Hong Kong residents who chose Discovery Bay as their home to get away from the built density of the rest of the city may soon find their idyll invaded. Jane Drew reports
Like chicken’s feet, Discovery Bay evokes a strong response in most Hong Kongers. Say you live there and the reaction is either one of out-and-out envy or utter incomprehension. The 650-hectare site is owned in its entirety by Hong Kong Resort (HKR), and has gone by various names over the years, notably Disco Bay (due to the number of young, lively expats living there); Delivery Bay (due to the number of births) and now simply D Bay.
For fans of the resort there is simply nowhere better to live. Most residents chose the area over Hong Kong Island because of the more peaceful atmosphere and crowd-free living conditions. The site is basically car-free – even delivery vehicles need a special permit and are limited to 10 miles per hour – so everyone gets about by shuttle bus or hire car. Those in search of a real fantasy island vibe, and with around HK$7 million to spare, join the waiting list for one of the 498 golf buggies.
Beach-side and sea-view properties are considered prime, but from just about anywhere on the bay residents can enjoy a true resort lifestyle. For those who actually want to live on the water, there’s always the option of renting or buying a houseboat at the Marina Club (for a trial rental, budget around HK$40,000 for 1,500 square feet), and the community also benefits from two resident clubs (think swimming pools, tennis courts and gyms) and an 18-hole golf club.
Certainly the atmosphere is a million miles from the teeming morass of much of Hong Kong Island, but thanks to the regular ferry service those who want (or need) to get to town can reach Central in less than half-an-hour. Tung Chung and the airport are also easily accessible by bus, as is Sunny Bay MTR.
Extensive price range
Housing-wise Discovery Bay offers up something for everyone: high-rise flats, low-rise units and deluxe garden houses. There are tiny studio flats (432 square feet), expansive 5,168-square-feet family homes, and everything in between.
According to Bill Chan, director of Century 21 Newcourt Realty, Discovery Bay, “Sales prices of low-rise units (with either a garden or rooftop) are now exceeding their 1997 peak, as are the garden houses. The price of high-rise units is rising steadily but sea-view units are still 20 percent below 1997 highs, mountain-view units 40 percent. The market is looking particularly positive, as it still has a long way to go.”
All eyes are now on Chianti, an upscale high-rise development, due to open this summer. Here transaction prices are high. “You are looking at up to HK$3 million for one-bed units,” says Chan, “and as much as HK$22 million for the luxury three-bed penthouses.”
Rents too are rising rapidly, particularly at the top end. Chan says, “The average rent for a studio is HK$6,500 per month; for a family-sized apartment HK$95,000 per month; and for a garden house as much as HK$130,000 per month.”
Possibility of expansion
Anyone with an interest in Discovery Bay property needs to consider that HKR International, parent company of HKR, says it intends to ask the government to boost the resort’s plot ratio to build more homes. The developer feels that land resources are currently being wasted, while many residents argue that increasing the potential population count would destroy the peaceful, laid back feel.
This is not the first time HKR International has stirred up controversy; just seven years ago it announced plans to build a 300-room, HK$1 billion hotel complex. While protests were unable to quash this proposal, (the hotel is set to open next year), Islands District Council Member Amy Yung, for one, believes that if sufficient residents are opposed to an increase in Discovery Bay’s housing density, the Town Planning Board will have to listen.
“We can send out a questionnaire, collect responses and present the objections to the board,” Yung notes. “It’s important that everyone know that all residents, not only house owners, can have a say.”
A plot ratio is the formula used to calculate the total floor area of buildings allowed on a specific site. Discovery Bay’s current plot ratio stands at 0.18 and there is still 2 million square feet near the Tung Chung-Discovery Bay Tunnel, available for residential construction.
Yung thinks that the developer may just be trying to “test the waters” at this time, and may not have any intention to follow through with a formal rezoning application. “I have recently spoken to the Town Planning department and they still haven’t received any applications regarding the plot ratio of Discovery Bay,” she says.
To change the plot ratio, an application must be made to the Town Planning Board: with or without opposition by the local community, this would likely take years to be resolved. Opponents are worried that if Discovery Bay’s plot ratio is increased, its secluded resort-feel will be lost. They are also concerned that building more homes will drive down prices, at a time when there are already many vacant flats in the area.
From HKR International’s point of view, applying for a higher plot ratio to maximise the use of land has to seem logical. And even if the plot ratio were doubled, to 0.36, the resort’s built density would still be relatively low. Central and Causeway Bay have plot ratios between 8 and 10; even sparsely populated Repulse Bay has a plot ratio of 0.5. By doubling the ratio, the developer would get its hands on an additional 8 million square feet of open space for development.
Certainly, if a rezoning were approved Discovery Bay Plaza would have to be expanded, along with the ferry services. Residents are also concerned about the environment – the developer would likely have to build further into the mountain and cut down acres of trees.
For the time being, until a formal rezoning application is made, Yung says all residents (and potential residents) can do is keep their ears open and be prepared.
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