Years back, mansionettes and bungalows defined Kilimani and Kileleshwa suburbs as the city’s serene neighbourhoods close to the Central Business District (CBD).
Earmarked as Zone Four by the now defunct Nairobi City Council, one would only go four floors high in the two areas perceived to be owned by the country’s wealthy and middle-income earners.
However, the once famous and quiet serenity covered with tree canopies is slowly but surely being choked by brick and mortar as developers race for heights.
Meanwhile, the privacy that the owners and residents enjoyed is no longer guaranteed as apartments are going as high as 15 floors high, towering over those who had complied with the city by-laws.
The unregulated development is now creating fears that the once posh leafy neighbourhoods are fast losing the allure that attracted people there.
Residents and homeowners now want the national government and Nairobi County Government, National Environment Management Authority (Nema), and the Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK), to intervene.
Dwellers lament that developers are being cleared for buildings that do not comply with zoning regulations and when they are stopped on the tracks, they are still beating the system and resuming construction.
One of the homeowners is Ol Kalou MP David Kiaraho. The MP is an architect by profession. He says that some of the buildings have at least 900 units on an acre of land.
According to him, the sewer system was built 50 years ago, and water supply channels and roads have not improved to date.
He states that Kilimani and Kileleshwa are on the pathway to be “vertical slums”.
“There are zoning laws and you find that there are high-density areas such as Embakasi and Kayole. They (developers) are coming up with structures that we have never seen. If we do not arrest the situation, this will be a proper slum. Whatever is happening in Kilimani and Kileleshwa is that there are buildings that are not observing the laid out laws,” says Kiaraho.
He says the residents are being forced to buy water from bowsers as the current system cannot hold the demand. At the same time, he says, traffic in the area is a nightmare as most roads are two ways. He states manholes and sewer systems are already leaking as they cannot hold the number of houses that are being put up. On one of the buildings, according to him, the developer is only putting bed-sitters and one-bedroom units and they are more than 800. “I plead with the governor (Johnson Sakaja) to stamp his authority because something is terribly wrong,” says Kahairo
According to the MP, the developments are not supported by social amenities including recreation facilities such as public open spaces, playgrounds, and sports facilities yet the amenities are an essential part of family welfare.
“We are not opposed to development and cannot dictate construction but we must follow the law,” adds the lawmaker.
Kilimani is located within Zone Four and the land use is indicated as residential which limits apartments to four storeys. Riverside, Kileleshwa, Thompson, Spring Valley, Woodley, and Kilimani are also categorised under Zone Four.
George Nyaga, another homeowner laments that a building adjacent to his contains at least 400 units. He lives along the Kirichwa River. He complains that the designs do not guarantee those within the vicinity any form of privacy as the apartment will allow their occupants to have a clear view of adjacent and surrounding properties below them.
At the same time, he says that the development will also block the view of the nearby residential homes and negatively affect ambient air quality and sunlight access to the surrounding environment.
He states that he no longer gets tapped water from the county as the pressure cannot serve the area adding that the sewer system has been diverted to Kirichwa River.
Another resident claimed she had to put a curtain on her toilet window as the balconies of her neighbour give a clear sight of her toilet and bathroom.
Last year, Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) discontinued the construction of a 15-story residential apartment comprising 870 units of bed-sitters at Kilimani for failing to comply with the zoning laws.
The order was against the Chinese company, Ever Forgarden Company Ltd.
Then Nairobi County Director for Lands, Housing and Urban Renewal, Urban Planning and Development S. G. Mwangi (now a County Executive Committee) member stated that the development overwhelmingly exceeds the ground coverage and plot ratios permissible within the Kilimani area.
“870 units on 0.463 hectares are not acceptable since they exceed the ratios provided. You are, therefore, advised to stop further construction forthwith as per our enforcement notice to avoid legal action,” said Mwangi in a letter.
In 2020, the High Court declined to allow the construction of a 35-storey building at Kilimani for failing to follow zoning laws.
The developer, Cytton Investment Ltd sued Kilimani Residents Association and the county in 2018 over the Sh20 billion project. In the case, the court heard that the building was to have 175,000 office and commercial spaces for rentals, 180 hotel rooms, 160 serviced apartments, three-bedroom duplex apartments and penthouse suites, and four four basement parking floors of 1,200- 1500 parking spaces.
While dismissing Cytton’s case, Justice John Mativo said county governments should stick to the rules governing planning while allowing the construction of buildings.
“County governments have a duty to use planning controls to ensure development is allowed only where it is needed while ensuring the character and amenity of the areas are not adversely affected. The planning system plays an important role in modern society. It is meant to protect amenities and the environment in the public interest,” noted Judge Mativo.