Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) revoked the new restriction on the height of buildings in the vicinity of the city’s Boai Special District (博愛特區) yesterday after the new rule — imposed to enhance the president’s safety — attracted criticism.
“The Presidential Office respects the Taipei City Government’s authority over city planning, and we decided to revoke the directive issued on Aug. 10,” Hau told a press conference at the Taipei City Hall.
Hau’s announcement came two days after the issue was raised by Taipei City councilors, who condemned the Presidential Office for expanding the perimeter of the district, and urged the city government to defend the rights of area residents and contractors.
Hau, however, denied the Presidential Office had tried to deflect responsibility for the August ruling onto the city government.
“The Presidential Office and the city government discussed the issue and reached a consensus in response to public concern. This is a good thing,” he said.
Department of Urban Development Commissioner Ting Yu-chun (丁育群) went to the Presidential Office yesterday morning to discuss the issue, officials said.
Nevertheless, in response to the Presidential Office’s claim that it had not asked the city to “expand” the area, the Department of Urban Development showed reporters official documents from the Presidential Office dated August that asked the city to restrict the height of buildings in the special district.
The city government issued a directive on Aug. 10 limiting the height of buildings in the area between Zhongshan S Road, Xinyi Road, Hangzhou S Road, Aiguo E Road, Zhonghua Road, Heping W Road and Zhongxiao W Road to 24m. The special district is where the Presidential Office, Ministry of National Defense and many other government buildings are situated.
The directive would have affected 39 projects, including the I Pin Building (一品苑), a 23-story apartment complex that has a clear view of the president’s official residence.
In the future, the city government would invite the National Security Bureau (NSB) to attend construction project reviews, Hau said.
NSB Special Service Center Deputy Commander Chang Kan-ping (張戡平) told a press conference that the bureau had never planned to increase the area of Boai Special District, but would ban balconies and windows on the sides of buildings overlooking the presidential residence.
The bureau would also increase its manpower to make sure that the presidential residence’s security was not breached, Chang said.
Presidential Office Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) said the Presidential Office and president’s official residence could be relocated — if the public demanded it. However, there was no plan for any such move right now, he said.
"It is an issue that deserves attention,” he said.
He said it would cause less trouble in terms of traffic and security if both the Presidential Office and presidential residence were to be moved, but President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) did not want to spend money on any relocation project.
“It is not easy and it could not be done overnight,” Wang said. “It is better to focus on addressing more pressing issues.”
Wang said when they invited the NSB and city officials for a meeting in August, neither the Presidential Office nor the NSB proposed expanding the Boai Special District, and that they only asked the city government to make “proper adjustments” to prevent the construction of taller buildings, based on national security and presidential security concerns.
“We hope to adopt a soft approach in which contractors are encouraged to build lower buildings inside the district, while the government will offer them incentives for projects outside the district,” he said.
The proposal was intended to apply only to projects that had not yet obtained a construction license, not those that were already under way, Wang said.
“We never demanded the demolition of the I Pin Building,” he said.
The I Pin Building was finalized during Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) presidency when Ma was Taipei mayor.
The building is not inside the Boai Special District.
The city has the final say on restricting the height of new buildings around the Presidential Office and presidential residence, Wang said, and the Presidential Office would respect the city’s decision.
He said he believed the city government would strike a balance between the rights of contractors and presidential security.
Wang’s remarks, however, ran counter to the minutes he provided to the media. In the appendix, the National Security Council proposed putting the area around the Presidential Office and residence into the “core zone of the capital,” where the height of buildings would be regulated and no new buildings could be built.
A senior official who spoke on condition of anonymity criticized the city government for “lacking sensitivity” because expansion of the district was a critical issue.
“It was a complete blunder from the very beginning,” he said. “It was the city government’s call to announce expansion of the [Boai] district and it was their decision to withdraw it. It has nothing to do with us.”
The official said when Ma was mayor, he invited officials from the Presidential Office and NSB to discuss the I Pin Building project, but neither opposed the plan.
Ting and Deputy Mayor Lee Yong-ping (李永萍) visited Presidential Office Secretary-General Liao Liou-yi (廖了以) yesterday afternoon, he said, before Hau held his press conference.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JIMMY CHUANG
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