A Christian union's plan to build a 10-storey, 36,000-niche columbarium in Pok Fu Lam has angered residents, who fear it will bring traffic woes and mar the landscape of the neighbourhood.
A spokesman for the Chinese Christian Churches Union said it had every right to build on its land because it belongs to them and the plan has cleared all the regulatory hurdles.
The Lands Department has confirmed the lot is held under a government lease for the purpose of a cemetery for Protestant Christian Chinese. The lease runs for 999 years from December 25, 1883.
The lease carries no restrictions on development parameters. This means the union is not required by law to consult residents or to commission a traffic impact assessment for the development.
The union applied to build the columbarium in 2000. Residents claim they had no idea of the project on Victoria Road until a few months ago.
"The fact this has been ongoing for years without residents' knowledge until recently is hard to believe," said Peter Cunich, chairman of the Pokfulam Residents' Alliance.
Cunich stressed the residents' group did not object to the construction of columbariums.
They were concerned that this project would have a huge impact on traffic in the area and that its sheer size "is out of keeping with the residential area and surrounding countryside".
The neighbourhood consists largely of low-rise blocks of flats. The planned columbarium will also rise above the podium level of a few residential buildings.
The Buildings Department received the application to build the columbarium from the churches union in August 2000.
The proposal drew no objection from government departments and was in compliance with the Buildings Ordinance, so the department approved its building plans in February 2001. Last month, the residents' alliance met church and government representatives to discuss the matter, but could not reach a compromise.
The Planning Department said it had written to the union to say the columbarium was not in keeping with the local environment and should be reduced in size.
Since the meeting, the residents' group has learned that each of the 36,000 planned niches may house the ashes of two people. That raises the possibility of the facility drawing twice as many visitors to pay their respects to 72,000 deceased relatives.
Both the church union and the Transport Department acknowledged the serious traffic problems caused by visitors to a union-run cemetery on Pok Fu Lam Road, especially on grave-sweeping days and festivals.