Southern District councillors hit out strongly yesterday against a revised plan for an 80-year-old Renaissance-style mansion in Pok Fu Lam, with one saying the owner was "putting profit above conscience".
They were upset that the owner now plans to turn Jessville into apartments instead of preserving it as a clubhouse to which the public would have had limited access.
Allowing 50 visitors a month into the clubhouse, which was to be used by residents of planned adjacent high-rise apartment blocks, was one of the conditions that gained the support of the district council and the government and approval by the Town Planning Board.
The revised plan proposes dividing the old mansion into four apartments with a public viewing platform.
Only one adjacent multi-storey residential block is planned - down from two in the original plan - as the owner could not afford the high land premiums, the Post has learnt.
The building, originally built for barrister and magistrate William Ngar Tse Thomas Tam and now owned by a company, holds grade-three historic status, which means the owner is entitled to tear it down.
Commissioner for Heritage Vivian Ko Wai-kwan told councillors that the owner revised the plan out of commercial considerations.
"Giving consideration to the safety and privacy of the residents in the house in future, the owner deems it inconvenient to allow the public to pay visits inside the house."
Council chairwoman Ada Mak Tse How-ling, of the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said she did not understand why the owners didn't value the house.
"They are too eager for instant benefits, putting profit above conscience," she said.
Democratic Party councillor Lo Kin-hei questioned whether it was appropriate to impose a requirement that an owner open a private property to the public.
Ko said that preservation clauses imposed on the house would apply to successive occupiers.
The council asked the Development Bureau to renegotiate with the owner to see whether the apartment proposal for the mansion building could be dropped.