In this old PJ neighbourhood, residents just want to co-exist with an upcoming development beginning with sharing a park

·7-min read
The development site for Seapark Residences where equipment for piling work was sighted on October 31. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
The development site for Seapark Residences where equipment for piling work was sighted on October 31. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 22 — Sea Park, or Section 21, in Petaling Jaya is a mature neighbourhood and you wouldn’t think there’d be room for any more development.

First developed in the sixties, this neighbourhood is made up of terrace houses (both single- and double-storey), the Sea Park apartments and a commercial heart which is made up of old shophouses.

However, the upcoming construction of Seapark Residences — developed by Midas De Sdn Bhd — which is set to house 406 units of serviced apartments in two blocks of 29-storey and 24-storey buildings has caused the residents here to feel unsettled.

It is being built on a piece of land where the iconic Ruby Cinema was located.

A visit by the Malay Mail on October 31 found that concrete beams and machinery meant for piling work were already present at the site.

Older Sea Park residents say that the land was actually meant for a much larger recreational development and was marketed as such when the neighbourhood was being developed by SEA Housing Corporation Sdn Bhd almost 60 years ago.

“When we bought our homes (in the 1970s) we were told that there would be a football field, a swimming pool, a cinema and a basketball court,” said Gan Keng, chairman of both the Section 21 Sea Park Residents Association (RA) and the Section 21 Rukun Tetangga.

“In the end only the cinema was built, but even that has been torn down. Now we don’t even have a park,” added the 77-year-old egg trader who bought a home in Sea Park when it was first developed and has been running his business in the same neighbourhood since.

President of Section 21 Sea Park Gan Keng speaks to Malay Mail during an interview in Petaling Jaya October 31, 2021. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
President of Section 21 Sea Park Gan Keng speaks to Malay Mail during an interview in Petaling Jaya October 31, 2021. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

The cinema was demolished on November 7, 2020 by Midas De after approval to do so was given by the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) — despite residents objecting strongly to the development during two public hearings in October 2019 and January 2020.

“It seems like the residents are being ignored just because they are mostly an older crowd, with many of them being senior citizens”, said Yasmin Lane, a member of A Better Sea Park (ABSP), a group of working professionals jointly advocating for the residents’ rights.

However, both the local RA and ABSP claim that residents are willing to come to a compromise with the developer; in return for the residents’ approval, they are just asking for viable parking solutions and shared facilities such as a much needed park.

A model of the proposed Seapark Residences  the park within the complex is the one Sea Park residents are asking for access to.  — Picture courtesy of A Better Sea Park
A model of the proposed Seapark Residences the park within the complex is the one Sea Park residents are asking for access to. — Picture courtesy of A Better Sea Park

For example, it is proposing that a park, supposedly planned for the apartment complex's ground floor, be made open to the public.

Currently, the residents in Sea Park have to travel far — about one kilometre away — to Taman Aman if they want to exercise in a park.

“They have to fight the heavy traffic to get there,” said Chang, a resident of 20 years, who was present at a recent karaoke-night gathering that also served as a briefing on the development issue.

“And the road conditions are so bad — potholes and cracks — one of my neighbours fell and was quite badly injured when walking there,”

Another resident, Pauline, 67, said she often sees children playing on the busy streets as there is no park in the neighbourhood.

Sea Park resident Chang said walking to the nearest park is not feasible as the road conditions are bad. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Sea Park resident Chang said walking to the nearest park is not feasible as the road conditions are bad. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

Disputes to approval given by MBPJ

A social impact assessment (SIA) commissioned by Midas De in January 2020 found that 88 per cent of Sea Park residents perceived that the apartment development would cause more traffic congestion.

Despite this, a traffic impact assessment (TIA) commissioned by the same developer concluded that roads in Sea Park would be able to sustain the added vehicles from the upcoming development — after studying only nine junctions in the entire neighbourhood.

The groups representing the residents hired an independent traffic consultant which concluded that the developer’s TIA was invalid as it did not consider critical junctions and egresses, prompting residents to lodge a police report on the matter.

The resident groups also disputed the conditions under which the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) provided a full planning approval to Midas De, allowing development to commence.

One of the three plots of land being used for the development used to be a road reserve.

To convert the road reserve for commercial use, MBPJ drafted an amendment to the town plan named Petaling Jaya Local Plan (RTPJ 1) Alteration 4.

Although residents are supposed to be consulted before the alteration can be passed, they were given a period of between April 6 and May 6, 2021 to submit their objections physically to MBPJ during working hours.

ABSP says the deadline was impossible to meet as it was during an uptick of the Covid-19 cases and severe restrictions were in place prohibiting gatherings, adding that the community's ageing community was within the high risk category.

Furthermore, residents were allegedly not informed that Media De had received the aforementioned planning approval until the developer put up a sign in front of the construction site early this month showing that approval was granted on May 30.

It is also unclear if RTPJ 1 Alteration 4 had been passed before the developer received its approval.

As dissent grew, the association representatives managed to arrange a meeting with the MBPJ through local councillor Nalina Nair, where the parties had a sit-down with various department heads from MBPJ and Kampung Tunku state assemblyman Lim Yi Wei.

Yasmin Lane, Adeline Chua and Wong JT from A Better Sea Park together with a supporter at the construction site. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Yasmin Lane, Adeline Chua and Wong JT from A Better Sea Park together with a supporter at the construction site. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

However, Wong JT from ABSP says their concerns were not met with concrete answers, and the authorities finally asked the residents to meet with Midas De instead, to ask the developer to accommodate their requests.

He said this has left him and his neighbours disappointed as they do not feel that the developer will listen to their concerns without a push from the authorities.

“We are willing to sit down with all stakeholders to come to a win-win solution,” stressed Wong, who is a landscape architect.

“We just want MBPJ to play its role as a mitigator and for them and the developer to conduct a community sensitive development," he added.

As it stands, the community is waiting for Lim to arrange for a meeting with Midas De. Lim said that she plans for the meeting with Midas De to include MBPJ and that her office will “continue to facilitate communications between all parties.”

Malay Mail’s request to MBPJ’s planning department for comments are yet to be answered.

Do they really need a park?

Commenting on the matter, Associate Professor Veronica Ng, Head of School of Architecture, Building and Design at Taylor's University said that the neighbourhood’s request for dedicated recreational space is well founded as numerous studies both globally and locally have attested to the need for such facilities.

“One significant type of recreational space is the public park. The surge of need for greenery was propelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic where there were increasing mental health issues among many adults and the elderly.

“Not only that, but recreational spaces are also important for social interaction to take place. Social and emotional well-being are both linked to the notion of happiness,” she stressed.

She added that while newer housing developments have embraced concepts such as the “garden city” and “walkability”, incorporating elements such as pocket parks, linear parks, and large central parks, older neighbourhoods may be short of these.

Associate Professor Veronica Ng says public parks should be within walking distance of neighbourhoods. — Picture courtesy of Veronica Ng
Associate Professor Veronica Ng says public parks should be within walking distance of neighbourhoods. — Picture courtesy of Veronica Ng

“It is compounded by the fact that older neighbourhoods have a higher demography of elderly residents and that means that parks should be within walking distance, the pedestrian infrastructure linking to the diverse social spaces within the neighbourhood should be comfortable and safe.

“Walking, jogging and activities of play or sports at public parks are important affordances and are some of the recreational activities done among residents in neighbourhoods to upkeep their physical health, especially during Covid-19.

“In short, neighbourhood recreational spaces are core to having happy and healthy places,” she said.

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