite flagrant violation of zoning laws, the city zoning board grants the controversial condo an exemption

ZONING LAWS VIOLATION. Despite a temporary suspension order from the Manila City Council, DMCI Homes began its construction of Torre de Manila's second floor parking. Photo from DMCI Homes website

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Despite violation of Manila zoning laws, the construction of the Torre de Manila condominium has been approved by the city Local Zoning Board.

It came as a surprise initially for it wasn’t the total outcome we had desired, as the Torre De Manila consortium, this time engaging in the proper process, was able to legally apply for a zoning exemption,” Manila Councilor DJ Bagatsing told Rappler.

On January 24, the Manila Zoning Board of Adjustments and Appeals (MZBAA) approved the building’s construction after developer DMCI Homes appealed for an exemption to the local zoning laws.

The Manila City Council, which previously filed a resolution to temporarily suspend the construction, then decided to “reconsider their decision,” said Councilor Joel Chua.

This was after DMCI Homes appealed to Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada to lift the suspension. They claimed they had obtained all required permits and submitted all required documents to the previous city administration.

Estrada relented, saying the city would pursue development.

Gusto kasi ni mayor, development. Pag pumutok ‘yan, wala nang mag-iinvest sa Manila. Following that statement from the mayor, kung may problem, pagbawalan. We need to encourage investors,” Chua said, as quoted by Manila Bulletin.

(The mayor wants development. When this blows, no one will invest in Manila. Following that statement from the mayor, if there’s a problem, ban it.)

The resolution to support the exemption given by the zoning board to Torre de Manila was authored by Councilor Ernesto Isip and was signed by Chua, the presiding officer of the city council. In the document, there was no list of councilors who voted for or against the resolution.

Compromise or victory?

The MZBAA decision approved the floor-area ratio and height of Torre de Manila, the aspects of the building which violated local laws and which were most fiercely contested by citizens.

The Manila zoning ordinance or City Ordinance No 8119 imposes a maximum floor-area ratio of 4 for Torre de Manila since it is located within the institutional university cluster, an area in the zoning map reserved for schools and government buildings. 

Based on Torre de Manila’s building plans, it will have a floor-area ratio of 7.79, way above the limit. If Torre de Manila were to abide by the floor-area ratio of 4, it would be allowed only 7 floors. Torre de Manila will be a 49-story condominium. 

The floor-area ratio and zoning laws exist for a reason, said Councilor Joy Dawis-Asuncion who co-authored the city zoning ordinance.  

“When we made the zoning ordinance, we found out that the holding capacity of the city of Manila is very limited. We have small utility pipes for sewerage, the supply of our water and electricity is limited. That’s why there is a floor-area ratio and building height regulation,” she said during a Dec 6, 2013 roundtable discussion on the issue.

“As one of the authors of the zoning ordinance, I think there was a wrong judgment call by the sitting city planning officer who allowed the construction of Torre de Manila.”

The height was fiercely opposed for another reason: it would ruin the sightline of the Rizal Monument in Luneta Park which sits right across Torre de Manila.

SACRED SIGHTLINE. Heritage advocates oppose the 49-story Torre de Manila because it will ruin the sightline of the Rizal National Monument. Image from Change.org

More than 8,000 people signed an online petition by heritage advocate Carlos Celdran demanding that construction be stopped. (READ: NHCP backs off from Torre de Manila issue)

Even the National Parks Development Committee (NPDC) which has jurisdiction over Luneta Park said during a December 6 roundtable on the issue, “We strongly encourage DMCI to revise its design.”

Jeremiah Belgica, NPDC chief legal counsel, said the committee recommends “imposing restrictions on the height and design of all types of structures in the vicinity of historical landmarks as to not block or obstruct the historical view and preserve its prominence and dominance.”

Conditions

Though the approval of the height and floor-area ratio was a major loss for those who oppose the building, Bagatsing told Rappler, “All is not lost here. There still are substantial positive gains achieved now as compared to the situation before.”

Here are the conditions imposed by the MZBAA and Manila City Council:

  • Redesign of the building’s facade to fully complement the Rizal Monument. Celdran will be consulted on the new design. There are now suggestions to make the facade look more “art deco.”
  • Plant two layers of very tall trees between Torre de Manila and the Rizal Monument to strategically enhance the vista.
  • Ban billboards, tarps, other forms of advertising on the building’s exterior.
  • Construct a sewage treatment facility for the immediate vicinity and shoulder the massive increase in the area’s capacity for sewerage, drainage, flood control, and waste management.
  • Boost local economy by providing livelihood and employment to the area and Manila residents.
  • Adopt “green” building practices.

Bagatsing also gave assurances that, along with Celdran, “we shall persist on vigilantly monitoring the DMCI conglomerate’s many promises and will not hesitate to take up the fight again if ever they renege, backtrack, or deviate from their assured deliverables.”

But the approval of the building won’t stop Celdran discouraging people from buying Torre de Manila Units.

In a text to Rappler he said, “They worked for their permit but they need to work harder for my approval. I still think it’s too tall, badly designed and badly located. It’s still a terrible investment.” – Rappler.com

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