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Century-old HCMC houses need conserving

Update: July, 04/2016 - 11:54
A French villa being torn down without permission. Situated on Bình Thạnh District’s 237 Nơ Trang Long Street. — Photo

HCM CITY – About 1,350 century-old houses and villas in HCM City, mostly in District 1 and 3, need thorough conservation and strict monitoring plans to avoid illegal dismantlement, city authorities say.

Authorities recently reported a French villa being torn down without permission. Situated on Bình Thạnh District’s 237 Nơ Trang Long Street, the villa was a European-style villa with outstanding architectural and cultural values from the early 1920s. Due to the high risk of it collapsing, it was recently demolished without authorities’ permission.

The house’s owner said the request to demolish the villa was made to multiple agencies many months ago, but the demolition license is still pending.

So far, the villa’s entire roof and windows have been removed. Demolition workers were told to leave the site immediately when cease and desist orders from ward officials arrived.

Trương Xuân Tám from the Bà Rịa – Vũng Tàu Province Bar Association told Tuổi Trẻ (Youth) newspaper that since authorities delayed classifying and providing the villa with legal grounds for conservation, they have no right to prohibit the owner from demolishing the structure.

With full ownership rights, the owner is not restricted from demolishing his property, especially when it is in a state of serious disrepair.

Tám added that if the villa is classified as eligible for historical conservation, the owner is allowed to repair it only when authorities give the green light. In which case, authorities are required to fund the construction work.

According to Cổ Hiệp, a member of HCM City Bar Association, Bình Thạnh District People’s Committee must immediately inform the landlord of the suspension period to avoid being sued for delaying to grant construction permits.

Authorities must negotiate with the owner to acquire the property if they want to designate it as a historic site, he said.

Hoàng Minh Trí, deputy head of HCM City Research and Development Institute who is in charge of classifying villas, said this is the first villa to be dismantled without permission.

The villa on Nơ Trang Long Street should be designated as "first category" - the official designation which includes structures which need the most attention from authorities, he said. Because these structures represent unique architecture, owners of these villas are not permitted to reconstruct or alter their interior design and structure.

The Department of Planning and Architecture reviewed the villa landlord’s repair request, but a license could not be issued yet because the department must wait for the official decision from the city People’s Committee, Trí said.

But the institute has been working on detailed plans to preserve the villa and other significant old villas and houses, while creating preferential policies to protect property owners’ rights.

The conservation plans will be submitted to the city People’s Committee for review next month, Trí said.

The city formed a steering committee to manage landscape conservation and to draft evaluation criteria for villa classification in August 2010. But due to financial, manpower, and other limitations, conservation work has faced various challenges.

To avoid similar issues in the future, the city People’s Committee recently ordered agencies to impose strict monitoring measures to protect remaining historical properties from illegal demolition.

Properties that have deteriorated beyond repair will be dismantled, if permission is granted.

In late 2015, the city People’s Committee approved a Department of Planning and Architecture plan to demolish 29 old villas in the city. – VNS

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