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Torre de Manila woes might stir caution among developers

Posted on June 21, 2015 09:10:00 PM [ BusinessWorld Online ]

A SUPREME COURT ruling against a high-rise condominium project near the Rizal Monument could stir caution among real estate developers and prompt them to review their master plans, property consultants said over the weekend.

THE 49-STOREY Torre de Manila high-rise condominium looms in the background of the Jose Rizal tomb at Luneta Park. A Supreme Court ruling that stopped the project -- after conservationists alleged it is ruining views of the national monument -- could spook developers, real estate consultants said. – AFP

The high court’s temporary restraining order -- handed down against Torre de Manila on June 16 -- would not entirely send a chilling effect on property developments, but still should prod developers to closely work with local governments to ensure projects are reconciled with the national heritage law, they said.

“On the part of the developers, they will avoid problematic scenarios such as the Torre de Manila case by properly identifying areas for land banking purposes that they will develop later on,” Claro Cordero, head of research at Jones Lang LaSalle, said in a mobile phone message.

“They definitely will be more careful in respecting zoning laws and in getting permits and zoning exemptions and variances,” Julius Guevara, head of advisory services at Colliers Philippines, said in a mobile phone message.

A DMCI Holdings, Inc. subsidiary is building that condominium project, which conservationists said ruins the view of the national monument.
Oral arguments were set for June 30, and DMCI last week said it might contest the ruling.

Regardless of the outcome of the Torre de Manila case, the government and private sector are seen undertaking more collaborative efforts to determine areas and properties that are suited for development and redevelopment.

“The developers along with the government as well as other stakeholders should work together to identify, preserve, enrich and ensure that the heritage/cultural development areas and other areas that serve the greater public interest are incorporated in the master plan of the communities they serve,” Mr. Cordero said.

8990 Holdings, Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer Januario Jesus Gregorio B. Atencio III said it has been common practice for the mass housing firm to be careful in developing projects, but the “sad situation” of the Torre de Manila project has brought the cultural and historical impact at the forefront of considerations that real estate firms must evaluate.

“There has to be a balance between development and respect for cultural or historical institutions, but the rules have to be clear,” Mr. Atencio said in a phone interview.

“At the end of the day, the property development sector as well as the government should be able to work together to find some compromise because you can’t stop development.”

The Philippines has an existing law governing the protection and preservation of the nation’s cultural heritage -- Republic Act 10066, or the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009 -- signed by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on March 26, 2010.

DMCI Holdings President Isidro A. Consunji told reporters in an interview in Aklan the residential tower has complied with all the legal requirements, including securing a clearance from the National Historical Institute.

“Some people say it destroyed the skyline, but that’s very subjective.

If we were told the rules of the game including if you build there you have to get the approval of the Knights of Rizal, we would have done that. It was not included in the rules so how do we know we’re offending the sensibilities,” Mr. Consunji said.

The Knights of Rizal was the petitioner in the case filed against DMCI that reached the Supreme Court.

The Torre de Manila project is the latest setback for DMCI with Maynilad Water Services, Inc. -- where it has a 25.24% stake -- locked in arbitration proceedings against the government over tariff increases.

“This experience is a little bit unsettling for investors because when people start to meddle on grounds which are not defined, it causes unnecessary anxiety… I don’t think the government understands the repercussions of being inconsistent. The repercussions don’t happen today,” Mr. Consunji said. -- Krista Angela M. Montealegre

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