Local authorities' rulings give objectors infinite scope to delay and often do away with worthwhile property developments

Time and again, says Paul Henry, Managing Director of Rawson Developers, thoroughly worthwhile property developments, which would enhance the values of other homes in the areas for which they are proposed, have been delayed and repeatedly changed in response to the public’s objections – until, quite often, the point is reached where they are no longer viable and have to be abandoned.

“The recent Tramway Trust development in Sea Point illustrates only too well how beneficial developments can be so delayed by politics, infighting and objections that eventually they end up with huge debts and no prospect of redeeming them,” said Henry.  

In the Tramway’s development, well publicised by the Cape Town press, 34 Tramway Trust claimants, whose families were evicted from their Sea Point homes in the 1960s, were granted a 754 m2 site at no cost by the City of Cape Town. This followed a successful application for land restitution and the remaining 71 claimants accepted a compensatory payment of R17,500 each. 

Calling in a bank and a developer to provide funds and expertise, the new owners came up with an initial plan to build 42 single residential units. This was then changed to provide 87 units, and further discussions resulted in a proposal for 75 luxury units, priced between R2,5 million and R12 million each. However, the project never got off the ground and now the trust is selling the land to pay their debts.

“Although in this case, other factors in addition to objections, resulted in the development being delayed and then dropped, in general developments are held up and rendered non-viable simply as a result of objectors often adopting uninformed, negative attitudes,” said Henry, “and the tragedy of the situation is that thousands of people in the building industry suffer from lack of work and reasonably priced accommodation becomes more and more difficult to find.”

What is particularly irksome about most of the objections, added Henry, is that they almost invariably come from well-off people who are already established in the area and simply object to development on principle. Such objectors raise all sorts of difficulties, such as traffic density, invasion of privacy and inadequate services, all of which the developer would have dealt with in his initial proposal – but, which resurrected in a dozen different guises, delay and further delay the development. 

“The developer’s predicament is then rendered even more problematic by the ability, after initial objections have been accommodated, for further objections to be lodged in the form of appeals with the province. This can result in projects being delayed for three to four years,” said Henry. 

In Cape Town, he added, the vast majority of objections are invalid simply because they do not take into account that the City Council Planning Authority in 2012 approved and now work to the new Integrated Zoning Scheme (IZS). This, he said, has replaced 21 separate zoning schemes previously in place. The new scheme favours a densification of specific suburban areas, which are currently almost always occupied by single residential buildings. In place of these, the council now envisages developers being allowed to erect multi-storey apartment blocks, provided that provision is made for sufficient parking.  

In almost every case, the sites chosen for such densification, added Henry, are close to public transport and to major road arteries, as well as to schools, universities and places of employment.

“Judging by the experience on our Rondebosch developments: The Rondebosch and Rondebosch Oaks, once the building is completed, the objectors come round to accepting that it is in fact a significant improvement on the outdated buildings that were their previously.”

It should be stressed, he said, that most developers appreciate the importance of conservation and protecting the environment.

“All responsible developers today, in my experience, understand the need for conservation only too well. However, what we are talking about here is suburban areas, usually laid out in the 1920s to 1950s or even earlier as single residential erven. These are now ideal for conversion to apartments and it has to be accepted that with all major cities’ arterial roads clogged, and commuting increasingly resented, such developments are the only solution to big cities’ rapidly growing transport and lifestyle problems.”

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