Developers say old by-laws frustrating Coast investors

Friday, August 2nd, 2019 00:00 |
An apartment block under construction near Nyali bridge, Mombasa. Photo/BONFACE MSANGI

The craze for multi-storey buildings is touted as the answer to challenges of urbanisation and shrinking supply of land in Kenya.

In the recent years, the Kenyan Coast has witnessed unprecedented development of high-end buildings, signalling a significant growth in real estate as developers troop in to acquire beach plots known to attract visitors in droves.

In Mombasa for example, several buildings towering over 60 metres or with 20 storeys are either under construction or in the planning stages. However, property sector players say current by-laws which prohibit building of high-rise buildings along the beaches are hurting the sector.

The players are now concerned that the government may be losing billions of shillings in revenue from property and tourism investments owing to “bad laws” that scare away investors eyeing high-rise buildings near the beach. 

“If the current by-laws we have in the counties can be amended, we are likely to get more investors investing in world-class hotels and resorts facilities even on limited spaces,” says Benedict Mutuku, executive director at Goldwyn Consult, a real estate developer. 

Mutuku says the aspect of protecting heritage of Coast tourism towns should not be used to block real estate investments that create jobs and wealth for hundreds of residents. “The cost of land and the limited space is now pushing countries to focus on towers,” he adds. 

The concerns emerge in the wake of move by Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala to object the construction of a 61-storey luxury tourism hotel in Watamu on fears of damaging cultural heritage of Kilifi county. Developers have decried the government’s move as retrogressive. 

Balala was quoted in the media saying the planned construction is “very near the Watamu beach” and was planned on a “very small plot.” “I have already raised my objection with the National Environment Management Authority (Nema). If they want to build such a skyscraper, they should do it in Nairobi or Mombasa, not on the beach of Watamu,” he said.

Datoo Kithiki (DK) director Ismail Gulamali says by-laws limiting construction of high-rise buildings near the beaches should go through urgent but vigorous screening since coastal towns have attained a maximum load due to shortage of land and ballooning populations. 

Gulamaili proposes that the counties should move with speed and amend the laws to make it easy for businesses to thrive.

“We should make it easy for investors to come into real estate. The laws need to adjust to the growing demand for world class properties such as sky scraper hotels,” said Gulamali.

Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers (KAHC) Coast branch executive officer Sam Ikwaye said Kenya should move with current trends in the world. 

Sh28 billion hotel 

“Many countries are changing their tourism infrastructure. If as a country we would want to get our fare share of tourism command in the world, then we need to position ourselves competitive,” said Ikwaye.

He added that the developer who wants to construct the tallest hotel building in  Watamu should be supported because it’s expected to create thousands of job opportunities to area residents and increase revenue generation for the country.

Kilifi North MP Owen Baya says that the Sh28 billion hotel— touted to be the tallest tower in the country at 350 metres high—should be allowed to continue as it will spur the growth of tourism sector and create employment.

The building is poised to be 370 metres tall and will be the tallest in the region if plans to construct succeed. It is expected to host a 270-bed hotel, shopping malls, office suits, conference rooms, casinos, and clubs among other amenities.

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