Rough Cuts: Fairness needed in Shrine Hills land use

We commiserate with the plight of people who have acquired lots on top of Shrine Hills in Matina, Davao City.

They are now facing the possibility of being denied their right to maximize the use of their lot with the proposal of environmental non-government organization (NGO) Interface Development Interventions (IDIS). The group has proposed to the Davao City Council to add a new amendment to the Zoning Ordinance which is to allocate 75% of their land as ecological sub-zones. In effect, the lot owners will only have 25% left for them to put up development.

At the same time, the Shrine Hills lot/homeowners are saying that they are also facing the possibility of being slapped huge fines if they already have introduced development in their property after 2013. According to Nelson Go, a director of the Shrine Hills Home/Lot Owners Association, the amendment in the Zoning Ordinance in 2013 included a moratorium on new building construction at their area. Unfortunately, according to Go, they were not informed and the local government seems to have no efforts to advise them on the matter.

Thus, according to the association director, many homeowners have introduced additional improvements on their existing developments, and some lot owners also built new structures occupying areas over the IDIS-recommended 25%.

The Zoning Ordinance as amended in 2013, slaps a P500 per day administrative penalty on those who built new structures effective immediately after the amendment took effect.

Now let us take the first case. That is, the IDIS proposal to allow the lot owners to use for development only 25 percent of their property.

Mark T. Penalver, program coordinator of IDIS, asserts that “adding development to Shrine Hills without mitigating measures to ensure stability will cause more tragedies.”

In saying this, we assume that IDIS believes any development occupying over and above the 25% maximum proposed by the environment group would be too much weight to bear by the hills. As consequence, the areas around its foot may be endangered and the communities in the lower areas put in jeopardy.

We have no doubt that IDIS is correct in its assessment. But we have also seen quite vividly the weakness in the same analysis of the Shrine Hills situation.

Yes, if the hills are to be structurally disturbed on its top by putting so much weight in terms of development, the base may not hold and landslides could occur. So the IDIS believes that by limiting the level of development that lot owners could introduce to only 25% would be enough assurance that future disasters like landslides would not happen.

In the same vein, however, IDIS also says that if proper mitigating measures are introduced, landslides may be prevented from happening.

Well now, if this is so, why did IDIS not recommend that government, both local and national, implement projects that would mitigate the effect of development made over the 25% of lots on top of Shrine Hills? Instead, the NGO wanted to have the owners give up their rights to put in place development in the 75% so this could be included in the so-called ecological sub-zone imposed through an amendment in the Zoning Ordinance.

What made the group think that denying the lot owners their right to maximize the use of their property would be the better option to save the hills and the communities around its base?

Yes, there is no argument as to the correctness of the assessment of IDIS that putting up mitigating projects can curtail the possibility of future degradation of the Shrine Hills thereby preventing landslides to happen and bring heavy destruction on the communities surrounding its foot. The mitigating projects can also be reinforced with appropriate regulations from the city government without necessarily compromising the hill top home/lot owners’ right to a big portion of their possession.

For example, the City Council, in coordination with the City Engineer’s Office (CEO), the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and in close consultation with stakeholders, can come up with policies regulating the kind of horizontal or vertical development that can be undertaken on the top of the hills. And these must cover even those developments introduced by the government.

We think that if the city government considers these hybrid mitigating measures we can be certain that nobody will lose. These can be the only “win-win” solutions that can be fair to all stakeholders in that part of the city.

Meanwhile, IDIS itself also admitted that there were lapses in the information dissemination on the part of the city with regards to the imposition of the “No New Build” provision at Shrine Hills in the 2013 amendment of the Zoning Ordinance.

Thus, we recommend that the environmental advocacy group IDIS should also endorse the request of Shrine Hills homeowners for an executive clemency in the payment of P500 per day administrative penalty. That would make IDIS a fair player in its advocacy endeavor.

Posted in Opinion