Objection for an Auditorium to be built in this residential road, Dixton Road, Observatory, Cape Town – ERF 28173/ Application number 1500010695/ 70532476
The property is deemed a Heritage site (graded IIIa with part of it graded IIa). The entire erf and its buildings was nominated by the OCA in 2022 as a Provincial Heritage site. It may well be found to be worthy of national heritage status. It is thus an important heritage resources protected as part of the national estate under the National Heritage Resources Act. As a result, any departure granted on this Heritage Site will not only impact the well-being, health and safety of neighbours, but adversely impact the tangible and intangible heritage of the site, including its undeniable history as the last remaining fragment of one of the very first land grants along the Liesbeek River. This is therefore a unique site of 17th century dispossession and the first colonial frontier in the Cape. This means the site has very high significance for not only its building, but for the entire erf, including the structures on it, and its context.
The development will also have a direct negative impact on homeowner’s investments surrounding this site. Prior to the owners establishing themselves at the site, has there been no legal communication sent out for public participation to grant the owner’s permission to operate this organization in this residential neighbourhood, yet they are making application to build over, and breakdown a part of the heritage of Observatory.
1. Health and Safety concerns for surrounding homeowners-
Since this organization took ownership, have they been operating this organization without the proper consent or engagement with surrounding homeowners, Councillor’s office for Ward 57 and the local Observatory Civic Association; nor have they secured the necessary permits from the City of Cape Town. As a result, in November of 2022, they were served with a notice by the City of Cape Town to stop all activity at the site, due to lack of compliance with the proper permits and operating in contravention of numerous provisions of the By Laws. These problems included amplified noise, unauthorized public events, building of illegal stages for event days without council consent, endangering lives of attendees and that of the surrounding homeowners, failure to prevent illegal parking including parking on Fire Hydrants, ignoring of No Parking signs and blocking of homeowner’s driveways.
Dixton Road is a cul de sac/ one way in and one way out road with only 6 homes on this quiet road. The entrance to this erf 28173 is situated halfway up the road, and on event days, Dixton road is parked to capacity, obstructing the entry and exit of homeowners living in the Road. The Law stipulates that there should be no obstruction in any way that will endanger the lives of homeowners, accessing or leaving their homes in case of a fire, or if residents need to seek emergency medical care. The proposal is likely to compromise the safety of homeowners because of difficulties homeowners will have in not being able to leave or access their homes. Visitors to the organization fill the entire parking lot, allocated for the public at the Observatory swimming pools. When the swimming pools do re-open, and the football and Hockey season is in full swing will this become a traffic and parking nightmare for residents of Observatory. It is already the case that on football event days, Willow and Molenvliet roads are parked to capacity on both sides of the road. Adding an additional 300 plus visitors at any given day to the same area, will aggravate obstructions. Increased pedestrian traffic will increase the risk of crime in this quiet residential neighbourhood.
On event days for the Church, the applicant and its followers already take up all the space at the public swimming pool. These are bays that are designated spaces for the public who frequent the public swimming pool from all over the City. It is not appropriate that a public space, intended to serve a public amenity, should be appropriated by a private entity for purposes for which it has no approval. Moreover, when the baths do reopen, and football and hockey is simultaneously in full swing, parking will be chaos. Approval for a parking departure, as sought by the development, will simply add numerous cars to park in overburdened streets and will not be in the interest of the community, given all the facts.
Plans have been submitted for council approval, for the departure and building. However, no parking plan allocation for 300 plus visitors has been proposed and there is no emergency exit plan for residents who potentially will be caught up in a situation where the only way in, is the only way out with of Dixton road. A traffic needs analysis has not been conducted by the applicants and should be mandated. We believe it will show that this application is not suitable for this area, since it is a residential area with historic heritage value. The current owners may also resell the property in future, and future owners may redevelop the property in ways that adversely impact property values in the future if the heritage and planning priorities for the erf are not respected now.
Moreover, the size of the Auditorium proposed is entirely inappropriate for this location. The erf is located within the Observatory Heritage Protection Overlay Zone (HPOZ) which is intended to protect the fine-grained, primarily Victorian character of predominantly residential streets. The fact that the church requires a large new structure to be built in order to accommodate this particular use indicates that the property itself is not suitable as a place of worship. It is wrong on all levels. The City has previously refused development applications within the HPOZ (a communications tower, case ID 70340900; MPT Item MPTNW07/02/19) precisely because of the adverse impact of the development in its scale and bulk on the character of the surrounding residential area. There is no difference here. It should be refused.
4. Noise Disturbance
Noise is generated with amplified sounds systems as early 7am on weekends and the Church’s band practices over weekdays. Events take place with no regard for homeowners, some less than 20/ 50meters from homes. Public events are arranged without proper consent from homeowners or from the city are evidence that owners take the Law into their own hands and ignore city By Laws. The City has since served the organization with a notice to stop all events last November 2022. They currently make use of the Observatory Town Hall, which has the proper infrastructure for their organization and is located in a central space in Observatory, away from private homes. This is the most suitable location for a activities of this kind. However, they are still hosting certain low-key events at the venue. This does not inspire confidence that they will adhere to any order served on the organization, which undermines any trust that they will comply with rules and conditions. Hence, they cannot be trusted.
The proposal has renamed the application as one seeking to build to an Education Centre. We do not believe this is a correct characterisation and we view this as a strategy to secure approval, after which they will use it as they please. This is the case with other developments in Observatory where an owner pretend to be developing a site for one purpose but then uses it for a contrary purpose after the development is approved. Although the City has fined such owners for violating the bylaws, it is action after the fact and it does not undo the problem since the owner simply pays the fine and then regularises what they were fined for. Better is for the City to ensure the owner does not get the chance to claim one use when they mean to use for another purpose. It is also the case that the circumstances surrounding the application for the use of this land has not changed so we believe the development will be used for purposes proposed in the original proposal.
It is also the case that applicant has made not made a serious effort to approach or build up a relationship with the 6 homeowners of this quiet street. The fact that no effort has been made speaks volumes. The applicant’s do not live at the location. They arrive on event days making and make it unpleasant for everyone in close proximity and leave thereafter. Why should our peace be disturbed, while they go home to their quiet homes after they have disturbed our peace?
Moreover, there has been no consultation with the local ward councillor of ward 57, nor with the Observatory Civic Association. No applications were made to the City of Cape Town to operate their organization in this residential neighbourhood. Hence they do not hold permits to run this organization in this site.
6. Public Safety and access
There is no throughway for construction vehicles for a development of this magnitude. Heavy duty vehicles will have to drive through narrow streets of Observatory to reach the site and will fill the local roads. We know from experience elsewhere that construction vehicles are responsible for damaging road surfaces, kerbsides, poles and deposit dust in affected neighbour when they drive up and down, as they will need to do for this development. We believe this will compromise the health and safety of homeowners alongside.
7. Heritage importance of the site
The Coornhoop is one of the last remnants of the 17th century farming land grants in the Observatory and Mowbray areas. As such, the property as a whole – not just the decontextualized portions – speaks to histories of dispossession, colonial land grabs, and contemporary efforts towards memory and restitution. The proposed development includes additions and alterations that are completely divorced from this heritage and memorial context, and do not in any meaningful way engage with these histories or their implications in the present. In approving the application, the HWC failed to recognise that the National Heritage Resources Act insists that the responsible authorities must exercise their role in protecting the national estate and that the cultural history associated with a historic site must receive adequate protection in development decisions. HWC has an application before it at the moment to declare the site a provincial heritage site. It is therefore completely inappropriate that the application was approved without consideration of these facts.
8. The Heritage Western Cape conflict of interest
The Heritage Western Cape approved the proposal. However, we believe this approval should be overturned as be null and void based on conflict of interest in the Heritage of the Western Cape decision-making
The architect and heritage practitioner acting on behalf of the Shofar Church, Mr Graham Jacobs, was the chair of BELCOM at the time – the body responsible for making a decision on the application. It is understood that Mr Jacobs recused himself from discussion of this matter. However, in our view, recusal from discussion does not fully mitigate the inherent conflict of interest he has since it is his close colleagues making a decision on his application. BELCOM also includes a number of heritage architects on the committee, who may in future be dependent on Mr Jacobs’ support as chair for approval of their own applications. This is a major ethical and structural problem within Heritage Western Cape which casts major doubt on the validity and robustness of decisions made in these circumstances. We believe, therefore, that the HWC decision to support the development, should be withdrawn.
The City Managers offices are hereby made aware that the listed signatories are all objecting in their individual capacities and request the city to regard each objection as an individual objection.
We believe that the proposed development is inconsistent S16 of the Municipal Planning By-Law in that the Property is within the Lower Observatory Heritage Protection Overlay Zone and is a Listed Monument, of either Provincial or National Heritage importance.
We also note that the applicants address for this application, refers to Liesbeeck Parkway, yet the property is situated on Dixton road.
We believe further that the application must be refused in that it fails to comply with S99(1)(2) and(3) of the MPBL.