FSI for redevelopment raises Mumbai’s skyline to 312 meter, civic infra still lagging, ET RealEstate

July 10, 2023

MUMBAI: In a space-starved city, Mumbai’s vertical growth is reaching stratospheric levels. A virtually unlimited floor space index (FSI) in certain rehabilitation housing schemes has allowed developers to build higher and higher even in congested areas.

Behind Bhatia hospital in a narrow lane called Javji Dadaji Marg in south Mumbai, work has commenced on India’s tallest residential twin towers on a two-acre plot which once housed the old Chikalwadi chawls.

The FSI, the ratio which defines how much can be built on a plot, is 10 under Development Control Regulation 33 (9) meant for cluster redevelopment. The average FSI in the island city is about 3. An FSI of 10 means on a 1,000 square metre plot, a builder can construct 10,000 sq m.

The twin towers named Aaradhya Avaan will be 312-metre tall and have 18 podiums and 61 habitable floors when completed. The tallest residential building in Mumbai currently is the Minerva (306 metres) at Mahalaxmi.

But can Mumbai take the load of such massive constructions due to the high FSI available? Kedarnath Rao Ghorpade, an environmental sustainability planner and former chief planner of Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority, says Mumbai has been an “urban planning experiment laboratory” in terms of increasing the land potential.

Can Mum take vertical growth load on back of ‘unlimited’ FSI?

With a virtually unlimited floor space index (FSI) in certain rehabilitation housing schemes allowing developers to build highrises, tall buildings are dominating Mumbai’s skyline.

Manan Shah, MD of Man Infraconstruction which is redeveloping the old Chikalwadi chawls in south Mumbai, told TOI: “Without the high FSI this project would not have been feasible.” The chawl residents will be rehoused free of cost in a separate tower on a portion of the plot. The total construction on the two-acre plot will be a massive 13 lakh sq ft.

“The instrument for increasing the land potential to meet the ever-increasing demand for additional floor space has been through development control and promotion regulations. Further, the locational shift of land use demand and consequent placement of different types of activities has led to injecting the FSI protein to absorb this demand,” said Kedarnath Rao Ghorpade, an environmental sustainability planner and former chief planner of Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority.

But will the constant increase of FSI without the supporting infrastructure be sustainable?

A leading Mumbai developer, not wishing to be identified, said, “We have too much tinkering in building regulations on a regular basis and this needs to stop with a process of review every 3-5 years. FSI in rehab projects needs to be linked to road width as is the case for other project types. We could have the high FSIs on the widest roads where such density is required for rehabilitation but generally, need to not increase FSI to such extent. Further, authorities need to strictly enforce parking and encroachment removal actions on all roads to allow Mumbai to evolve into a better place to work and live for all of us.”

Housing expert Chandrashekhar Prabhu said the FSI for redevelopment of old and dilapidated cessed properties in the island city could even go as high as 17 and 20. “High FSI necessitates highrises. Apart from abuse of building material and increase of construction and maintenance costs, concretisation of open spaces and bad planning, it leads to unbelievable levels of density, resulting in claustrophobic conditions which have disastrous consequences for the well-being of citizens,” Prabhu said.

But architect Manoj Daisaria claimed the BMC, before finalising the new Development Control and Promotion Regulation (DCPR-2034), made a detailed study of the civic infrastructure pertaining to water, sewerage and stormwater drains. “The findings were that Mumbai could take the load of infrastructure as augmented by various departments. About traffic issues, the government has already initiated mass transport systems like the metros, monorail, coastal roads, which will ease traffic in times to come,” he said.

Some real estate experts constantly give the examples of Manhattan and Hong Kong where, they say, FSI is high to allow some of the tallest towers in the world. So, why not Mumbai?

But building rules in these cities are so stringent that open spaces amount to as much as 85-90% for public amenities. A critical impact assessment is carried out before plans are approved. New York-based architect Arzan Sam Wadia said high FSI in US cities is sanctioned in commercial zones only. “Building rules in residential zones are quite stringent mostly because of citizens’ action,” he said.

“While there are rules and laws in place, there is a (mostly) democratic process to request for more FSI. The developer petitions agencies like City Planning Commission and the local community board for letters of support and presents that to the city,” said Wadia.

According to him, for the last many years, mayors of New York City have also put in guidelines that allow for special exemptions if the developer of tall buildings provide low-income houses, parks and public amenities. “In return, the developer may get tax breaks or the project itself gets tax exemption for a decade or two,” he said. “Public advocacy is strong and people show up at these community board meetings and make strong cases if they don’t like what they see,” Wadia added.

Some decades ago, a developer seeking to set up an 80-storey tower at New York’s Columbus Circus had to haggle hard with authorities to get approval for his project. A highrise of this size, which would have hundreds moving in, would put pressure on neighbourhood infrastructure and the local body wanted the developer to solve this problem. The developer had to fund the construction of a new metro station below the building so that the crowd did not spill over.

In Mumbai, experts said lack of proper zoning laws and the frequent amendments to the city’s development plan have resulted in rampant and haphazard development, especially in congested areas. Zoning shapes the city and regulates building size, population density and the way land is used, experts added.

  • Published On Jul 10, 2023 at 08:39 AM IST

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