Cabinet OKs urban renewal law change

PROPERTY PROTECTION::The proposed amendment would raise the thresholds for both government and privately initiated development projects to minimize disputes

By Shih Hsiu-chuan and Mo Yan-chih  /  Staff reporters

Fri, Nov 30, 2012 - Page 3

The Cabinet yesterday approved an amendment to the Urban Renewal Act (都市更新條例) that aims to address flaws in urban renewal mechanisms that favor property developers over residents, as highlighted most recently in the Wenlin Yuan (文林苑) case.

On March 28, the Taipei City Government dispatched police to evict a family surnamed Wang (王) from their homes. The Wangs were the only residents who opposed the Wenlin Yuan urban renewal project in Shilin District (士林), while the other 36 families affected by the project were in favor. Since the majority of residents affected by the project approved, the Wangs saw their two two-story houses demolished to make way for the project.

The project reignited concerns over the nation’s land acquisition policy which had met with much criticism after a spate of farmland acquisitions for development purposes in various counties and cities sparked controversy.

Under the proposed amendment, if an urban renewal project is initiated by a local government, the developer would have to obtain the consent of all the residents affected to proceed with the project, compared with the threshold of more than four-fifths of the land or property owners involved that is currently stipulated by the law.

The current rule that entitles local governments to exercise their power to seize land is viewed as unconstitutional by critics.

If the amendment passes the legislature, the principle of majority rule in deciding matters of urban renewal would only apply to projects initiated by residents, land or property owners and construction firms, and not to local governments.

However, the thresholds for approval of such projects would also be raised under the amendment.

For example, for an urban renewal project initiated by a construction firm to proceed, more than half of the residents affected would have to agree on the developer’s draft proposal of the project before the firm files an application with the local government for approval, a significant increase from the 10th currently required.

After a local government approves the proposal, the construction firm would not be allowed to proceed with the project without the consents of between two-thirds and nine-10ths of land or property owners. The ratio would be decided according to different urban areas.

Currently, a construction firm can go ahead with a project as long as it obtains consent from between 50 percent and 80 percent of the residents involved.

The amendment would prohibit construction firms from preselling units before all housing located in the designated urban renewal area has been dismantled. Violation of the rules would result in a fine of between NT$50,000 and NT$5 million (US$171,000), with a further fine imposed for each further violation if the behavior is not corrected.

Under the amendment, local governments would still retain the authority to forcibly remove residents from their houses and demolish the buildings on behalf of construction firms or developers if the houses or residents are not gone before a given time limit. However, this course of action would only be permitted after the developers have exhausted every possibility of negotiation through administrative and judicial channels.

The Taipei City Government said it supported the amendment, adding that its passing would facilitate the promotion of urban planning projects.

Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) has been urging the Cabinet to amend the regulations and demanded that no presale housing transactions should be made before old houses are torn down to prevent future disputes.

However, both supporters and opponents of the Wenlin Yuan project said the amendment would not help resolve the stalled project, in which the construction of a new apartment complex has been delayed indefinitely since March.

Wang Yao-te (王耀德), a Wang family member, said the developers still insist on building the houses on the original site and would not make any compromises.

Hsieh Chun-chiao (謝春嬌), one of the residents who agreed to the project, said the primary goal for the households who had given their consent was to be allowed to have their new homes as soon as possible, adding that the government had failed to defend their rights.

She said the households agreed with the Wang family’s demand that the construction firm should change the project’s blueprint and rebuild the family’s demolished units on the site separately, adding that the government should help facilitate the project design change and restart the construction within the next six to eight months.