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Delay of the land

/ 10:29 PM January 21, 2015

SM Prime Holdings, owner of the 50 or so SM malls all over the country, issued a statement saying it was resuming an expansion project in its property in Baguio City, which was derailed by court cases for more than two years now.
Thus, the SM group last Saturday started groundwork at its eight-hectare property in one of the busiest areas of the city.
It seems the construction workers uprooted pine trees in the private property, some 60 of them, according to unconfirmed accounts on the Internet.
Uh-oh, the guys down here in my barangay could almost hear all the noise from the self-proclaimed “environmentalists” against the resumption of the SM land project.
Actually, at the onset, the SM group called the Baguio mall expansion a “green” project, owing perhaps to its LEED certification. LEED was nothing but the “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design,” recognized all over the world for standards on “green” construction.
Let us put things in perspective here: Those environment friendly construction standards did not just come from out of nowhere, because the US Green Building Council developed them. Meaning, there was “science” in them.

Really now, the signal for the SM group to resume its much delayed “green” project came from the Court of Appeals a couple of weeks ago. The CA affirmed an earlier decision made by the Baguio City Regional Trial Court.
(A long time ago, the regional court already lifted a “temporary environmental protection order” issued against the project, obviously upon the insistence of so-called environmental groups, which then went to the CA to appeal the lifting order.)
And so for more than two years, nothing happened in the P1.2-billion expansion project of the existing mall in the SM property that the Baguio City government hailed as a big help in solving some big problems in the ever-growing urban Baguio.
You see, the SM group even aimed to provide green facilities in the eight-hectare mall property, such as walls and rooftop filled with live, breathing plants, which genuine environmentalists would only love to have in all construction projects anytime.

Ornamentation and aesthetics aside, however, and this may be unknown to many, the expansion project had—from the beginning—other environmental features invisible to the public eye. Among them was the sewerage treatment facility that the entire Baguio City, not just the SM mall, direly needed.
To think, if you would ask genuine environmentalists, sewerage treatment was always a “must have” in urban projects, precisely to avert the total destruction of natural waterways from human water wastes.
Also included in the SM construction blueprint was the provision for impounding and storing some 6 million liters of rainwater, which a water-deprived city like Baguio could definitely use to water the plants—and the pine trees—in its various parks.
That—or for cleaning the streets of mud created by soil erosion in most parts of the city.
Above all, the SM expansion project, from the very start, boasted of allotting space for parking that can accommodate—at any one time—more than 1,200 vehicles and more than 250 for motorcycles or… well, bicycles.
As I said in the past, biking and hiking in Baguio were always refreshing back in our younger days when we used to go there for short summer trips.
Nowadays, nobody would want to bike and suffer the thick smog in the city, exacerbated surely by the worsening traffic condition all over the city, mainly due to the critical lack of parking space.
Question: How could the Baguio City government solve the smog problem without solving the traffic congestion by providing parking spaces for thousands of vehicles?
For so many years, in large parts of Baguio City, the streets were converted into parking lots by all sorts of commercial establishments.
For example, one of my favorite restaurants in Baguio has always been “Cafe By The Ruins.” I heard that it opened a branch recently by the sidewalk beside another favorite place called “Mario’s.”
Guess what—their customers would double-park on both sides of the road. You can just imagine the result.
As I said, the CA just affirmed the decision of the regional trial court, dated April 2012, to dismiss the case against the SM project that was filed by three groups claiming to represent the thousands of residents of Baguio City.
The RTC ruled back then that the mall project within the vicinity of the Luneta Hill “will not cause irreparable injury to the environment or the constituents of the City of Baguio.”
From what I heard, the same groups were still planning to file a motion for reconsideration before the CA.
Still, the SM group announced that, with the CA decision issued last month, it could finally proceed with the “Sky Park,” which was the mall expansion project, featuring green walls and roof deck, sewerage treatment and water impounding systems, and parking facility with floor area bigger than the Araneta Coliseum.
After all, the group claimed it had already secured the final approval and necessary permits for the project, even holding dialogues with various community groups.
But aside from legal voodoo and all that mambo-jumbo, it would be hard to see the project as anything but beneficial to Baguio City. Let us not even talk about the economic impact of the project, considering the taxes it would bring into the city coffers.
For instance, in 2012 or two years ago, even the notorious DENR, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, ordered the SM group to plant 6,000 trees in and around Baguio City.
But the SM group went against the DENR order, because instead of planting 6,000 trees, the group actually planted 60,000 trees, or 10 times the number ordered by the DENR.
Here is more, in its representations with LGUs in the Baguio metropolitan area, the SM group had committed to plant 500,000 trees in the next five years.
No other group—whether genuine or pseudo environmental group—could claim to have committed such a grand tree planting scheme in Baguio and surroundings.
Well, in its own eight-hectare property, SM already cared for about 1,200 pine and alnus trees, with 41 of them replanted (i.e. relocated) in the same site, under supervision of the DENR and the LGUs.
Besides, other establishments cut trees in the city, such as the Toyota dealer expansion for its show room, or those 700 or so trees that the developers of condos in the city also cut down.
Like it or not, Baguio City for a long time now suffered from various problems such as mass squatting—nicely known as illegal settlement —such as in the Busol area. And so what used to be mountainsides full of trees were converted into squatter colonies full of garbage.

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TAGS: court case, environment, expansion, SM Baguio, wins
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