Get ready for another Aetas nightmare
With great reluctance, City Hall has finally announced a plan to demolish parts of the unlawfully built Aetas Hotel Bangkok to comply with an order issued by the Supreme Administrative Court in 2014.
On Tuesday, Bangkok governor Aswin Kwanmuang was seen putting up a notice prohibiting the use of the 25-storey building, with a 30,000-baht daily fine. He also said the 200-million-baht demolition is expected to start by late February, adding City Hall will sue the building owner to recoup the costs.
Why now after years of foot-dragging?
The 2014 court order required the Bangkok governor and the chief of Pathumwan district to oversee the demolition within 60 days. The court found the 25-storey hotel was unlawfully built because the road outside was too narrow for a hotel of that size, according to the city's construction ordinance.
Pol Gen Aswin said he only learnt about the case on Oct 27 because he needs to update the court about the demolition plan next Tuesday.
And does the notice mean anything to the business operator? I don't think so.
A few days after Pol Gen Aswin put up the notice, it was business as usual at the hotel. A receptionist who answered my call yesterday even recommended an online advance booking for a better rate.
Why should the operator care about a 30,000-baht fine when a room can be booked for at least 3,500 baht a night through any booking website? Not to mention that the notice was in Thai, which means foreign visitors have little or no chance of knowing they are staying in an unlawfully-built building.
Just as the BMA is busy with the demolition plan, another high-rise project, with the same problem, is under way.
About two months ago, residents on the narrow Rongmuang 5 Road (a similar size to Soi Ruamrudee where the Aetas Hotel is located), including myself, received a survey form from a land developer asking if we had any concerns if a 25-storey condo were built in the neighbourhood. We were told a number of respondents "gave their consent". It would be the first high-rise on the street.
I, for one, am worried about the project. The construction of an eight-storey building that took place round the clock on the same street a few years ago caused air and noise pollution as well as cracks to nearby buildings.
Let's imagine the nightmare during the months of construction of a 25-storey building and the heavier traffic on this narrow street if the project is sold out. And how about access by ambulances or fire engines in emergencies?
Yet, some residents have heard construction will kick off in the next few months.
I called the project operator only to find out the project has not yet been approved and the survey is a part of an environmental impact study report. I'm starting to wonder if the statement that some residents have given their consent is a trick to persuade those who do not agree with the high-rise to follow suit.
An elderly woman living across the street from the condo site doubts anything can be done if the operator develops the project. Another resident suspects her shop, just metres away from the project, would be affected by the construction.
I wonder how a 25-storey building on a plot of slightly over one rai could be approved. My rough calculation also found the street is narrower than 10 metres. The project operator may think it will benefit from the revised building code which allows high-rise buildings on areas surrounding electric rail stations (this one is the National Stadium BTS station), but this is apparently not the case.
However, there are some legal loopholes that enable operators of such high-rise projects on questionable spots like Rongmuang 5 to obtain permits.
Under the building code, owners of a building lower than 25 metres -- around eight floors -- are required to seek a permit from the district office, but any buildings over 25 metres in height have to seek permission from the Department of Public Works (DPW).
This gives the district office an excuse to turn a blind eye to some contentious projects which are permitted by the DPW.
This is the answer I got from the Pathumwan district director when I raised the problem with her just before she retired. She told me approval for the high-rise had been sought from the DPW, not the district office. I was dumbfounded by her answer, as it's just "pingponging" responsibility.
I don't know if this project will be developed. But what I do know is if it does those involved with it should prepare for another Aetas nightmare.
Sirinya Wattanasukchai is a columnist, Bangkok Post.
Sirinya Wattanasukchai is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.