Unhappy about upgrade

Historic clock tower, 100 year-old palm trees and 1920s registered Grade 3B heritage house.

More traffic, more noise and loss of heritage are some of the objections Wynberg residents have to plans for a three-storey block of flats on the grounds of a historic guest house.

Palm House Luxury Guest House is between Tennant Road and Oxford Street, in Wynberg. It is not the first time the owner has applied to develop the property (“Palm House appeal granted,” Bulletin, September 22, 2016).

The Wynberg Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association (WRRA) challenged the plans for a five-storey block of flats and was supported by about 50 residents.

Heritage Western Cape (HWC) had, in principle, approved the development but had not been provided with adequate information. The residents successfully appealed the HWC decision, and Leisure Development, known for the Grand Central development on Main Road Wynberg, cancelled its option to buy.

According to Paul Scarlett, of Scarlett Group, who has owned the 4 038m2 property since 2002 and lives in England, said it has not been sold to any other party. It is valued at R16million.

Last week, the Bulletin met with some of the residents who have opposed the latest conceptual plan for a three-storey block of flats with parking to be built in the grounds around Palm House.

David Pike, of APR Architects, said plans were not at a stage where they could be published, although they had been submitted to the HWC on Sunday March 9.

Mr Pike said a lot “fake news” had dogged Leisure Development’s bid to build a six-storey block of 50 flats three years ago “so we do not wish to give any false information”.

The current proposal, he said, was for a much smaller scheme with a similar footprint to the existing out-buildings on site and below the height of the main house.

Residents said the Palm House property had originally been three plots with single-residential (SR1) zoning. In 1990 it was rezoned general residential (GR4), allowing for blocks of flats with limited mixed-use development.

Mr Pike said Mr Scarlett had submitted planning applications to the City’s southern district zoning department five times over the years and all had come back as full GR4 with no restrictions.

“It was only recently that some restrictions came to light, and we are looking into this as part of our HWC report and a subsequent planning application to the City,” said Mr Pike.

A pool house, workers’ quarters, cottages and manager’s accommodation would need to be demolished to make way for the proposed block of flats and residents are asking whether Palm House would still be able to operate without those facilities.The main entrance to Palm House is across the road from Wynberg Boys’ Junior School in the narrow one-way Oxford Street.

Kathleen Robson, who lives there, said she had to plan her life around drop-off and pick-up times of pupils because traffic was gridlocked.

Principals of Wynberg Girls’ and Boys’ Junior Schools Dee Cawcutt and Cedric Poleman sent an appeal against the proposed development.

“The proposed increase by 39 units will add to problems of thoroughfare and parking, not to mention service vehicles and visitors. Previous permission was agreed in the development of the current alternate residential unit known as Palm House to operate as a guest house with the knowledge that there is limited parking needed and available,” they write.

And “it is apparent that the Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA) is trying to establish a precedent to have the restrictions lifted before the formal application to the land use department”.

Residents say they are not against development, but it shouldn’t take place in Wynberg’s Heritage Protection Overlay Zone.

Chris Forsdyke said the proposed block would be an eyesore and disturb the heritage fabric of the suburb.

Some of the Wynberg schools buildings are 150 years old and designed by Sir Herbert Baker and have been graded 3B on the heritage inventory.

Sarah Flack, who lives in a heritage house on the corner of Tennant and Baker roads, has a historic clock tower on her property.

Shana Fugard said some of the 100-year-old palm trees on the guest house property would be uprooted. “If they were indigenous they would be registered champion trees,” she said.

WRRA’s Kristina Davidson said most of their objections related to heritage.

“The proposed development ignores the aesthetics of not only the Palm House property but also does not portray the site’s significance within the context of heritage buildings and heritage architecture spread across Tennant Street, Riverstone Road, Aliwal Road, Oxford Street and the greater Wynberg area. Including the Centre for Conservation Education, which is a provincial heritage site and less than 200m from the proposed development. The proposed development will dwarf (not complement) adjacent properties,” she said.

Palm House was designed by a protegé of Sir Herbert Baker in the early 1920s and is registered as a Heritage Grade 3B for its architectural, aesthetic and historic value.

HWC chief executive officer Dr Mxolisi Dlamuka directed questions to Bridget O’Donoghue, author of the HIA. The Bulletin sent questions to Ms O’Donoghue but she did not respond, neither did the City’s media office.