Citizens’ Rights to the City: Community representatives request a meeting with Kingston’s Mayor

Parts of the city of Kingston – the once-leafy suburbs in particular – are undergoing a wave of “development.” I put this word in quotation marks because, nine times out of ten, “development” (or “investment”) is basically about making money. Nothing wrong with that, you might say – but it cannot be unchecked and unregulated; and there is a severe environmental and human cost to what is happening in Kingston (or more precisely, the parish of St. Andrew, population around 600,000, which extends to the north of the “old” city).

Yet another apartment block under construction on Charlemont Drive/Hope Pastures in St. Andrew, last year. (Photo: Ian Allen/Gleaner)

High-rise apartment buildings suddenly loom over single-storey homes; streets endure tremendous damage from trucks and works connected with new developments; the noise from cement mixers, trucks and other machinery is staggering; and large trees (including the endangered Lignum Vitae, a slow-growing tree that bears our National Flower) have been sacrificed. New developments include very little green space – some none at all. Our city will become hotter, the air more polluted, and Kingston dwellers’ quality of life will deteriorate, fast.

As architect Patricia Green (among others) has argued, “I am speaking of the breach in the development process of Jamaica. We are speaking about a development, and an approval process that is taking place in absentia of correct procedures.”

How to destroy a neighbourhood, a home, and in this case a home with great history.

All of this has happened very rapidly. The “developers” are in a great hurry. In some once quiet areas, lives have been upended and the environment has been transformed into something quite ugly, with buildings more resembling the outskirts of Miami than the traditional old neighborhoods. There is a lack of vision, just a rush to make money – fast. Old homes disappear almost overnight, becoming sad piles of rubble.

A number of broadcast public fora and programmes have aired the concerns over the past few years, with little response from the “relevant authorities” as Jamaicans like to call the responsible Government agencies.

Now, a large group of concerned citizens representing several St. Andrew communities has written to the Mayor of Kingston and St. Andrew, Delroy Williams, at the Kingston & St. Andrew Municipal Corporation (KSAMC), requesting an urgent meeting, outlining their concerns and not just complaining – but putting forward solutions. To date, the citizens have received a response from Councilor Kari Douglas, but none from the Mayor himself. It should be noted that over the past two to three years, numerous letters (including this 2019 Open Letter to the Prime Minister) have been sent, letters to the Editor published, and television and radio programmes aired on the topic, with little or no response from the “powers that be.”

Let us hope that the voices of citizens will be heard, this time. And no one is “against development,” by the way; they are just seeking a balance.

Here is a copy of the Open Letter:

Citizens’ Rights to the City
C/O 46 Lady Musgrave Road
Kingston 10

His Worship the Mayor
Senator Delroy Williams
Kingston & St. Andrew Municipal Corporation
24 Church Street

February 11, 2022

Dear Mayor Williams,

Re: Request for a Meeting – Towards Balancing Citizens Rights and Development Benefits in the KSAMA

We write to you as part of a larger group of very concerned citizens who hail from several communities across the Kingston and St. Andrew Metropolitan area (KSAMA). We came together in 2021, meeting regularly as an informal network of citizens with shared feelings of deep dismay, increasing alarm and disenfranchisement by recent building developments in our neighbourhoods, and a deep concern about overall planning that could better serve the needs of the majority of residents of Kingston.

We are requesting an urgent meeting with yourself and relevant Officers and Committees of the Council so that we may have dialogue on our concerns and calls for specific actions to bring about improvement.

As you are aware, Mayor, the 2017 Provisional Developmental Order has enabled high rise, high density residences to be built in low rise, low density single family neighbourhoods. In practice, there is little to no consultation with the neighbouring community members. There are many instances of breach of covenants, inadequate infrastructural support – e.g. water supply, sewage, sidewalks, green spaces – and a disregard for the impact of high density developments on the nature, privacy and enjoyment of these communities. We are heartened by recent Court rulings against errant developers and in favour of affected residents. We also welcome the Council’s recent call for a comprehensive overhaul of the approval process, the Council’s success in obtaining an injunction against a developer and the announcements of actions aimed at improving the KSAMC’s capacity for inspection and enforcement of all relevant Laws.

We are anxious to see these actions come to fruition and more being done to protect and balance the rights of citizens of the municipality. It is against this background, Mayor, that we request a meeting with yourself and relevant Officers and Committees of the Council to discuss our concerns and several specific calls which we attach hereto.

We look forward to your early response to our request for a meeting with representatives of Citizen Associations to discuss a way forward.

Anthony Davis, President,
Charlemont Drive Neighbourhood Watch and Citizen Association
Cunningham-Herb McKenley-Latham Neighbourhood Watch
Eastwood Park Gardens Citizens Association
Golden Triangle Neighbourhood Association
Leas Flat Citizens Association
Liguanea East Neighbourhood Association
Mona Heights Citizens Association
Hope Pastures Citizens Association
Paddington Terrace Salisbury and Environs Neighbourhood Group
Sandhurst Citizens Association
Stony Hill Community Group

cc. Robert H.P. Hill, Town Clerk
Councilor K. Douglas

Please see CALL attached:

Citizens’ Rights to the City
C/O 46 Lady Musgrave Road, Kingston 10

We call on the KSAMC to:
● Institute a systematic mechanism that ensures that citizens’ written concerns, objections and or recommendations are brought to the attention of the relevant building/planning committees on a scheduled basis and that written responses to citizens’ communications with the Council are provided within a specified timeframe.
• Ensure that its website provides user-friendly, public access to up-to-date information on all building applications, including outline planning permission, permit numbers of pending developments, results of applications (approved, denied or modified), stop orders, inspection reports etc.
● Ensure residents of affected communities have access to information on proposed developments, recent approvals and changes of use in a timely manner so that citizens are able to lodge any objections they may have before the period for objections expires.
● End the practice of granting provisional approvals subject to modification of covenants, based on the frequency of breaches of the terms. Adopt a policy of no approvals until ALL requirements are in place.
● Set standards and specifications for:
○ the posting of notices about developments in affected communities.
■ Large, weather resistant notices,
■ Notices placed on the outside perimeter of the property,
■ Proof of where the posted notices are placed
○ proof of number of neighbouring residents consulted and
○ proof of the neighbours’ recorded responses to the proposed development and
or change of use, and or covenant changes.

We believe the above calls are consistent with the spirit and letter of the 2018 Building Act.

Additionally, we call for:

● KSAMC Building Committee to convene a series of public hearings and/or consultations with citizen associations, with a view to hearing and discussing the impact of recent high-density housing developments, and recommendations of the residents.

● Representatives from citizen associations to be placed on any committee/mechanism established to review the building approval and permitting process.

We continue our calls for a long term master plan of how the city is to look, feel, function, and meet the varying needs of the majority of citizens. This master plan must involve all stakeholders – residents (reflecting all socio-economic and demographic groups), state agencies (including National Works Agency, Ministries of Education, Health and Wellness, Sports, Environment and so on) and social services and business sectors.

A huge development in the Golden Triangle area dwarfs surrounding homes.

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