The increased demand for housing in Nairobi, which has a population of more than four million people, has prompted the county government to come up with new ways to meet the demand.
Consequently, late last year the county government passed a motion allowing the construction of commercial centres and highrise apartments in upmarket neighbourhoods.
The county government plans to introduce a new zoning policy. The areas to be affected include Zones 4, which comprises Spring Valley, Riverside Drive, Kileleshwa, Kilimani, Thompson and Woodley.
Also affected will be Zone 5, which includes Upper Spring Valley, Kyuna, Loresho and Lavington/Bernard Estate and Zone 15, which includes Dagoretti.
The new policy will see the suburbs lose their exclusive status.
Not much has changed regarding the basic planning of Nairobi since the colonial era. The north-west part of the city, commonly referred to as the leafy suburbs, and which were reserved for Whites at the time, are still occupied mainly by the affluent.
Africans and Indians were mostly confined to the east and south of the railway line, where the municipal council largely neglected services such as sewerage and garbage collection.
During the colonial era, suburbs were strictly intended for residential purposes, with a single home sitting on acres of land with manicured lawns.
In 1987, 2006 and 2012, policies approving the rezoning of Nairobi and other major towns in the country were passed, allowing the construction of higher density developments in areas where they were previously not allowed.
According to the Nairobi City Development Ordinances and Zones Guideline, these areas were under controlled development.
But now the county government argues that with a rapidly increasing population, it can can no longer allow controlled development in some estates, given the huge demand demand for housing.
However, the rezoning plan has caused jitters in certain quarters, with some stakeholders calling for a holistic approach to tackling the city's housing shortage.
Besides, the plan has faced resistance from the residents of the affected estates.
AD HOC SOLUTION
The Kenya Alliance of Residents Associations (Kara) Chief Executive Officer, Mr Henry Ochieng', accused the county government of coming up with an ad hoc solution, thinking that the housing problem is that some zones are more densely populated than others, hence the need to pass a law to address that.
"While we appreciate that there is pressure in the city for housing and that there is a need to address it, reviewing the zoning policy to allow multi-dwelling developments in low-density neighbourhoods will not conclusively and sustainably address the problem. A more holistic and consultative approach that takes into consideration various aspects of development planning for the city is required," he said.
Mr Ochieng' said that, before passing the motion, the county administration should have conducted an audit of infrastructure in the areas proposed for rezoning.
He added that if the county goes ahead with its plan, the problem of blocked sewer lines and overflowing liquid and solid waste will be witnessed in the estates.
Another major challenge in these areas is water shortage. Mr Ochieng' further pointed out that the properties whose land-use has been changed to multi-dwelling units including commercial and office developments do not have adequate parking at plot level.
"This has made motorists park on road reserves which, inevitably, leads to loss of green open spaces, traffic congestion, insecurity and road accidents," he said.
He defended zoning, saying it had been instituted because of the level of infrastructure, which could not support a big population, and that has not changed since the county has not upgraded the infrastructure.
Mr Ochieng' accused the county assembly of not consulting stakeholders before reaching the decision.
He added that if the rezoning is implemented, it would fail terribly, given that the defunct city council failed to implement the master plan that was in existence between 1974 and 2013, leading to the chaos in urbanisation being experienced to date.
"There was a clear plan of what needed to be done in the 1974 master plan as far as urban development was concerned. It did not work because there was no systematic implementation of the plan. An impromptu implementation will not work, especially in estates like Kileleshwa and Buruburu," Mr Ochieng' said.
He is urging the county administration to implement the new urban development plan launched in 2015 that, in addition to tackling also touches on infrastructure and land use.
Mr Ochieng' said that the urban renewal programme should be implemented in densely populated areas, especially in Eastleigh, where the county should think of vertical development.
The Kara CEO said that if rezoning is carried out, it will significantly dilute the value of the properties in the affected locations with the rise in the number of houses.
However this has been disputed by Waithaka MCA Antony Karanja, who moved the motion. Mr Karanja said that the national and county governments had invested a lot on infrastructure, including ring roads, street lights, police stations and Sh5 billion sewer lines in the estates.
He noted that the current policy stipulated that 0.5 acres should accommodate 160 people compared with the previous position, only 10 houses could be accommodated on the same amount of land.
ILLEGAL FLATS AND APARTMENTS
However, today, Kileleshwa has a large number of illegal flats and apartments.
Mr Karanja said he would escalating the motion to a Bill since the property owners in the affected areas had turned them into to cash cows by developing apartments illegally and colluding with corrupt county officials to change user to commercial purposes.
"Easing the development restrictions should bring down land prices and encourage new investments in real estate r. The Bill will allow land prices in these areas to go up. Currently, a plot in Kileleshwa sells at around Sh25 million. What will happen is that the price of housing will go down but land will appreciate as investors are allowed to build many houses," said Mr Karanja.
He further noted that the cost of having an environmental impact assessment in the areas would go down since, at the moment, they use individual project reports, which are very expensive.
However, Kilimani MCA Moses Ogeto has vowed to ensure that the Bill does not see the light of day, citing insecurity, especially close to State House.
He said those pushing for rezoning had already already allowed high-rise buildings on Manyani Road and Child Drive.