RANGOON — An international development complex worth nearly US$300 million, along with four other building projects, have been suspended while authorities consider the impact of proposed building heights on the nearby Shwedagon Pagoda.
Situated on land formerly owned by the military in Dagon Township, the five projects stretch over more than 71 acres of land, sold in 2013 and 2014 for the development of a five star hotel, serviced and residential apartments, and a shopping complex.
Site development of the flagship 22-acre ‘Dagon City 1’ project, near the U Htaung Bo roundabout and within walking distance of Shwedagon, began last year.
“The project was suspended a few days ago as the buildings will have more stories than what was stated in their proposal,” said Toe Aung, the director of Urban Planning Department in Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC).
Dagon City 1, a joint venture between the international Marga Group syndicate and local partnet Thukhayadanar, includes plans for the development of a number of eight storey residential towers, according to a press release issued in June 2014. The municipality restricts buildings in the vicinity of Shwedagon to 62 feet, or around 5-6 stories, to protect metropolitan sightlines to the national monument.
It remains unclear why the YCDC has waited until this week to raise its objections to the proposal. A draft plan on zoning and land use formulated by the YCDC, which is currently the de facto framework for urban development decisions and which details restrictions on building heights near Shwedagon, was being prepared for submission to the Rangoon Division Parliament in Feb. 2014, four months before Marga Group publicly released details of its development proposal.
Toe Aung told The Irrawaddy that the YCDC and Myanmar Engineering Society would reassess the projects and negotiate with developers, noting that there were other outstanding concerns that the projects would violate municipal regulations.
“According to the (draft) Zoning Plan, those areas have been partially designated as green areas,” he added.
Local company Thukhayadanar is also the sole investor in the nearby $75 million, 7.5-acre Dagon City 2 development, itself subject to the YCDC’s suspension. The identity of the other three suspended projects were not confirmed by the YCDC’s Urban Planning Department.
Since Burma’s re-engagement with the West in 2011, Rangoon’s religious and colonial-era sites have been threatened by private commercial interests seeking land for high-rise and modern developments to a city long neglected by the former military regime and shunned by international investors.
The World Monuments Fund in 2013 put Burma’s largest city on its watchlist of places “at risk from the forces of nature and the impact of social, political, and economic change.”
In December 2014, a group Burmese urban planning and heritage experts sent an open letter to President Thein Sein, requesting the suspension of construction projects planned or already underway at Rangoon’s heritage sites, including the downtown grid and the area around Shwedagon. The letter warned that such developments could threaten urban landscapes and displace city dwellers. suspend construction projects planned or already under way at Rangoon’s heritage sites, such as the area surrounding Shwedagon Pagoda and the historic downtown core.
A PR Officer for Marga Group told The Irrawaddy that the project had already been approved by the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC), and a statement would be released shortly. MIC officials were not available for comment.