Red light for farm rezoning

Bees in the Western Cape could be under threat and so too can a historical farmhouse if plans for an electricity depot go through.

Land surrounding the farmhouse, De Oude Raapkraal had already been chipped away in 2004 to make place for upmarket homes in Stonehurst.

Some of the residents of the 294 existing erven of Stonehurst have also lodged appeals against the latest development.

The City of Cape Town is planning to subdivide and rezone the last remaining portion of the old Raape Kraal farm which now consists of Westlake Office Park, Steenberg Village, Silvertree Estate and Westlake Village.

Located above the junction of Steenberg Road and Westlake Avenue, built from sand and stones, Oude Raapkraal is the original 1820s farmhouse and this small parcel of land is all that remains of the original farm.

It has been the home of Brian Lello since 1947 when, as a returning war correspondent, he needed a home for his wife and children. Discovering a dilapidated old abandoned farmhouse once used as part of Westlake Camp during WWII and due for demolition, he persuaded the government to let him rebuild and make it habitable. It was agreed he could do this at his own expense, thereafter rent it but undertake and finance all future internal and external work himself.

That clause has remained to this day, the lease taken over on Mr Lello’s death in 1995 by his second wife, Fiona Chisholm and his beekeeping grandson, Brendan Ashley Cooper since 2015.

Sitting beneath wooden beams in the lounge of the historic home, with a constant stream of workers walking past, left hand bandaged from being caught in a honey pump, Mr Ashley Cooper spoke of his passion for bee-keeping.

The backbone of his business is to supply beehives as pollination units for fruit and vegetable farmers in the Western Cape. He supports about 1 100 beehives with queen bees bred from approximately 35 beehives on Oude Raapkraal.

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They contribute towards a R15 billion economy in the province and to about 60 000 jobs and support of their families.

He said chipping away at the farm has already impacted on the bees and the added air and noise pollution from the electrical facility will make things worse. He added that it is also the wrong type of development for the area.

“Bees are very important sensitive little insects, easily impacted by environmental pollution as is being witnessed the world over with the decline of the world’s honeybee populations,” said Mr Ashley Cooper.

Walking around the grounds, he said they have cultivated special bee forage plants to provide food for the bees most of the year, from aloes to various gum species.

Nicky Schmidt of Stonehurst Estate said that although plans have been in the pipeline for some time, and were signed off on September 22 last year, the matter only came to their attention in May this year and there was no public consultation process.

Johan van der Merwe, the mayoral committee member for the City’s energy, environmental and spatial planning, said the application was advertised to affected parties, 153 notices, with an on-site notice and in the press. The closing date for objections was on May 30, 2016.

Andy Calmeyer, chairman of Stonehurst Home Owners’ Association, said some residents received a registered letter of the proposed subdivision and rezoning dated April 28, but they only received it on May 5, 2016 and it was recalled after seven days.

Mr Calmeyer said they strongly oppose this development, which will include the subdivision on the single erf 13372 into three erven, rezoning of the land from agricultural to utility and transport zones, and the building of an electrical depot on the middle erf.

Mr Van Der Merwe confirmed subdivision of the three-hectares to be used for an electricity depot to service the Muizenberg area and rezoning from agriculture to utility and to allow for a public street.

The depot will consist of a double-storey administrative offices; boardroom; guard house; ablution facilities; kitchen and mess hall; docking stations; truck port; van ports; covered and uncovered parking for staff and visitors; storerooms; workshops and oil trailer.

Mr Ashley Cooper said this is not the first proposal for the site below Oude Raapkraal. From a lifestyle village to a petrol station, they heard about the latest proposal in 2014 when City officials told them of the plan to open the private farm road which runs in front of the steps of the farmhouse, now used as a thoroughfare by people walking to Steenberg Road. On protesting, it was altered to bring the road past the main bedroom window and the washing line.

Mr Calmeyer said the proposal also states that “the surrounding road infrastructure will be able to accommodate the possible increase in traffic…..and, no negative impact will be experienced by the traffic and surrounding road network.” He said this is not true. “There’s massive traffic congestion in this area and several accidents have occurred. From 4pm until 6pm every weekday afternoon Steenberg Road is gridlocked from the M3 off-ramp, up and over Ou Kaapse Weg, while Westlake Drive, northbound, experiences severe congestion, particularly during morning rush hour. The extra vehicles will increase the danger to pedestrians, cyclists [using the cycle route in Westlake Drive] and motor vehicle occupants.”

Viewed from the hydrogeological property on the lower slopes of Steenberg Buttress, development on Stonehurst Estate continues. Estate manager Glynis Coetzee said seven erven are undeveloped and 14 are currently being built.

In the motivation report drawn up by Elco Property Town Planners, it states that the character of De Oude Raapkraal homestead was taken into consideration during the design with the intention to minimise the visual impact that the proposed electrical depot would have on the existing heritage site. It also states that a new service road will be built to ensure that access to the homestead is unrestricted.

This service road will be rezoned to public street in order to ensure unrestricted access to the remaining three portions. And that the surrounding road infrastructure will be able to accommodate the possible increase in traffic.

The Elco report also states that notice of intent to develop will be submitted to Heritage Western Cape. The Bulletin asked Eldred Smith of Elcoprop if this has been done but they pointed us to the City, saying they are not permitted to comment.

The homeowners’ association also say the development will result in increased light pollution. Mr Calmeyer said that when approval was given for Stonehurst Mountain Estate it was done with the proviso that it be a “dark sky” development, that is, no street lights, no external lights above 1.5m from ground level.

And there will be increased noise pollution as the facility will operate on a 24/7 365 days a year basis.

Mr Ashley Cooper said that after 69 years of pouring love, work, energy and money into the care and development of Oude Raapkraal, they have been refused the right to buy the property from the various government departments, including the Department of Public Works, the Divisional Council, the Regional Council, the Cape Town City Council. “And yet the old house and the beautiful garden with its aloes, lawns, duckpond and ducks, original barns and two cottages stand today entirely because of the Lello family’s collective endeavour. Not one cent has come from any of the ‘owners’ of the property,” he said.

In 2014 they tried again and were told by Ian Neilson that it was council policy to sell only by tender.

He added that last year the City told them in writing that they intend selling the property but meanwhile will give them a two-year lease. They have yet to receive it.

Mr Van Der Merwe said numerous comments were received as a result of this public participation process. “The City will now await the applicant’s response to the comments before preparing a planning report to the Municipal Planning Tribunal for a decision on this matter.”

The Bulletin also asked the City’s media office what they plan to do with the remaining portions located below the proposed electricity sub-station and above the junction of Steenberg Road and Westlake Avenue. We also asked if intent to develop has been submitted to Heritage Western Cape and if to confirm if a letter was sent to the tenants of Oude Raapkraal stating plans to sell the farm, but they could not respond by the time of going to print.

SIDE BAR

A Google search of erf 13372 brings up a Cultural- Historical Assessment of the Proposed Westlake Development Area, dated May 1998, for Ninham Shand Consulting Engineers. it was prepared by the Archaeology Contracts Office at UCT and was written by Dennis Neville and Tim Hart.

This document provides a fascinating history of the land that makes up Westlake and states: “In 1821 a large quitrent grant was made to Johannes Godfried Mocke; this was the old loan-place Raape Kraal, nearly 1500 morgen, together with over 84 morgen of additional erfpagt land. (Erfpagt: the right to use the land on which your property is built on).

In 1823 Mocke, who had become insolvent, transferred it all to Jan Fredrik Serrurier. The house now called “Oude Raapkraal” is probably the original homestead on this farm; it is U-shaped, but is difficult to date because few old features survive. Some sash windows may date from Serrurier’s time. The roof is now of iron, all gables have been clipped and there are some later additions including a stoep room with modern gable.