Hole in heritage building angers residents

Residents are furious about the damage done to a heritage building next to a construction site in De Waterkant.

De Waterkant residents are furious that one of the oldest buildings in the area, 34 Napier Street, was left with a gaping hole in the wall because of construction taking place at the neighbouring property.

Part of a wall at the heritage building collapsed in the early hours of Thursday last week, after digging had taken place at 32 Napier Street.

Construction has since ceased. The City of Cape Town confirmed that the matter is under investigation.

The Atlantic Sun reported in June that residents were concerned about the number of developments going up in the area and that the City’s Heritage Protection Overlay Zones (HPOZ) were not being effective (“Concern that area is ‘losing character’”,June 9).

Owners of the Classic Revivals furniture shop were unable to access their store since the damage was caused to the building which is more than 150 years old.

The owner of 34 Napier Street, Astrid Rech, who also owns Classic Revivals, said they were in discussions with the developers. However, she said, she was positive that the building could be restored to its former beauty.

Ricardo Wessels, who lives on the streets in the area, witnessed the collapse of the wall. “I was sitting opposite the furniture store and I heard a small bang. I looked and I saw a small chunk of the wall was gone. A few seconds later I saw the second piece collapse. That’s when the whole back side of the wall collapsed. A whole lot of the furniture also collapsed. The drilling and all the machinery probably weakened the wall and it is one of the oldest houses in De Waterkant,” said Mr Wessels.

Ian McMahon, chairperson of the De Waterkant Civic Association (DWCA), said they were shocked by the damage done to the building.

“We are angry that the City’s densification policy seems to allow the plonking of huge, out-of-place buildings everywhere – but this is clearly an example of what happens when development happens with no proper due diligence to our surrounding heritage and its effects on the immediate vicinity.

“This is yet another example of the ‘develop at all costs’ mentality – where insufficient thought was given to the safety of the next door building. At the moment, no one is putting their hands up to claim responsibility.”

He said the DWCA had hired their own engineers to look into the matter and to work with the City of Cape Town.

“Our experts are of the opinion that the building can be preserved but it will be a costly matter – and we are going to ensure that we protect the heritage buildings, especially those within the HPOZ.”

Mr McMahon said 34 Napier Street was built in 1862, with the first floor added in 1901 and it had huge significance in the area, from being a corner site and home to many memorable shops such as Dutch Café and now Classic Revivals. “But more so that 155-year-history that comes with it, makes it a building worthy of protection.”

Another resident, Deon Redman, was also angry when he saw the damage caused to the building. “I was horrified when I saw what had happened. I don’t think they did enough site preparation for digging three stories down (for parking).”

He said the “thin silver lining” in this situation was that the DWCA was now hiring its own experts to look into the matter. He was hopeful that this would help them when it came to opposing future developments in the area.

Johan Malherbe of the Tower Property Fund, who own the construction site, said work had ceased so their insurers could undertake an independent investigation into the “partial collapse” of the neighbouring property.

“The exact cause of the damage to 34 Napier Street has not yet been established and our consulting engineers, Sutherlands, are undertaking an investigation into such causes as well as the proposed remedial work required to render the building safe and to reinstate the damage.”

Mr Malherbe added that they had established contact with the tenants and owners of the affected building and are working with them to arrange temporary accommodation.”

Priya Reddy, spokesperson for the City of Cape Town, said: “After the incident involving the neighbouring property was brought to the attention of the City’s Planning and Building Development Management (PBDM) Department, a cease works order was served on the building contractor on Friday August 4. The City has been informed that the damaged building has been cordoned off and is being guarded by a security company.”

Ms Reddy said in the meantime, the PBDM Department would continue to monitor the situation.

“The contractor has ceased all activities and has appointed engineers to investigate.”