My Take

Zoning rules must be applied equally

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 August, 2013, 6:43am

The government wants to teach Baptist University a lesson for operating a few allegedly unlicensed guest rooms for paying outsiders. But as I wrote yesterday, it just opens a whole can of worms since many non-profit groups do something similar, only on a more egregious scale.

Paul Zimmerman has done the research. In a news blog, the district councillor and urban planning advocate singles out OZO Wesley, the trendy hotel in Wan Chai, on a site zoned for government institution and community (GIC) development, exactly the same zoning the university's guest house has.

The hotel is owned by the Methodist Church but it is managed by the Onyx Hospitality Group, based in Thailand. Previously, it had the same arrangement with the hotel subsidiary of Hang Lung Properties.

"So what about the Methodist Church?" he wrote. "How is it possible that they can operate a hotel and all; The Wesley in Wan Chai, on the site of the former 'Sailors' and Soldiers' Home', land zoned for [GIC] uses? Questions have been asked since 2011 but no reply has been received and no action has been taken."

Though he didn't mention Methodist House in the same neighbourhood, the 22-storey church-cum-office building also has about 10 floors which are leased to private companies. This is a church that claims it is running out of space and wants to redevelop a nice little church it owns at the corner of Kennedy Road and Queen's Road East into another tall building. Maybe if it forgoes its hotel and office business, like a proper non-profit church group should, it would have enough space for its expanding congregations.

Meanwhile, Zimmerman asks why so many churches and NGOs could gain approval to build residences, offices and hotels and operate them like commercial enterprises. Among those he names are, "BP International by the Scouts Association, Hotel Icon by [Polytechnic University], various YMCA and YWCA hotels."

"Maybe it is time for the Lands Department to demonstrate how they are treating all institutions fairly without fear or favour," he said.

It obviously doesn't, Mr Zimmerman.