Cape Town communities fear eroding of areas’ character

Cape Argus
September 2nd, 2016

Cape Town – The rapid rate of big building developments in areas close to the city centre has residents concerned the character of their neighbourhoods will be eroded by densification and gentrification ideals.

Civic associations say more open and thorough public consultation needs to take place before developments are planned, and city officials need to be more considerate of the unique qualities the environments involved.

Marc Turok, who heads the Observatory Civic Association’s (OCA) heritage committee, said the association was keeping an eye on at least four major developments in the area which had upset residents over height and scale.

There were also concerns over the ensuing traffic volumes and whether the developments were in keeping with established properties in the area.

“There’s been a huge thrust of buildings proposed in our area,” Turok said.

While the OCA has had some measure of success in challenging the height limitations of some proposed developments, often other nuances such as heritage, urban design and whether proposed developments were in keeping with the general area, were often overlooked.

Developers and the city were focused on “quantitative” rather than “qualitative” factors, Turok said.

“We support development but there needs to be certain sensitivities as to how it fits in. There needs to be more careful consultation on how appropriate they are. The principles (of the city’s district and spatial plans) are being ignored by developers pushing for the absolute maximum.”

Residents are so frustrated about being in the dark over what’s taking place in their neighbourhood, that a Facebook group, “Consult on Large Developments in Observatory”, has been started.

Here residents keep each other updated on the latest developments.

Chairman of the Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance, Philip Bam said the city council was not considering the fabric, make-up and diversity of Cape Town in granting approvals for large developments.

“Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you have to,” he said.

“Why are poor people being pushed out all the time for the rich to make money?”

Bam said if a dilapidated property was being demolished to make way for high density development, there should be a component for the poor.

Mayco member for energy, environment and spatial planning Johan Van der Merwe denied the city operated on the principle of “development at all costs”.

“Economic growth and job creation do require change, including at times, changes to the physical environment. This is all part of the balance and context that is required of a government,” he said.

But Bam said ratepayers often did not have the expertise to challenge large developers and the city council, where they disagreed.

This has been the case in the Bo-Kaap, where ratepayers were caught on the back foot last year, in attempts to object to a new R600 million development to be known as 117 on Strand. True to its name, the 17-storey building bounded by Strand, Hudson and Castle Streets will contain 117 apartments, retail and office space and over 500 parking bays.

Construction is set to start this month.

Spokeswoman of the Bo-Kaap Civic and Ratepayers’Association (BKCRA) Jacky Poking said what the community had believed was an information session only, was considered public participation.

Their relative inexperience in matters of objection and appeal, meant the BKCRA was unsuccessful in mounting a proper challenge. “They have more money and more resources to push through their development. We wanted a lawyer to go through it, but by then it was too late and we didn’t know what to do beyond that.”

The BKCRA is currently awaiting the outcome of an appeal against the council’s decision approving a 60m-high apartment and retail block, between Buitengracht and Rose Streets with 249 residential units and over 300 parking bays.

Van der Merwe said objection and appeal processes were clearly spelled out in notices and assistance could be obtained from ward councillors and officials in district planning offices.

“In our experience it is hugely inaccurate to suggest that ratepayers’ associations are too unsophisticated to follow the objection and appeal processes,” he said.

Van der Merwe said the city encouraged developers to engage with resident associations before their plans for a specific area are initiated.

“We must start aiming for a platform of engagement that is constructive and respectful of all aspects,” he said.

In Wynberg, residents are up in arms over a proposal to turn a 1920s property between Tennant and Oxford roads into a block of 50 luxury apartments for the semi-retired.

Heritage Western Cape has given its approval, but the Wynberg Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association (WRRA) plan to appeal the decision later this month.

The association’s Barnett Herdien said the heritage assessment had been “sloppy” and had not adequately taken zoning and title deed restrictions into account.

Residents had also not been consulted about the development beforehand.

“We would not have known about the development if the HWC had not contacted the WRRA,” he said.

The WRRA are on a campaign to inform residents of the zoning rights andlimitations in their area.

The planned development would obscure a major landmark tower, while some of the 100-year-old palm trees faced being uprooted.

“The proposed block will be an aesthetic eyesore and disturb the heritage fabric of the suburb,” said the association’s Joan van Zyl in a blog post to residents.

Turok said the city’s zoning regulations could not be applied as a “one size fits all”.

Ward councillor for areas including Observatory, Mowbray and Salt River, Paddy Chapple said there had been an increase in planning applications particular along the Main Road.

“Some developments are incredibly complex and the densification policy means that people are trying hard to get their developments through,” he said.

Bam said civic organisations were fair in their criticism of the city’s public participation process. “There’s nothing in the participation process that the voice of the community is determinative. Until such time, the city and the government will continue to walk over people.”

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