Residents fear a threat to lifestyle while developers play down impact of project In a few years, Discovery Bay may no longer be the non-polluted, laidback residential area it is today. Plans to develop a $1 billion 300-room resort hotel and an 'upmarket' shopping complex close to the Tung Chung-Discovery Bay tunnel were revived last month. The project, announced by Discovery Bay's sole developer, Hong Kong Resort Company (HKR), a subsidiary of HKR International, sparked anger among 1,000 residents two years ago. While some said the planned 24-storey hotel would be an eyesore among low-rise buildings, others said it would further raise security risks and increase pressure on the area's infrastructure. The plan was revived to take advantage of opportunities stemming from the opening of the Disney theme park in Penny's Bay, HKR's general manager Chan Chi-ming said. Last week, HKR stressed that the development was still in the conceptual stage, and consultants' reports would not be completed for another six months. Property agents said the proposed project would bring more tourists and shoppers, quickening the pace and changing the face of Discovery Bay. Located on the northeast coast of Lantau Island and 12km from Hong Kong Island, Discovery Bay attracts home-seekers with its slow pace and relaxed lifestyle. Freelance property agent and DB resident since 1994, Lee Sock-kwai, said the hotel project could remove incentives for people wanting to move to the area. Ms Lee said previous developments such as the Tung Chung-Discovery Bay tunnel in 2000 had led to the dropping of rents and property prices. 'With the tunnel, the land has become more accessible. It's bringing in more strangers, more crime, as well as air and noise pollution. 'We paid more to move to Discovery Bay because it was quiet and detached. But now it is becoming the reverse,' Ms Lee said. She said HKR's proposed cutting of Discovery Bay-Central ferry times by nearly a quarter in August could also drive residents away. In a district board survey, about 85 per cent of 1,000 residents opposed the plan, saying the developer was 'driving people out of the community'. Tony Poon Hing-leung, Midland Realty's sales manager in Discovery Bay, agreed that the hotel development was an uncertain factor in the area's property market. 'The impact on rents would really depend on the hotel's mode of operation,' he said. 'If HKR follows in the footsteps of some property developers like Cheung Kong, which converts part of its hotel rooms into serviced apartments, rents can go down,' he said. But in the short term, the impact of the hotel and retail development on the district's property market would not surface, he said. Property leases had been increasing since August because people preferred to reside in non-polluted areas after the Sars outbreak, he said. An average of 110 flats were being sold and about 35 units rented out on a monthly basis. Simon Lee, Centaline's branch manager in the district, said he was not sure whether rents could fluctuate. 'About 80 per cent of the residents are tenants, and the majority are expatriates. These are the key reasons why rents and prices could be more vulnerable to changes.' But he admitted that the hotel development would strain the district's transportation network if visitors arrived in tour buses. HKR executive director Loretta Ho Pak-ching said the company was exercising great care to provide a concept that residents of Discovery Bay would like. 'Residents are very sensitive to any change in Discovery Bay's development. At the right moment, we will inform them of the details of the project,' she said. Ms Ho stressed that the hotel would not target large tour groups. 'We will create something that Hong Kong needs but which is not yet available, such as a spa destination.' Ms Ho said HKR would provide 'hospitality accommodation' rather than a hotel, and this would not 'open its doors widely to tourists'. The complex would provide a 'holistic experience and lifestyle', and would be targeted at the high-end market. A senior town planner, who declined to be named, said there would be less controversy if the high-rise hotel were converted to low-rise blocks. 'This would be more compatible with the resort-styled, family-oriented community,' he said. He added that HKR would also have to tackle the issue of management fees before the plan could go ahead, as residents had complained that they were subsidising tourism development. He said there could be twists in the site's development as the hotel project was not likely to be financially viable. 'I suspect the developer is concealing its real plan. We all know that tourists to the Disney theme park will not deliberately travel to Discovery Bay. To them, it is in the middle of nowhere. 'The shopping mall will probably not survive either. In fact, the supermarket is the only business that is doing well in Discovery Bay.' He added that there would not be a market for resorts in the district. 'There have been similar plans to build resorts in the district, but eventually developers converted them into serviced apartments, which attract more clients.'