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Billionaire’s unsanctioned garden, ‘absurd’ houses upset some Sentosa Cove residents

SINGAPORE — A neighbours’ spat is brewing in the playground for the rich and famous at Sentosa Cove, with some residents protesting over how one billionaire’s landscaping work has been allowed to encroach into common space belonging to the gated community.

One of the billionaire's five houses in the area, with a distinctive Egyptian theme. Some residents have taken exception to the appearance of the house, among other grievances.

One of the billionaire's five houses in the area, with a distinctive Egyptian theme. Some residents have taken exception to the appearance of the house, among other grievances.

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SINGAPORE — A neighbours’ spat is brewing in the playground for the rich and famous at Sentosa Cove, with some residents protesting over how one billionaire’s landscaping work has been allowed to encroach into common space belonging to the gated community.

They are also upset at the design of several of his houses — one resembles a futuristic temple flanked by two 4m-tall statues of the Egyptian god Anubis, while another has a prehistoric theme based on the Flintstones cartoon.

But other residents have rallied behind the billionaire’s efforts to beautify the neighbourhood. They claim that the estate management had neglected the common land in dispute, and decried the complainants for kicking up a fuss over personal vendettas.

In response to queries, a spokesperson for Sentosa Cove Resort Management (SCRM) said it is aware of the billionaire’s initiative to landscape the open spaces along Cove Drive. “While SCRM appreciates the initiative, the resident in question has been advised on the appropriateness of the use of the space,” said the spokesperson.

The spokesperson added that it is also “looking into ways where more input can also be sought from residents including on matters concerning landscape”.

When approached by TODAY for comment, the Singaporean billionaire — who declined to be named due to privacy concerns for his young children — expressed disappointment over the situation. The man, believed to be in his 50s, is the founder of a consumer goods distribution company.

“When Sentosa Cove first rolled out, there was a lot of fanfare in promoting it as the lifestyle choice of living. However, if we put in place rigid rules ourselves, it will lose its appeal as the carefree choice of living here,” said the billionaire.

He dismissed the complaint over his landscaping works as a “petty issue” which should be resolved internally among the property owners.

Based on public records obtained by TODAY, the billionaire owns five landed properties in the area.

 

A resident tending to flowers in the contentious garden, which is on a plot that is common property in Sentosa South Cove. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY

Established in 2003, Sentosa Cove was conceived as Singapore’s first and only gated residential community.

The dispute stems from two plots of common property — measuring an estimated 30,000 sq ft — along the south side of the prestigious neighbourhood known as the Sentosa South Cove. The billionaire, who owns three out of the four houses adjacent to the disputed plots, has built the garden for the community to use over the past four to five years.

The elaborately-decorated garden has a summer floral theme, featuring rows and clusters of petunias, bougainvillea, and periwinkle plants, as well as stone animal statues, a swingset, several park benches and a platform extending into a lake facing the Sentosa Golf Club.

The site is accessible to any Sentosa Cove resident, and is marked by “Residents Only” signs on the turf.

In the past month, a resident complained about the garden to SCRM, which is a subsidiary of the statutory board Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC). The complaint surfaced again during a neighbourhood committee meeting on July 8, TODAY understands.

A day later, an anonymous letter purporting to represent the views of “residents of Sentosa Cove” was sent to TODAY. Accusing the SDC of practising double standards, the letter said that a public space “is a space that must be easily accessible to people for their enjoyment and should not be directed and possessed by an individual to use it for his personal and private enjoyment”.

The estate’s common spaces are maintained by the managing agent — real estate services company CBRE Singapore — and paid for through conservancy fees from residents living in both the private landed and condominium areas.

Prior to his landscaping works, the billionaire had lodged several complaints to SCRM over what he said was the poor upkeep of the two plots of land next to his home.

In its response to TODAY, the SCRM spokesperson disputed the billionaire’s claims after looking into the matter. “The investigations found that our appointed managing agent CBRE has maintained a consistent regime of landscape maintenance and pest control,” the spokesperson said.

TODAY visited the private community over two days earlier this week. Residents interviewed said the man gradually replaced the weeds in the common areas with carpet grass, adding more and more amenities and decorations over time to beautify the two plots. Park benches and a menagerie of stone rabbits, giraffes and swans can now be seen around the lavishly-designed garden.

The residents added that every week, truckloads of freshly bloomed potted plants are brought in to the garden to immediately replace flowers which have wilted — so that the garden is in full bloom at all times.

Most of the residents TODAY spoke to were appreciative of his efforts. However, some felt that it was improper for the billionaire to build on property that does not belong to him.

The anonymous letter sent to TODAY also expressed disdain over the billionaire’s “absurd designs” for his houses. Among other things, it claimed that the houses do not fit the overall ambience of Sentosa South Cove.

Speaking to TODAY, some residents felt that the criticism of the homes’ designs was unfair, as these had to be approved before construction. While homeowners were told to design their homes based on a “rustic” theme, this was loosely followed by many owners, they said.

Ms Amanda Presland, 52, who has been living at the Sentosa South Cove for six months as a tenant, said she had decided to rent a place there because of the unique-looking homes such as one owned by the billionaire that resembled a pirate ship.

“I thought how wild this place is, and it was because I saw these other homes that I decided to stay here for the long haul,” said Ms Presland. “It is unfortunate that some people saw this as a reason to complain.”

 

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Sentosa Cove garden landscape

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