Government officials have ordered the immediate demolition of two buildings located within blocks of the Royal Palace because the structures are taller than the allowed limit for buildings surrounding the palace, officials said Wednesday.
One building, owned by Vattanac Properties, is located a block from the palace on Sisowath Quay near Street 184. The other, owned by a businessman, is located two blocks away in an alley off Street 19 behind the Royal University of Fine Arts.
“We will demolish two buildings, but I cannot say before [Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong] issues an announcement before the demolition. I think this case will not take too long. The governor may issue the announcement soon,” Daun Penh district governor Sok Sambath said.
Roeung Phallin, Chey Chumneah commune chief, confirmed that at least one building was slated for demolition.
“I definitely know that the Vattanac building will be demolished, but as for the other building, I have not yet received information from my upper level…but this building is also in consideration to be demolished,” she said.
A document signed October 1 by Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong orders the immediate suspension of construction on the Vattanac building.
“We would like to ask for the suspension of construction immediately because this location is very close to the Royal Palace, which is a conservation area and it must be respected,” the document reads.
Though the statement does not mention demolition of either building, Mr. Socheatvong was quoted in a story online Wednesday by local newspaper Kampuchea Thmey Daily saying demolition would occur “immediately.”
“The upper level ordered Phnom Penh to demolish the two buildings immediately as a model for other buildings” around the Royal Palace, the newspaper quotes the governor as saying after a meeting Wednesday with nine district governors at City Hall.
Officials claim the two buildings in question have been constructed higher than the allowed limit in their contracts.
The Vattanac building apparently had permission to build 14 meters high, but instead has surpassed 20 meters, while the building off Street 19 was granted 24.5 meters, but is now more than 34.5 meters tall.
“Buildings in the location around the Royal Palace cannot be built this high,” said Ms. Phallin. “The Vattanac [building] has apparently halted construction.”
Gravel was piled up outside the entrance gates of the Vattanac building Wednesday and an aluminum blue fence surrounded the area with green netting covering the front. No workers were seen and the gates were locked.
A worker at the hotel adjacent to the building said it had been at least a week since she had seen workers at the site.
The Vattanac building has been a headache for residents, businesses and urban conservationists for years because construction had caused damage to a string of colonial-era buildings along Sisowath Quay adjoining to the popular FCC bar and restaurant.
Wednesday afternoon, at the site of the second building slated for demolition, dozens of workers continued on the job as normal, as the building’s owner, Sin Kim Heng, watched.
“I did not receive the order,” said Mr. Kim Heng, who said the building will be a 12-story hotel when finished.
The building towered over other structures within a five-block radius and appeared to be far along in construction.
Mr. Kim Heng conceded that his contract with Phnom Penh’s land management department says he is only allowed to build 24.5 meters high, but he opted to construct another 10 meters after Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly exhorted people to do so.
Mr. Hun Sen was quoted last year as saying during the inaugural ceremony of the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction’s new building on Monivong Boulevard that there would no longer be restrictions on building around the palace.
Earlier this year, Soeng Suchra, deputy director of the municipal department of land management, confirmed that restrictions on building around the palace had been dropped by Mr. Hun Sen.
“We do not ban construction on high buildings around the Royal Palace after Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen said to allow high buildings. Previously, [a policy] had banned construction 500 meters from the Royal Palace compound and limited to [buildings] to 14 meters high from the roof down,” Mr. Suchra said at the time.
Mr. Kim Heng said he was following Mr. Hun Sen’s order when he designed his hotel.
“I built it higher because the prime minister said it was OK. He said authorities should not ban businessmen who want to construct high buildings. If they destroy my building, the prime minister’s announcement is useless,” Mr. Kim Heng said.
For years, the issue of tall buildings surrounding the palace has been a topic of debate—over respect for the royal family—and confusion, as at times there appears to be a height restriction in place and then in a matter of months, buildings are erected that tower over the palace.
For example, the Frangipani Royal Palace Hotel on Street 178, a block from the palace, started and finished construction last year. It stands eight stories tall and offers views directly into the Royal Palace compound. Another towering residence is being built on Street 240 opposite the Kantha Bopha children’s hospital, while mystery remains over the planned construction on the fenced-off site of the crumbling former Renakse Hotel, which is located at the very entrance of the palace.
Anne Lemaistre, country representative for Unesco, said upon hearing of the demolitions that her organization was “extremely satisfied.”
“It confirms what we’ve been saying for months…the lack of respect [shown for the royalty] with the construction of high-rise buildings is now an idea that is shared by the municipality. We’re extremely satisfied,” she said.