A tight lid is being kept on eateries hoping to set up shop at the 77-year-old Tiong Bahru conservation estate, after residents complained about noise, traffic and fewer shopping options.
The Housing Board (HDB) and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) told The Straits Times that this year alone they have rejected four applications to turn shop premises there into eateries.
The Dough and Grains bakery, which set up a tapas bar and restaurant at the back of the shop in July after getting a snack bar licence from the National Environment Agency, was one of those whose requests to change the use of their premises was rejected.
The owners have been given a grace period to change HDB's mind.
An e-mail from the HDB in May explaining its decision said residents had given feedback on the "noise, smell, nuisance and traffic congestion" already caused by existing eateries, and that there was "no shortage of eating establishments in the vicinity".
The HDB told The Straits Times that it takes into account residents' feedback and needs when evaluating whether to grant such change-of-use requests.
This will help ensure a better mix of shops and services for residents of the pre-war estate, with mom-and-pop businesses such as hair salons, textile shops, coffee shops and medical halls having made way for 13 new cafes, bakeries and eateries in the past three years.
The estate is now left with a sundry store, two convenience stores, a tailor, two hardware shops, a Chinese medical shop, two clinics, an optical shop and 10 coffee shops.
Residents said that the changes have come too fast, leaving them with fewer amenities within walking distance.
Retiree Alex Lee, who has lived in the estate since the 1950s, said it is unfortunate that just one provision shop - as opposed to the 10 that used to line the estate in the 1960s - is left.
"As we age, it is harder to venture farther out and take a bus to get the provisions we need," said the 72-year-old.
Bounded by Seng Poh Road, Outram Road and Tiong Poh Road, the estate has 64 HDB commercial properties, out of which 48 have been sold and the rest rented out.
The URA oversees the private shophouses located along Yong Siak Street, the southern part of Eng Hoon Street and Tiong Bahru Road.
A seven-member residential task force, set up by MP Indranee Rajah in February to address problems such as illegal parking and noise pollution, told The Straits Times that it has also received some complaints of bar patrons smoking and laughing loudly along Yong Siak Street.
The task force is therefore working to encourage businesses to be more "community-minded to create a cohesive environment in the estate", said its chairman Chris Hooi. It helps too that the authorities have been very strict about giving out licences, he added.
Ms Indranee said the other objective is to help the estate retain its charm.
"We allow establishments to come in if they provide something unique to the neighbourhood but there's no one-size-fits-all solution."