The Western Cape high court has dismissed an application by residents in the Bo-Kaap to halt the development of a mixed-use building that has caused concern amongst heritage experts.
Judge Andre le Grange awarded a costs order against the Bo-Kaap Civic and Ratepayers’ Association and Heritage Western Cape after dismissing their application to review a decision by city officials to allow the development by Buitengracht Properties to go ahead on Friday.
In July 2016, the City of Cape Town’s municipal planning tribunal (MPT) — where planning experts review and decide on certain planning projects in the city — decided to allow the development of a retail and residential property that was estimated to be worth around R1-billion.
The tribunal approved the development, despite 1 017 objections being lodged during the public participation process.
Residents in Bo-Kaap have since dubbed the development the “monster building”. Fabio Todeschini, a heritage practitioner, prepared an objection to the building on behalf of the Bo-Kaap ratepayers and business owners, saying that the development is not in the public interest.
“We urge that the proposals and development applications not be approved because they would occasion massive intrusion on, and damage to, the character of significant and historic areas of the central city,” Todeschini said in his objection.
There were 12 appeals lodged against the MPT’s decision, but in January 2017 Mayor Patricia de Lille dismissed the appeal after being recommended to do so by an advisory panel who studied the case. Both Heritage Western Cape and the city’s own internal environment and heritage department had raised concerns over the building, however.
“I accept the recommendation of the advisory panel and agree with its report to me. I considered, in particular, the view of the city’s environment and heritage department that the surrounding heritage resources will be impacted on in a negative manner to a certain degree by the proposed development due to the building’s sheer size, height and magnitude. However, I agree with the MPT and the advisory panel that the proposed development responds appropriately to the neighbouring buildings and the environment,” De Lille said.
Heritage Western Cape, the Bo-Kaap ratepayers association and Todeschini then applied for the decision to be taken on review and set aside on the basis that heritage concerns had not been adequately taken into account.
The building, which was initially planned to be 18-storeys, does not directly sit on a site that has heritage protection status — instead it located on Buitengracht Street, a busy road in the central business district, where it is on the border of Bo-Kaap’s Rose Street.
However, Heritage Western Cape chief executive Mxolisi Dlamuka had said that the building would separate Bo-Kaap from the inner city, and harm the historical relationship between the colourful neighbourhood and the city.
“The assertion that development has already occurred in the area between Buitengracht Street and Rose Street seems to ignore the parameters on which these declarations were based. They occurred in the 1960s and 1970s at the height of apartheid planning when the local (not white) community was ignored in favour of the economic needs and demands of the white business sector,” Dlamuka said in court papers.
“That this should become the basis of continuing to isolate the Bo-Kaap seems extraordinary in the 21st century. Creating a barrier to the Bo-Kaap must be the antithesis of what inclusive, democratic planning should be developing,” Dlamuka continued.
Heritage Western Cape has sought a declaratory order from Le Grange that would mean the developers would require permission from Heritage Western Cape before they proceeded to develop the site. But Le Grange dismissed this request, saying the development was not located on a heritage protected site.
Buitengracht Properties, meanwhile, has decided that the building’s facade in Rose Street will only have three storeys out of respect for the character of the homes and businesses in the popular Bo-Kaap road.
But Le Grange’s judgment has marked a blow for Bo-Kaap residents.
Speaking to IOL, Osman Shabodien, the chairperson of the Bo-Kaap ratepayers’ association, said residents are “disappointed” in the judgment and plan to appeal.
A number of ongoing developments in the historical neighbourhood — where slaves lived once they were freed and Islam was first introduced to South Africa — had led to fears that the history of Bo-Kaap will be lost to gentrification. Le Grange acknowledged these concerns in his judgment.
“Gentrification in all its forms has become a chilling reality for the ordinary resident of Bo-Kaap. Understandably, the resistance to the gentrification of Bo-Kaap having regard to its historical significance can never be understated,” Le Grange said.