Civic vows to tackle Constantia densification

The Constantia Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association says it is committed to putting an end to densification on properties. Exco members, from left, John McPetrie, Mike McBride, Tracey Davies, Gordon Chunnett and Nick Huppert, are pictured at the Alphen Centre, where the association has its offices. Picture: supplied

The Constantia Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association’s new executive committee says there has never been a more critical time to be a member of the organisation as it works to block “rampant inappropriate development” in the leafy suburb.

“Don’t wait for a high-density development or unwanted cellphone mast to suddenly pop up next to you or in your immediate neighbourhood,” the civic association warns in a newsletter to residents.

Elected in late July, the new exco says it has finalised portfolio heads and teams, sorted out inherited problems with communication channels, rationalised the accounting system and is preparing for the year-end audit and invoicing.

Its main focus, however, is to tackle what it feels is inappropriate development destroying the character of the Constantia valley and righting some wrongs made by the previous exco, says chairman John McPetrie.

In an interview with the Bulletin, Mr McPetrie said a CRRA proposal of what future development might look like in the area was sent to the City for inclusion in its 2020 municipal plan.

“The proposal included a map which had sections of Constantia earmarked as available for or could be considered for appropriate densification. Essentially what they have done is broken Constantia into a number of areas, which included, for example, the winelands and open areas like the greenbelts. They had an area, which they referred to as the Arcadian, which was to be protected by a heritage protection overlay zone and then there was the rest.

“And the rest included a vast area of Constantia, which is the area that I live and most of the people that came onto the committee live. Which was effectively the smaller plots of Constantia – round about anything between 1350 square meterage of plots and upwards.

“Those areas were not protected by any of the proposals put forward by the then CRRA, and, in fact, the wording there was that they were available to be considered. They were not proposing that they be densified, they were saying this is where appropriate densification might take place, and our attitude was that that was effectively giving the City and developers a toe in,” Mr McPetrie said.

“We have written to the City and said we are retracting that. It may make no difference to the City whatsoever, but we have taken an official position, which says we are opposed to all densification, and that is effectively what we have done by rescinding that document.”

Mr McPetrie said they hoped to show the City that there was a lot to lose by pushing densification in Constantia.

“It is just unbelievable how much construction is going on in Constantia, and this has to make a difference to what Constantia looks like every time the developers go in. The first thing they do is cut down all the trees, and then they promise to plant others to replace them, which they sometimes do or don’t do. We have just got to remember that Constantia is the green lung of Cape Town, and if we lose this, it is gone forever.”

The civic association also plans to tackle cellphone masts. It says a survey it did in June found that most Constantia residents want better reception but felt the greenbelts are no-go areas and neighbouring residents should be involved in decision making for specific sites.

“We have already started engaging with mobile network operators and we will follow up on the City’s promise to provide a plan of pre-approved public open spaces which can be used for masts,” the newsletter says.

Mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment Eddie Andrews said the CRRA expressed concerns to the City in 2018 about the way it was considering development applications, and, in late 2018, the civic appointed planning consultants to work on suggested development guidelines for the area.

Those had been worked into a draft City development blueprint, known as a local spatial development framework (LSDF) in late 2019, and a 2020 revision of that draft had been submitted by the CRRA to the City in response to the public review of the southern district plan in 2021 and 2022.

Mr Andrews said the City had told the CRRA that its proposals would only be incorporated into the draft southern district plan if they aligned with applicable City policy, were appropriate to the scale of the plan’s development guidelines, and enhanced the plan’s existing development guidance.

Former CRRA chairwoman Sheila Camerer applauded Mr McPetrie and the current exco for continuing the fight against inappropriate densification but said claims about a lack of action by the former exco were one-sided and a distortion of what actually happened.

“When the City’s principal planning professional, Kier Hennessy, announced that they were going to review the spatial development programme of the southern district and asked for input, we thought we would try and get the best possible input for our area,” she said.

“We employed, without any prescriptions, the best town planners that we knew of to do a submission. They worked it out and made suggestions to us. We can’t pretend to be town planners nor can Mr McPetrie. Particularly, A, when it comes to what’s best for Constantia and, B, what’s best for the City.

“The whole purpose of our input, on which we spent a quarter of a million rand, was to ensure you don’t have inappropriate densification in Constantia.”

Ms Camerer said the submission drafted by the town planners proposed that densification should only happen in a limited area along main transport nodes, where there were already shopping malls. There would be areas with an absolute bar to any subdivisions and other areas where you could have some.

“Now no one can say the plan is perfect, but, as far as we can say, we did our very best to get as perfect a submission as much as possible, employing the best expertise.”

According to Ms Camerer, the City used some of the CRRA’s proposal and disregarded other aspects of it, which the previous exco had challenged it on.

“There is going to be a long fight. Most of what they have done that we didn’t like they ignored in our submission. That is the truth of the matter.”

The submission held no official status but was an important advisory document, she said.

“Basically one has to take the fight back to the City. It is not as though the City is doing anything about the area as a result of our document, quite the opposite.”