URA firm on dine-in ban in Joo Chiat

Near the crossroads of Joo Chiat Place and Everitt Road are popular eateries like Fei Fei Wan Tan Mee King, open for 24 hours, and Smokey's, an American steakhouse.
Near the crossroads of Joo Chiat Place and Everitt Road are popular eateries like Fei Fei Wan Tan Mee King, open for 24 hours, and Smokey's, an American steakhouse.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

It cites traffic woes as reason popular cafe can run only as takeaway shop

For years, Joo Chiat's residents have had to live with illegally parked cars that clog up their quaint, narrow streets, thanks to the popular eateries there.

It is for that reason that the authorities have refused to budge on an existing ban against dine-in facilities at new eateries.

It recently told a new cafe to pack up its tables and chairs, fearing the cafe, Relational Goods, might add to the existing traffic woes of residents.

Dismayed, owners of the cafe, which opened in April at 29, Everitt Road, tried to help by closing shop by 6pm.

Ms Loh Weilin, 27, and Ms Deborah Oh, 31, told The Straits Times that this was because the parking problem was worse at night. They also made a deal with a nearby church to allow customers to park for free if they present a receipt.

But the Urban Redevelopment Authority, which is in charge of issuing dine-in licences, has stood firm. "There are still ground concerns about traffic and parking problems in the area and there are limits to the road and parking capacity," said a URA spokesman.

The area around the cafe - at the crossroads of Joo Chiat Place and Everitt Road - houses popular eateries like Fei Fei Wan Tan Mee King, which operates 24 hours, and Smokey's, an American steakhouse.

Residents have complained about cars parking so near their front gate that they cannot drive their own cars out. "They park outside my house at night - you can hear engines going on and off, people talking in the middle of the night and in the morning, there is litter all over the pavement," said a resident who wanted to be known only as Ms Delorme.

The traffic woes led the URA to stop issuing dine-in licences in 2008 to new eateries - unless the premises was originally marked for such use. Road dividers were installed to stop illegal parking.

URA said Relational Goods can still operate as a takeaway food or retail shop, and the owners have since complied with the order.

URA conceded the moratorium is a "blunt instrument", but said that it is "through turning down many previous applications by rule-abiding people to start new restaurants in the area that we had managed some success to improve the situation in Joo Chiat".

But another resident, Mr Sukhbir Singh, 49, said: "The moratorium helps the situation from deteriorating further, but it does not address the bad situation as it already is." The sales director called for tougher enforcement and the installation of closed-circuit television cameras to weed out illegal parking.

At least 60 residents, including actress Tan Kheng Hua, who called the cafe her "second home" with a "kampung spirit", have delivered a petition to URA asking the agency to make an exception.

Transport expert Paul Barter, an adjunct professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said parking problems can be dealt with by improved enforcement. "It is a great shame to stifle the vibrancy of attractive areas because of parking," he argued.

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, the MP for the area, told The Straits Times: "This case highlights the challenges of meeting the interests of residents, businesses and the wider public in Joo Chiat while preserving the heritage of Joo Chiat."

A traffic committee has been formed to explore potential solutions. "But there are physical constraints in Joo Chiat that limits how we can solve some of these problems," ESM Goh added.

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