Concern that area is ‘losing character’

Concerned De Waterkant resident Krisjan Rossouw points to where a new development is set to go up.


If this were to disappear it would not only be a crime against the past, but also against the future” – was the message from De Waterkant residents concerned about the future of their suburb, which seems under endless threat of developers.

They are also appealing to the City of Cape Town and say by-laws and mechanisms such as the Heritage Overlay Zones are not always effective.

The comments for the development at the Cape Quarter closed on Friday May 20 while full council gave its approval for the 32 Napier Street development on April 18.

Both the developments are owned by Tower Property Fund. However, residents in the community are still concerned.

Francesco Uys Rootenberg of the De Waterkant Village Community Forum, said: “It seems as if they (developers) are ticking the boxes in terms of minimum requirements

“but the reality of what that does to the infrastructure of the village is completely different.”

Mr Rootenberg added: “You are seeing large and ugly buildings going up in the area. It’s not appealing and the scale is not appropriate and threatens De Waterkant.”

He said the other issue was that new buildings were too big for the infrastructure in the area.

Another resident Deon Redman said they wanted to hear proposals from the developers about how the construction was going to work. There were more than 45 objections from residents in the area for (the development) at 32 Napier.”

He said the building had been revised three times by the developer. “It’s still a generic looking white block and doesn’t fit in the area.”

Mr Rootenberg said there were questions about how the City handled developers. “For us it’s not a victory in getting the building lower because it doesn’t fit in and add value. We are being more militant because every compromise sets a precedent.”

He said it was important to preserve the unique history and character of the neighbourhood. “De Waterkant started being built in the 1820s and was unique and very diverse. This was where the city was being extended. What you had then was a mix of working class and poor areas. It was a place which was dynamic, stopped by the Group Areas Act. It managed to escape destruction (unlike District Six). It is now a strongly residential area.

“We are tired of balancing interests and what is happening now is developers are being allowed in which is all aimed at the rich. It’s not part of a coherent plan for the city and expensive areas are being developed first.”

He said the lack of vision was the most worrying thing.

Mr Rootenberg said the City doesn’t have the money or the resources to handle these kinds of issues. “We have a lot of documentation that neither the City nor the developer has looked at. It is about a failure of the City to manage these sensitive areas and heritage assets.”

Mr Rootenberg added that the way development was happening at the moment did not make sense and developers were being allowed to push the law to its limit for profit.

“There is an obligation to being more sensitive to the history but also the future. The holistic vision is something which appears to be missing.”

Mr Redman added: “We buy these houses because we are lucky to be able to live in an authentic piece of Cape Town history. When we are respectful of the process and the place we live, you would expect a developer to be as well. People are questioning why the city is being sold off in parts and it is not in places where development is actually needed. We have shared information with the City and we hope it will be factored in to their decision. We all need to coexist and there needs to be mutual respect. They are now the largest commercial property owner in this neighbourhood.”

Ian McMahon, chairperson of the De Waterkant Civic Association (DWCA), said they were concerned about the number of high-rise developments in the area. “While we are mindful that we are not anti-development per se, we are not behind the ‘development-at-any-cost’ notion we are seeing of late.

“We have some cobbled streets, angularly slanted streets and other streets not designed for high vehicular traffic.

“We implore the City to work with us in undertaking a comprehensive study of our area with a result of determining whether at what point we need to cease major developments due to the public infrastructure concerns (like traffic and parking).”

He said Heritage Overlay Zones had assisted them in application for determining what they can allow and not allow as the civic association, based upon what is relevant to the area and what not. “It gives us greater leverage in those negotiations with developers but the point is that at some point development must cease. We are over-subscribed in what our area can effectively manage (with regards to) infrastructure.”

Mr McMahon agreed that local government could do more to protect the area against developers. He said local government could assist the development of an environmental study to understand the strategic and infrastructure limitations of the neighbourhood.

Johan van der Merwe, the City’s Mayco member for energy, environmental and spatial planning, said: “The Cultural Heritage Strategy sets out in detail the City’s adopted strategies and why and how these areas with special heritage characteristics can be managed, while accommodating appropriate new development.

“While the City has local level responsibilities in heritage management, the National Heritage Act also gives heritage management responsibilities to the Western Cape Government (such as 60-year-old buildings) or national authorities (such as National Heritage Sites).

Mr Van der Merwe added that the Heritage Protective Overlay Zones was based on “assessment by heritage practitioners and specialists of the local heritage resources in a particular area and its significance as a place of environmental or cultural interest. Heritage Protection Overlay zones are not based on suburbs but on areas of heritage significance which may be smaller (or larger) than suburbs. There are currently 33 declared areas.”

Johan Malherbe, director of Tower Asset Managers of Tower Property Fund, said: “The development proposal (for the Cape Quarter site) was within the bulk allowed for the site.

Due to the internal courtyard being retained, the bulk is being achieved along the outside of the courtyard, which requires the height departure.

It must also be noted that the setback departures applied for are all above 10m from the base level and located on the north-east common boundary only.

“A portion of the site falls in a declared heritage overlay zone and the planning application was supported by a full heritage impact assessment. The HIA was submitted to Heritage Western Cape in January 2016. The heritage impact of the proposal has been considered by Heritage Western Cape, who approved the proposal on March 9 2016.”

Mr Malherbe added that a public meeting of the De Waterkant Ratepayers’ Association was held where stakeholders could express their opinion on the development.

He said that the 32 Napier Street development, another Tower project in the node, which is having residential upmarket units added to it, received approval from the De Waterkant Ratepayers’ Association and is currently under construction.

The development at 32 Napier Street will also have three levels of underground parking. “This property is located next to the main Cape Quarter Square property. The construction/refurbishment is expected to take 12 months.”