Owners of a row of eateries fear their businesses could go up in smoke - because they are struggling to meet demands to improve their kitchen ventilation systems.
Eighteen Cheong Chin Nam Road eateries in Bukit Timah met the National Environment Agency (NEA) and Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in February, after residents complained that they were creating noise and smelly fumes.
They were told to submit proposals for new exhaust systems by April, but only four did so - and only one, Sinma Live Bull Frog Claypot Porridge, has begun installing one.
The other owners banded together to write an appeal letter to NEA in April, complaining of the "costly sum" of installing new air filters. It said contractors had quoted between $10,000 and $30,000 per system.
It also pointed out that their current exhaust systems were approved by NEA when their food-shop licences were last renewed, and that most food shops elsewhere in Singapore are not required to install them.
The letter proposed a dialogue session with residents of Yuk Tong Avenue, directly behind the road, followed up with quarterly meetings to address their concerns.
Elwyn Chan owns the Stirling Bar and Grill, which opened last year after a $200,000 renovation of the building. He was quoted $30,000 for a new air filter.
"Basically, this could make or break my business," said the former investment banker. "This would wipe out a whole year of profit. I am willing to take certain actions to coexist with the residents, but to suddenly bring this sledgehammer down on us - it's quite a shock. Business here really hasn't been good as it is."
The restaurants fell on hard times in recent years with the construction works for the Downtown Line in front of them, blocking them from view from 2010 to last year.
The noise and dust, coupled with insufficient parking, caused takings during that time to plummet by up to 60 per cent.
NEA said it has been working with the food-shop operators since 2010, when it started receiving complaints.
But in January, residents said that while the smell and noise nuisance was reduced after operating hours, the problem persisted in the day.
"In view of this, NEA and URA assessed that there is a need to address the smell and noise nuisance more comprehensively," an NEA spokesman said. "Over the years, food-shop operators may have expanded their operations and increased the variety of food types, which could have overloaded the existing exhaust systems."
URA said that the concerns have to be addressed before the Temporary Permissions for the eating houses along Cheong Chin Nam Road will be renewed.
A Straits Times visit to the landed houses in Yuk Tong Avenue found that the rear of the eateries - from which large metal chimneys emit fumes - are as close as about 3m from the properties. The strong smell of stale oil dominated backyards and a soft buzzing noise from the exhaust systems could be heard.
Patrick Koh, a resident of Yuk Tong Avenue, has spent $6,000 on air-filter systems for his home. "It is like putting your face in front of a barbecue 365 days a year," said the 47-year-old engineer, who has written to NEA three times about it.
"It's a health hazard. I do eat at the restaurants... they should do their part."
Ten houses down, Vivek C., 46, said: "There is a constant buzz, it's terrible. There is this big chimney blowing fumes into our kitchen. We can't open our windows. We don't want to push the restaurants out. But the noise and level of fumes need to go down."
At least one restaurant is set to shut. Hot Spice Thai Cuisine owner Steven Goh, 45, said it barely breaks even every month and was quoted $35,000 for a new system.
"It seems unfair," he said. "We want to comply, but it's very expensive. If we don't get some help to pay for it, I will have to shut down."
Get MyPaper for more stories.