Saturday, September 13, 2008

Some Developers Want GFA Incentives Restored

Source : The Business Times, September 13, 2008

WITH profit margins already looking slimmer these days, some developers have decided to appeal to the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to reinstate GFA (gross floor area) incentives for providing planter boxes and bay windows in condominiums.

However, while sources say this is unlikely, an extension of the deadline for the approval of projects based on the old planning guidelines on planter boxes and bay windows may be given.

In July, the URA announced that from Oct 7, bay windows and planter boxes, which can contribute up to around 5 per cent of a condominium's saleable area, will no longer be exempt from GFA calculations.

Until now, developers were nevertheless able to charge home buyers for this extra GFA. But most developers do not see the GFA exemption as an incentive. City Developments group general manager Chia Ngiang Hong explained that it is common practice for developers to price in the exemption of GFA for planter boxes and bay windows when calculating the residual land value, especially for public tenders of state land. 'With the GFA exemption, most developers would have been able to allow for a wider margin,' he added.

It is understood that developers were not consulted before the change in the planning guidelines on planter boxes and bay windows was revised, with many of them taken by surprise.

That developers who bid for and were awarded land parcels based on prices that took into account the GFA incentive should now feel they could have overpaid, is likely to be a sore point.

Still, design of future condominiums is also an issue.

The guidelines on bay windows and planter boxes were first introduced in 1989 and 1993 respectively, ostensibly to encourage interesting designs for condominiums.

United Overseas Land (UOL) has built award-winning developments, such as 1 Moulmein, that feature bay windows. And its Group COO, Liam Wee Sin, feels that the guidelines have had a positive impact on the 'articulation of facades'.

One of the winning design features of 1 Moulmein - designed by WOHA Architects - is the introduction of a 'monsoon window' which operates on a horizontal plane to allow natural ventilation even during a storm.

'We need to have some flexibility so that architects can experiment,' said Mr Liam.

Mr Liam concedes that some developers may have exploited the GFA exemption by maximising planter boxes and bay windows without pure architectural intent, but added that this could be addressed in ways that did not sacrifice the incentive. 'Such guidelines can determine a whole generation of architecture,' he said.

On the rationale for the change in guidelines, URA said that its checks on some completed developments had shown that on average, only about 10 per cent of the approved planter boxes within residential units were used for planting.

It also said that many bay windows were now designed to be used no differently from the rest of the floor space of a residential unit and for all intent and purposes, were 'part and parcel of room space'.

'Over time, the bay window designs have become a predominant feature for majority of the newer residential developments,' it added.

Singapore Institute of Architects president Tai Lee Siang says that it is still not clear how the change in guidelines will affect the design of condominiums but 'standardisation' inevitably sets in after time.

Architecture, however, needs to be responsive, so Mr Tai believes that it may be useful to 're-visit' the guidelines if these prove useful in addressing aspects of tropical architecture in the future.

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