The sleepy hollow of Balik Pulau in Penang will soon be transformed into a modern enclave of smart new homes with the rise of the Botanica.CT housing project. Developer Datuk Kenny Ong says his ambition is more than just selling houses.
Kenny's Hill in Penang
The rise of Botanica.CT township in one of Penang’s relatively underdeveloped districts has thrust Datuk Dr Kenny Ong, group executive chairman of MTT & Priority Group of Companies, into the forefront of mega property developments.
“Botanica.CT is not my maiden property development project,” states Ong, who is in his 50s.
“I have completed several projects in Thailand and Penang. Botanica.CT is my first large-scale project. It is the very first, large-scale ‘township development’ project of its kind ever undertaken in Penang in 35 years.”
The undulating terrain of the 300-acre project in Balik Pulau, in the south-west of Penang island, will have close to 2,000 homes including linked and semi-detached units as well as luxury, hillside bungalows with sea views. This works out to an average density of less than six families per acre.
The commercial developments will include a medical centre, a health retreat and spa resort, a retirement resort, a food and retail village complex. And unique in Malaysian property development, it will have a boarding school based on the British system.
The project covers 11 phases for residential and commercial developments, and is estimated to be completed by 2016. It is envisaged to be a self-sustainable township.
“I have always regarded myself as not a ‘hardcore developer’,” stresses Ong, “I do not want to be a developer who conventionally builds, sells then move on to another project. I intend to own and operate some of the commercial facilities within Botanica.CT.
“My vision and commitment is to ensure the sustainability of the township, which then supports the businesses that I will be operating within and, perhaps more importantly, to ensure that the township will add to the charm of the Pearl of the Orient.”
Truth is indeed stranger than fiction, as the whole idea of this “green township” project came to Ong by chance.
“It was quite a remarkable experience,” recalls Ong. “It all started when my neighbour, who happened to be the land owner, casually asked me whether I was interested in buying a 300-acre piece of land. I went to have a look and immediately fell in love with it.
“I still remember that when I stood on the land, I felt enchanted, soothed and rejuvenated. I could visualise an entire garden township. It was common sense that I needed to have this piece of virgin land and to turn it into an oasis in an over-stressed world.
“Everyone whom I have brought to the place, loved it. And when I shared my vision with my fellow management, everyone could understand and shared the same feelings.”
“Botanica” which alludes to a botanical theme and “CT” which sounds like “city” may sound contradicting but the developer has his reasons for choosing “Botanica.CT” as the name for his project.
“You are right to say that I wish to have a botanical theme to the name, explains Ong, “But equally so, I wanted to have ‘CT’ attached to it because it is the initial of my father, the late Datuk Ong Chin Teik. My father always will be my greatest role model who made me who I am today. It is only right to name such a significant project in my life after my father.
“Also, a city should be redefined and should not necessarily present the impression of being environmentally unfriendly. I envisaged that a model township for the 21st century should be a modern city but couched within an extensively landscaped and ecologically sensitive garden township.”
Botanica.CT is undertaken by MTT Properties & Development -- a subsidiary within the MTT & Priority Group of Companies -- and which has a history dating back to 1963. The senior management team includes Ong’s wife, Datin Saisunee Ong, who is the chief executive officer, as well as group executive director Dr Angela Teoh, general manager Albert Lai and group corporate development manager Jason Tan.
“If we were to look at Google Earth of the Penang Island,” points out Ong, “The eastern side of the island is brown whilst the western side of the island is virtually green. Developers, who have been concentrating their developments on the eastern side, can only develop on much smaller parcels of land due to scarcity. Consequently, many developments were done without the ability to take into account, proper town planning, sometimes resulting in incompatibility of the type of housing and the location.
“On the other hand, we own the entire 300 acres of land, allowing us to plan and build a proper township from ground up. The residential properties range from affordable to luxury types of homes and will cater to residents from all walks of life.”
Ong is convinced that the future of property development in Penang lies in the south-west district of the island simply because there is no more land in the north-east district to allow for large-scale township development.
“Also, many feng shui masters seem to be advocating that the south-western side will be the ‘Ong’ (lucky or prosperous) area for the next 20 years! Penang started from the north-east side of the island, which then continued south to the south-east side about 30 years ago when the Bayan Baru and Bayan Lepas areas started flourishing until today, when it is fully developed. If you think about it logically, the development will then naturally move towards the south-west side.
“While the cost of houses in the area is still relatively lower than the other side, this is the time to own a home or homes that will, in turn guarantee a handsome capital appreciation in the future, once it becomes fully developed like Bayan Baru today.”
By Johnni Wong (The Star)