Myanmar: Yangon’s new planning and zoning laws

Myanmar: Yangon’s new planning and zoning laws

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Straits Times, Nirmal Ghosh

A new zoning law will restrict building heights in Yangon’s historic downtown district.

The details of the zoning law are still being worked out. It will be part of a longer-term plan covering the whole city.

The zoning law will likely keep height limits for new buildings to 105m above the mean sea level south of Inya Lake; and 127m above sea level north of Inya Lake, said Moe Moe Lwin, general secretary of the Association of Myanmar Architects (AMA). The sprawling lake roughly marks the dividing line between north Yangon and the south, which culminates in the densely packed downtown business area and waterfront.

For the downtown area, packed with many old colonial- era buildings, the new zoning law would limit the height of new buildings to 12 storeys, she said.

Many buildings in downtown Yangon’s business district are still occupied by tenants paying rock-bottom rentals of around US$2 a month. Under Myanmar’s old Rent Control Act, it is difficult to drive them out.

The owners, in turn, have little income, and there is no incentive – or they cannot afford – to maintain the buildings properly. So they were seizing the opportunity now to make a killing, Moe Moe Lwin said. Developers and investors were “lining up” with new proposals, some of which were 30 to 40 storeys tall, she added.

“Our job is to find a balance,” she explained. The AMA is working closely with the Yangon Heritage Trust (YHT), founded by historian and author Thant Myint-U, and the Yangon City Development Council – the ultimate authority for real estate issues.

The President was enthused over the need to introduce zoning laws before the city’s character is lost.

But developers should welcome it, said Serge Pun, founder and chairman of Serge Pun and Associates, which has extensive properties in Yangon.

Land owners are now setting prices arbitrarily, he said. Because there are no zoning laws, they can build almost anything, anywhere.

“The new zoning law will be very beneficial to the market,” he said. “It will make it much more regulated, and will help impose discipline.”

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