Building battle heads to court

An artists impression of a building in the Bo-Kaap that was approved by the City of Cape Town despite objections.

Heritage Western Cape has joined Bo-Kaap residents in a court application to review a development dubbed the “monster building” by local residents, which was approved by the City of Cape Town.

The matter is set to be heard at the Western Cape High Court in October.

The approval was granted at a municipal planning tribunal meeting last year (“Bo-Kaap development approved”, Atlantic Sun, June 16 2016).

The building is set to be 60m high – 18 storeys, 249 apartments and three levels of basement parking.

The residents fear that should the development go ahead, it could have a negative effect on a community already battling with high rates and gentrification. In the public participation phase Bo-Kaap residents collected objections from surrounding residents (“No to developments”, Atlantic Sun, February 18 2016).

Mxolisi Dlamuka, chief executive officer of Heritage Western Cape, confirmed that they had joined as applicants in the case. “We have filed an application to join the Bo-Kaap Civic and Ratepayers’ Association. Bo-Kaap has a significant history and heritage in Cape Town.” He added that Bo-Kaap had been graded as a Grade 1 heritage site.

Osman Shaboodien, chairperson of the Bo-Kaap Civic and Ratepayers’ Association, said regardless of the outcome of the case, it would give them a chance to be heard. “We welcome that Heritage Western Cape has joined as an applicant. For us as a body it is important to look after our heritage.”

He said they felt that taking the matter to court was a last resort as court cases were costly. “The last thing we wanted to to do was to go the route we’ve taken. It is highlighting the inefficiency of the present City Council system. The tall building is but one of the issues that we are facing as a community and as a city as a whole.”

Bo-Kaap resident Jacky Poking said the decision by Heritage Western Cape to join the review application was significant. “We feel vindicated because it supports our argument that heritage trumps zoning rights.”

She stressed that even though the matter had been decided by tribunal, it was not over and they were engaging with attorneys.

Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, said the City was currently consulting with its lawyers about the review application. He added that the City was committed to ensuring that the significant heritage areas of the Bo-Kaap were conserved. “The City has initiated work on a conservation management plan for the Bo-Kaap to provide a shared common vision for the future management of the heritage of the Bo-Kaap. The conservation management plan will contain additional guidelines to promote cultural tourism in the Bo-Kaap.

“In addition, a portion of Bo-Kaap has been identified as Graded 1 by the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA), indicating its national heritage significance and priority for protection of heritage. SAHRA comment is always sought by Heritage Western Cape on all applications involving Bo-Kaap. The Bo-Kaap Civic Association is a registered conservation body with Heritage Western Cape and as such has the opportunity and mandate to provide input/ comments relating to any National Heritage Resources Act process.”

José Rodrigues, director of Vantage Properties, said work continues on the planning and they will be more certain of their launch date in the next month or so. “We respect the Bo-Kaap heritage very much and designed our building to respond sensitively by terracing it down towards Rose Street, however, we have never sought to copy Bo-Kaap architecture because we believe that amounts to cultural misappropriation.”

He said he remained open to engagement with the community, and invited them to recommend joint initiatives that can improve the lives of the residents of the Bo-Kaap. “We can make a positive contribution. The Bo-Kaap will further benefit from this development by the jobs that will be created as well as the relief of the gentrification pressure in that it offers an alternative to a buyer seeking a place to live in the area. Several affordable apartments will be made available only to pre-qualified first time buyers from the area.”

Mr Rodrigues said they believed there had been a significant misinformation campaign about the development by individuals who had selfish agendas.

“They don’t want loss of views from their multi-million rand apartments nor competition when it comes to selling them. The reality is that cities are being urbanised at an alarming rate and accommodation needs to be made available or else gentrification will accelerate, high prices will continue to get higher and increasingly people will take to living on the streets like Skid Row in Los Angeles. As long as demand continues to outstrip supply, prices will continue to rise and more and more people will get excluded from the property market.”