On a wing and a prayer

Pastor Charles White says building the church is a leap of faith.

Eternal Flame Assembly of God is trying to build a church on a wing and a prayer in Heathfield, but it has residents gnashing their teeth.

They say the structure in Galway Road is unsightly, an eyesore, a shack.

The congregation’s Pastor Charles White agrees but says it is temporary until funding is available to build the next phase.

“Since when are we in an industrial area that they can be allowed to build this?” said Stuart Buckley, who used to live in Galway Road and now lives in Bergvliet. “The property value of houses around this place will drop for certain now. Is it even fire compliant? Two sliding doors, no windows, no emergency exit, how did council allow this to be built in a residential area?”

Eion Els, of Larne Road, has voiced her objection to the structure.

Kathy Heath, of De Gruchy Road, says the building looks unsafe and no consideration was given to the neighbours.

Sue Gie, of Elaine Way, and another resident, who stays in Mclean Road, complain of more traffic coming into the area and excessive noise from the “hangar” every Sunday and sometimes on Fridays and public holidays.

And when the building was erected, there was angle grinding and building at 10.20pm on Thursday December 20, they say.

Ms Gie called law enforcement.

Elaine McLaren, of De Gruchy Road, says one day there was a tent and the next a tin shack. She says she saw no correspondence about building plans from the church.

George Gloyne, who lives in nearby Simta Village, objects to the material that has been used in “this three-storey shack with no windows”.

Quinton Summers and William Footman, of Simta Village, are asking who signed off the “giant smoker”, which they suspect must be awful inside during summer.

They say they received no notice from the church and are asking who the owners are.

Mr White admits to building after hours. He claims a WhatsApp message was sent to the surrounding community about this and when someone complained about the grinding noise they stopped work.

He also showed a copy of a letter, dated March 2015, which included plans and outlined future developments for the site, saying it was sent to residents in the area.

Michelle Nicholls, of Elaine Way, complained to the councillor and authorities about the unsightly “circus” structure and the excessive noise.

She said someone from the council had come to her house for two Sundays and confirmed that the noise was way above the acceptable level.

“The next step was to go to the police to obtain an affidavit with my complaint, but I realised there were too many barriers, so I did not pursue the issue,” said Ms Nicholls.

“The tent came down, yay! To my horror, a factory structure was erected and with it came more vehicles, parked everywhere on a Sunday morning and other days too,” she said.

When the Bulletin visited the building early in January, the area was deathly silent. On either side of the fenced property are open spaces, one tarred the other covered in weeds. A banner proclaims Eternal Flame, a phone number and website.

A woman and a guard dog came to the fence after viewing this reporter on CCTV footage. She left when I identified myself.

A neighbour across the road, who did not want to be named, said he had no issues with the church and that crime had come down since it sprang up.

A previous worshipper answered the cellphone and said Mr White was overseas, the landline number was not connected and the website no longer worked.

Further investigation led to the Apostolic Church across the road. Eventually, the Bulletin tracked down Mr White who only arrived back from overseas last week.

He said that for 12 years the congregation had met at the old telephone exchange in Silverhurst Way, Bergvliet. After getting three months’ notice to vacate, they had decided to build a church on the Galway Road property his family had owned since 1998.

“We had plans designed for an architectural dream of a church estimated to cost R25m,” said Mr White.

But with no funding or bank loan they had changed their strategy and designed a building that could be added to as funds became available.

A new design had been drawn up and submitted to the City in 2014. Meanwhile they had held services in the brick building located parallel to the railway line before pitching a marquee.

The marquee had been dismantled at the end of 2018 and the new steel structure built over December.

The metal sheets were temporary until the church had money to buy bricks, he said.

Showing a model of the plan, he said the final worship hall (presently clad in metal sheeting) would be glass and surrounded by libraries, classrooms and meeting areas for a centre for youth at risk.

Mr White said the church was paying off about R80 000 from 15 years of accumulated municipal fees for services supplied on the land but never used.

Councillor Carol Bew said the owners had received approval for a brick church in May 2015 and had started construction but stopped partway.

“This is the brick double-storey nearest to the railway line. This new metal-sheet structure is not at all similar to the approved plan and therefore a notice has been issued to the owner to ‘obtain approval’ for the new construction or rectify.”

According to Mayco member for spatial planning and environment, Marian Nieuwoudt, the site is zoned Community 1 which has a “place of worship” as of right. That means a traffic-impact assessment is not required.

Construction of the existing brick double storey nearest to the railway line had started in accordance with the approved plan and the foundation had been inspected in October 2015, said Ms Nieuwoudt.

However, construction had stopped and the City had not received a building plan for the “metal sheet” structure that deviated from the original plan approved in 2015.

The City has issued a notice to the owner on Friday January 4 and this expires on Monday March 4.

If not complied with, it would be handed over to the City’s legal department, said Ms Nieuwoudt.

Bergvliet Meadowridge Residents’ Association has not received any complaints other than a couple relating to worshippers when services were held in the tent.

Secretary Winnie Craythorne said the association had not been sent any plans requesting residents’ approval, which implied that no departures had been necessary. Kirstenhof police spokeswoman, Sergeant Deidre Solomon, said they had had no complaints about excessive noise or traffic issues.