Open space morphs into housing project

PETALING JAYA: How did a plot of land in Taman Aman which was meant to be an open space and utility reserve end up in the hands of a developer?

This is the 20-year-old question residents of Jalan 22 have been asking, to which the authorities have been unable to provide a comprehensive answer.

Over the years, its land use as well as landowners have changed, and the plot of land is mired in a confusing heap of documents that include land titles and questionable de-gazetting of public land.

The issue has raised enough concerns for the ministry of urban well-being, housing and local government to investigate whether or not fraudulent means were used to change the land use and obtain the open space for development.

In a letter to residents dated July 15, 2013, the ministry's town and rural planning department said it was probing claims of a syndicate that falsified government documents for development.

Its minister Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan confirmed to yesterday that his ministry was probing into questionable land conversions nationwide, following numerous complaints.

In the Taman Aman case, records showed that the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) had approved the construction of 18 three-storey terraced houses by Sri Aman Development Sdn Bhd on the land, situated beside the Sri Aman low-cost flats and opposite the Taman Paramount light rail transit (LRT) station.

The tract is one of three parcels of government land — identified as PT9, PT10 and PT11 — which were initially earmarked for the construction of low-cost and medium-cost flats back in 1993.

On Aug 12, 1993, the then Petaling Jaya Municipal Council (MPPJ) approved a project for the construction of 2,000 low-cost and medium-cost flats on the land, identified as government land in the layout plans.

Documents showed that the developer of the project was Tanda Baik Sdn Bhd.

However, in 1995, parts of the three plots of land, notably PT11, were converted to an open space and Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) land, as well as the LRT reserve land to make way for the Kelana Jaya LRT line.

Former MBPJ councillor KW Mak explained that the British government acquired the land in 1931 and gazetted the entire area as open space.

At the time, it fell under the federal government.

"After the low-cost flat project was proposed on the land, at some point, the state government declared that it would buy back the land from Tanda Baik. But my question is, at what point was the land sold to Tanda Baik?" he asked.

In 2005, the original low-cost development was changed to the present Sri Aman low-cost flats and the Paramount View condominium was completed in 2009.

Mak said while documents indicated that Sri Aman was the registered landowner as at Oct 14, 2004, the title, according to a land search, has since been annulled.

Sri Aman has maintained that it is the legitimate landowner of PT11 and has in written notices to residents of SS22/44, said it possesses all necessary approvals for the housing project. It has also cautioned the residents not to encroach into the property.

However, the only development board on the site indicates that the land is meant for a "pencawang elektrik" (electricity substation), although an amendment clause is inserted.

Councillor Derek Fernandez said PT11 in the new Petaling Jaya local plan has been gazetted for housing, but the paperwork for the development has yet to be finalised.

"These conversions of land use were done before our time. The state government has to answer as to why it changed the status of the land and gave it up for development," he said.

Resident Professor Isahak Haron said residents in the area have witnessed various changes to the proposed development on PT11.

"At one point, eight units of two-storey bungalow houses, 20 units of semi-detached two-storey houses and one block of low-cost flats were proposed on PT9, PT10 and PT11," he said.

Isahak, who has been living in the area since the 1970s, said residents have been objecting to the proposed development projects on PT11 as it is gazetted as an open space.

This is not the only case where development projects were proposed and approved on land gazetted as open space or utility land.

One such case involves a plot of Telekom Malaysia Bhd land in USJ 6, Subang Jaya, Selangor.

The state planning committee and the Subang Jaya Municipal Council (MPSJ)  approved a proposed development of a nine-storey commercial block with two floors of sub-basement carpark on 0.35ha of utility reserve land in November 2008.

Landowner TM Facilities Sdn Bhd had sold part of the land with conditions to developer Pujangga Budiman Sdn Bhd. Details of the conditions were never made known to residents and MPSJ and the developer dealed with each other directly.

The approval was revoked by MPSJ councillors in October 2009, but was later overturned in April 2010 at an ad-hoc meeting with then MPSJ president Datuk Adnan Md Ikshan.

The residents had filed legal action at the Selangor Appeals Board over the matter, and the board decided to uphold TM's right to develop its plot of land in 2011.

However, three conditions on the size and height of the development as well as traffic control measures were attached to ensure the development does not cause further traffic congestion in the area.

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This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on August 14, 2013.


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