Common Zoning Regulations, a misconceived step

Common Zoning Regulations, a misconceived step

The purpose of the draft Common Zoning Regulations (CZR) notified by the Karnataka government, as stated in the preamble, is to streamline the procedure for approval of development of land and buildings including faster and transparent procedures, in the context of the government initiative of ‘ease of doing business’.

They are aimed at regulating the land use, the construction of apartments and the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) of buildings and will be applicable to all cities in the state.

Some of the provisions in the regulations, if implemented, will change the very character of a city and have an adverse impact on the life of the citizens. For instance, it is proposed that the minimum size of the plot for a residential apartment (meaning one or more buildings each containing more than four dwelling units) should be 500 square metres and the minimum width of the road should be 9 metres.

The stipulation of 500 sq m as minimum plot size is reasonable as it will prevent apartments coming up on smaller plots leading to congestion. But the provision of minimum road width of 9 m (less than 30 feet) will have the opposite effect of adding to congestion. It would actually amount to allowing apartments in most of the residential streets in Bengaluru.

The BDA layouts generally have road widths of 9, 12, 18 and 24 m, corresponding approximately to 30, 40, 60 and 80 ft respectively. The plot sizes include 1,200 sq ft on roads with a width of 30 ft, 2,400 sq ft on width of 40 ft and 5,400 sq ft on width of 60 ft. So, logically, apartments can come up only on roads with a width of 60 feet.

With about 60% of the people in the city owning vehicles, whose number is only growing by the day, if apartment buildings are allowed on narrow streets, they are bound to turn into parking lots, with hardly any sp­ace for movement of vehicles and people.

In the case of FAR, the concept of premium FAR has been introduced. It essentially amounts to reducing the FAR permissible at present under the existing regulations and offering an additional FAR at a price. This is totally unjust. The purpose of fixing a floor area ratio is to restrict the size of the building keeping in view the requirements of infrastructure, the flow of traffic and other planning considerations.

It is a regulatory measure and not a development undertaken by the state. Again, this is not to be confused with TDR (Transferable Development Right) where higher FAR is offered in lieu of compensation to which the land owner is entitled in case of acquisition of land and property. Hence, it is not fair to make construction more expensive by selling permissible FAR at a price.

What are of serious concern to citizens, particularly in Bengaluru, are the changes proposed for permitting commercial uses in residential areas. The existing classification of residential use into two categories - ‘residential main’ and ‘residential mix’ — is sought to be done away with and replaced by a single ‘residential category’.

A new category called ‘mixed land use’ is proposed under which commercial activities will be permitted in all roads with width of 9 metres, that is even less than 30 feet. This will completely destroy the residential character of neighbourhoods. Even now, there are several unauthorised commercial establishments in residential areas and Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) are waging an unending struggle against the law breakers.

The BBMP commissioner had issued notices to hundreds of such illegal businesses a few months ago. Instead of pursuing action against them, a subtle way is being found to regularise them. This also goes against the government’s own commitment through an affidavit to the High Court not to allow commercial activities in roads which are less than 40 ft wide.

There is a disturbing clause in the CZR which states that zoning is not retrospective but goes on to add that if there are uses contrary to the newly proposed uses, “they are gradually eliminated over years without inflicting unreasonable hardship over property owners”. In other words, it is a green signal for all illegal establishments to continue without hindrance.

It is quite evident that the measures proposed are contrary to the very spirit of the purpose for which the draft regulations are being made. According to Clause 1.2 in Chapter 2 of the CZR, the primary purpose of zoning is “to segregate uses that are incompatible. Zoning protects residential areas from the undesired invasions of commercial and industrial uses.”

Lofty aims?

Further, clause 1.1 states that it is necessary to apply reasonable limitations on the development of land and buildings “in order to promote public health, safety, convenience and the general social welfare of the community”. How can such lofty aims be achieved by facilitating reckless commercialisation of residential areas?

It is ridiculous that the same zoning regulations would be applicable to all cities in the state irrespective of their size. This is a result of a complete lack of appreciation of the basic principles of town planning. A master plan is prepared separately for each city taking into account the location, city size, population densities, topography and the economic, social and environmental conditions.

In fact, Clause 1.4 of the CZR states that “zoning regulations form an integral part of the Master Plan for the Local Planning Area” and they “ensure solutions to problems of developments under local conditions.” Having recognised the nexus between the master plan and ‘local conditions,’ it is baffling that the government should frame common zoning regulations for all the planning areas of the state.

How can the same standards be applied to a mega city like Bengaluru with a population exceeding a crore and cities having a population of less than a lakh or coastal cities with limited supply of urban land? In Bengaluru, a Revised Master Plan-2031 is under preparation and it is only logical that changes in zoning regulations should be considered during the process of revision.

Finally, it must be pointed out that the policy of ‘ease of doing business’ aimed at accelerating investments in the state through measures like simplification of labour laws and speeding up clearances for starting businesses is being misinterpreted to justify the proposed regulations. The government would do well to withdraw the ill-conceived draft notification.

(The writer is former chief secretary, Government of Karnataka)
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