Building creep scorn

Community groups have raised concerns about the way in which the City of Cape town deals with building applications.

Constantia and Wynberg are being saturated in concrete because the City of Cape Town has seized control over the process that decides whether developers get the nod or not, say civic groups.

The ugly side of the City’s drive to squeeze more high-density buildings into these neighbourhoods came to the fore recently when a Wynberg woman, Kathy Hull, took the City and a developer to court after a block of flats was built within kissing distance of its neighbours in Wellington Avenue (“Aldro red-flagged,” Bulletin, April 26).

The Western Cape High Court judgment found they had contravened building and planning regulations.

This is not the first time residents in these increasingly crowded suburbs have cried foul over decisions they say favour developers at their expense.

The Constantia Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association (CRRA) complains of “rogue development” in Constantia.

“There’s been an outcry from Constantia residents about the seemingly uncontrolled development in pockets of Constantia, Rathfelder and Brommaert avenues,” said the CRRA’s land-use committee member, Chris Rousseau.

He said that late last year a house had been built up to a neighbour’s boundary in Welbeloond Avenue without permission and rubble had been dumped on the roadside.

In another case, the association had been asked to comment on a heritage report for a house in Constantia, but when visiting the property had made a startling discovery.

“To our surprise the house had already been extensively changed without any building plan or heritage approval,” said Mr Rousseau.

The association had then met with senior development management officials. “We learnt that the City’s enforcement processes are totally ineffectual,” he said.

The CRRA’s Chris Rowan-Parry said it had considered more than 200 planning applications in the past five years, of which it had objected to about 70.

“Despite our objections, and neighbours’, the City has approved all but two of these 70,” said Mr Rowan-Parry, claiming that called into question the impartiality of the public participation process.

Chairman of the Bergvliet Meadowridge Ratepayers’ Association (BMRA), Mark Schafer, said that up until 2015 planning matters had been considered at sub-council meetings by officials representing the interests of the people who had elected them.

Those meetings – attended by ward councillors and planning officials – had been open to the public.

“Applications are now considered by the planning tribunal – City appointees who are not elected by the community. They implement the City’s policies without due consideration for local circumstances and communities,” said Mr Schafer. “The local councillor has an opportunity to submit comment to the Municipal Planning Tribunal (MPT) – but these do not seem to be influential.”

So what changed in 2015? In July of that year, the Municipal Planning By-law came into effect.

Mayco member for transport and urban development, Brett Herron, said the by-law was required as part of the national Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act.

The first MPT meeting was held on Tuesday October 13, 2015. At the time, Mayco member for energy, environmental and spatial planning, Johan van der Merwe, said the changes would create greater public involvement and transparency in planning matters. But several civic groups feel they’ve had the opposite effect.

The tribunal has 21 members: 12 City officials and nine independent consultants who are rotated between four regional panels. The agendas for the meetings are available on the City’s website.

The tribunal’s chairman, Dave Daniels, said each application was advertised and any affected group or individual could comment on or object to it.

Anyone wanting to make oral submission to the tribunal has to give valid reasons in writing at least seven days before the meeting.

Mr Herron said land-use decisions were handled by either a City official or the tribunal in line with the by-law, whereas City decisions on building-plan applications were based on the recommendations of the building inspector.

It was done that way, he said, because of the high volume and technical nature of the building plans.

The mayor had the final say, he said, should there be an appeal.

Mr Herron said that in Ms Hull’s case – where a wall was built against her bedroom and bathroom – there would have been no advertisement about the building plans if the developer had not sought to change the site’s zoning.

“The National Building Regulations do not provide for public participation and this has been in place since its inception in 1985,” said Mr Herron.

Ward councillor Liz Brunette said she was not notified about the building development next to Ms Hull and neither were the neighbours.

“Properties with a GR2 zoning allow multi-storey buildings to be built up to the property’s common boundary as of right and do not require a land-use planning application,” said Ms Brunette.

Terry Simon, treasurer of the Tokai Residents’ Association, said that in cases where they had to give input on plans that involve a land-use re-zoning or a departure from the City’s building regulations they were either contacted by the owner or his representative or sometimes directly by the City.

“Our role is to ensure that any affected neighbours do not have any objections and also that any development does not adversely affect the ambiance of Tokai as an attractive residential suburb,” said Mr Simon.

Mr Schafer said notification of an application was sent to interested parties such as nearby neighbours and residents’ associations. Advertising might include a press notice, registered letter or hand-delivered “no objection” letter.

“The interested parties must then view plans at the City’s offices between 8am and noon in order to consider a response.

“But they are not allowed to take copies of the content for proper consideration and analysis. This process is not conducive to eliciting proper public participation as most ‘interested parties’ do not have the time to attend at the City’s offices or the ability to absorb the content of the application from a cursory perusal,” said Mr Schafer.

He said that could be remedied easily by making the application available in PDF format.