Residents of Lamaha Gardens say that the continuing disregard for the zoning laws by both authorities and private citizens has negatively affected the residential area, which was supposed to be a model community.
The opening of businesses and more recently an office by a government agency and incursions by cattle from neighbouring communities are among the issues affecting the residents, who told Stabroek News on Monday that they are fed up with how the community has been treated. They said despite complaints to government agencies, including the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA), the Ministry of Public Infrastructure (MPI) and the Mayor and City Council (M&CC), nothing has been done.
As a result of the issues, some residents are even moving, this newspaper was told.
“These are the things you have to do. These are the things you have to look after, otherwise communities will be ruined as we have seen people crying out about all over the country. The government cannot have agencies who are supposed to look after the interest of the public and are constantly ignoring them,” Ronald Alli, who heads local community group The Lamaha Gardens Community Cooperative Society Inc., said.
“…Maybe if we started burning tyres and getting on bad then maybe we will be taken seriously,” another resident added, while emphasising that they are law-abiding citizens and are only asking for the government and other authorities to respect the laws.
Alli said that over the past 15 years, the Society has been trying to get the attention of both the government and the city council to uphold the zoning laws but to no avail.
He explained that the community was developed after the Civil Service Housing Association acquired the land from GuySuCo and developed it to be a residential area. “….It was zoned as a residential area. Our transports clearly say no cattle, no business, no trade and things of those sorts,” Alli noted.
“We have tried very hard in the early years and the community was exactly what the civil servants sought to get. It was a peaceful area that was suitable for the bringing up of children and raising a family. I think it was what all our presidents have been recently talking about, suitable and green communities. This was really the example,” he added.
Alli also pointed out that electrical wires were run through the alleyways, which was a testament to the environment that the developers and civil servants wanted for the community. However, throughout the years the community has been slowly degrading and he said it has now been transformed to a “pole jungle” and become extremely difficult to decipher whether it is a residential area, as it was developed to be, or another commercial district where persons live.
“This was a specific area developed for a specific purpose. No business… We have sought, over the years, to keep and preserve that. We fought and we’ve had challenges. We have had people try to open businesses and we have been able to get with them and close some of them down,” Alli explained, while adding that even though they were able to intervene with some of the businesses, others have continued unhindered.
He pointed out that the Guyana Water Incorporated (GWI) recently opened an office building in the community, which is clearly against the zoning laws.
Alli also explained that the “ad hoc” development of the neighbouring Sophia community has also negatively impacted Lamaha Gardens and is currently contributing to its failing residential area status. This has included a drastic inflow of traffic as Duncan Street, which runs through the community, is the primary route for traffic entering and exiting Sophia.
This increase in vehicular traffic, according to the Lamaha Gardens residents, has had a negative impact on the community.
“You are developing a community adjacent to this without giving any consideration to the communities you are affecting. We just want the laws to be respected. There is nothing else we are asking for,” Alli said.
Amanda Croal, who lives on Duncan Street, stated that a bus route should not be passing through a residential area. “There are other ways for persons to access Sophia. With all the traffic, you get the noise. It’s a nightmare to get out in the morning and half of the time I’m almost in accidents,” she added.
The increased flow of traffic has also resulted in the roads running through the community quickly deteriorating and residents say this development is being ignored by both the M&CC and the MPI. As a result, it is left to the residents to temporarily fix the roads.
“We allowed the fact that Sophia was underdeveloped and had to be regularised. We waited our time and hoped that people would’ve done what they had to do and unfortunately that didn’t happen to this day. We have been completely ruined and in addition to the traffic, crime has drastically increased. There are issues about littering and the roads breaking up fast,” Alli said, while also pointing out that though in the past residents would focus on the aesthetics of the community and their homes, they are now forced to put more focus on security.
In addition to the traffic issues, the residents also pointed out that there are cattle and other livestock passing through their community and damaging their parapets and other spaces. “After years of going to the CH&PA and the M&CC and the police and everyone we could deal with at a regulatory level who are responsible for the maintenance of this area, we could get nowhere forward,” Alli said, as he noted that on numerous occasions the Stray Catchers Unit would be alerted to livestock passing through the communities but would not do anything.
Since the residents were not getting assistance from the authorities, they said that they took it upon themselves to remind persons that the area was residential and decided to put up a sign at the entrance of the community on Duncan Street. They prepared the sign and requested permission from the M&CC to mount it. However, they were denied.
While they have not received any response to their application letter, Alli said that he made contact with the Mayor, Patricia Chase-Green, who related to them that they would not be allowed to erect the sign if it contained the words “no businesses or cattle.”
Despite the ongoing challenges, the residents said they are still seeking to maintain the community through self-help initiatives. “We take care of the drains, the parapets, the street lights and some of the roads,” a resident said.
They also pointed out that the community has no green space or community ground available for use since the Society is currently involved in a court matter against a person who was sold the property in 2013. “We have an injunction that the person can’t use it and it’s still going on. We have the space but we can’t use it and have to take our children to another playground in another community to use,” a resident highlighted.
Even though the residents are asking for help from the relevant authorities, they explained that they are not looking for handouts. “We are fighting to get recognition as a residential community that we are zoned to be. We are saying that businesses must come out. We have gone to all the regulatory persons and are not getting any satisfaction,” Alli said, while noting that the community members are unsure of what actions to take as a result.