Architectural plans of a property development that is blamed for causing structural damage to French colonial-era buildings on Phnom Penh’s Sisowath Quay show drawings of a five-story residential building, complete with underground car parking.
According to the plans, dated July 11, the mysterious company behind the development is called Sam Ang Vattanac Company.
According to the plans, Sam Ang Vattanac Co will build a 14-meter tall building that includes a basement level garage going down 3.2 meters, with enough space to fit 18 cars. Cars will be able to drive into the property from the street and will be sent underground via a car lift.
The ground floor includes an interior garden, waterfall and a restaurant. The first floor has four “dining rooms” as well as an office and a storage room. The next three floors each show plans for bedrooms complete with en suite bathrooms. The top of the building has a terrace.
The plans, thumbprinted by a Mr Sam Ang Vattanac, state that the project agrees to follow laws on safety and design. It also states that the company agrees to draw up “detailed plans of construction materials” and will “ask for permission to start construction from the Ministry of Land Management.”
“I, Sam Ang Vattanac, would like to follow the above order without a condition. In case I fail to follow the order I would like authorities to take measures such as stopping construction…confiscating construction materials, forbidding anyone from moving into [the building], denying ownership rights, stopping business activities or filing a complaint with the court,” the plans state.
Chhun Leang, co-founder and president of Vattanac Bank, which is part of a family-run group of businesses that includes Vattanac Properties, has denied that her firm is involved in the Sisowath Quay development. Ms Leang has said the project is the responsibility of an individual whom she declined to identify.
The director of the firm’s Vattanac Properties is one Sam Ang Vattanac, who is the son of Ms Leang.
Prak Sideth, a representative of Vattanac Properties, who was present as a representative of the site owner last week at meetings with owners whose properties have been damaged on Sisowath Quay, reiterated yesterday his claim that the site, situated between streets 178 and 184, had no connection with Vattanac Properties. Mr Sideth said he was attending the meeting on behalf of an individual he too declined to name.
“The site does not belong to Vattanac Properties only the private [person],” Mr Sideth said, referring all other questions to City Hall. Mr Sideth on Wednesday threatened to sue a reporter who asked him questions about the ownership of the site.
Attempts to contact Sam Ang Vattanac, the director of Vattanac Properties, were not successful this week.
The Sam Ang Vattanac Company was not found during a search at the business registration database at the Ministry of Commerce yesterday.
On July 25, district officials asked builders at the Sisowath Quay site, which they have referred to as the Vattanac site, to stop work. In the immediate aftermath of the order, builders at the site continued working and the following day police and military police arrived to confiscate equipment from the site.
Phoueng Sophean, secretary of state at the Ministry of Land Management, said at that time that the work was being conducted without official authorization.
But Daun Penh district authorities had began raising concerns about the Vattanac site and the damage to the adjacent buildings weeks before.
In a letter dated July 5, Moul Narin, chief of Daun Penh district’s land management office, wrote to Daun Penh governor Sok Sambath requesting him to order a halt to work at the Vattanac site.
“I would like to inform the governor that the company with the address above is building property without permission from Phnom Penh City Hall,” the letter states. “Please governor, intervene to halt the construction,” Mr Narin wrote.
On July 26, Mr Narin wrote a separate letter addressed to Chhay Rithisen, director of the municipal land management department, to inform him that “Sam Ang Vattanac Company has dug land to construct foundations for house numbers 379 and 381 on Street 01” causing damage to neighboring houses.
Mr Narin also wrote that on June 27 “Chey Chumneah commune ordered the construction site owner to temporarily halt digging foundations and solve the problem with [neighboring] people.”
According to another letter dated July 29, Mr Rithisen wrote to Mr Sambath and Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema to tell them that the “Sam Ang Vattanac Company has not halted work as directed by the Daun Penh land management office.”
Work at the Vattanac building site, officials say, has critically damaged two of the shophouses among the block of colonial-era buildings from the 1920s that connect to the landmark FCC bar and restaurant. The two buildings nearest to the Vattanac site likely need to be demolished, officials have said.
Jean-Marc Khao, 65, has watched his apartment in the middle of the colonial-era block deteriorate in front of his eyes.
A week ago his mezzanine – for which he paid $5,000 – started to peel away from its mooring and large cracks began to appear in his walls. On Tuesday, those cracks, still growing in dimension, began leaking water. He is also now plagued by power outages as a result of rain-water leaking over electric wiring in his walls. To the untrained eye, the southern wall of his apartment looks like it could fall at any moment.
No one from the Vattanac site has come to talk with him about compensation and reconstruction, he said.
“I will never sell it as things are good here,” he said of his apartment.
Mr Khao said he has no plans to move out straight away and that he would not sell out. He wants the company to restore his apartment back to its former state.
“If [this company] does it then another will do the same thing,” he said. “I find that intolerable, it’s not good to do that.”
Oliver de Bernon, Cambodia director of studies of the Ecole Francaise d’Extreme-Orient and owner of a second-floor apartment that looks onto the Vattanac building site, has one demand: he wants his apartment to be restored back to its former self.
Mr de Bernon said that he was bound by duty to preserve Phnom Penh’s cultural heritage.
“This building belongs to the history of Phnom Penh,” he said. “It is nearly 100 years old and is older than most of the buildings on the grounds of the Royal Palace.”
Mr de Bernon has dedicated 20 years of his life to preserving Cambodia’s cultural heritage, whether it be through restoring ancient artifacts, or archiving newspapers from the 1960s.
“The idea of replacing this building with something new just because the spot is the very best land spot in Phnom Penh is something that I cannot imagine acceptable,” he said
Mr de Bernon said that he understands the need to modernize and develop Phnom Penh. But the disregard the building site owner has displayed so far has him mystified.
“It’s not the Sistine Chapel, it’s not Notre Dame, but there are not many buildings in Phnom Penh of this kind left,” he said.
Retaining the city’s old buildings was also good for Phnom Penh’s tourism industry, he said.
“Sometimes Cambodian authorities are not sensitive to preservation, but they are sensitive to bringing in tourists.”