The dwindling availability and rising cost of available land for new development in and around the metros have seen developers move further afield where land is often cheaper and situated in scenic natural surrounds, especially along coastal strips like False Bay and the KZN North Coast.
South Africa is undoubtedly blessed with incredible natural beauty which includes a diversity of fauna and flora as well as many ecologically sensitive areas but, as such, extra care must be taken to ensure the protection of our rich natural heritage.
However, Linette Kempster, Area Specialist in Noordhoek and Fish Hoek for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty, says that many people don’t realise that the onus to do so falls not only to developers but equally to the residents, community leaders and associations within the area.
“Traditionally, buildings were designed to separate and insulate us from nature, but we are becoming increasingly aware of the myriad benefits of being in harmony with our natural environment and many developers have gone to great lengths to embrace this growing culture.
“Their goal is to not only build homes for profit but to create aesthetically pleasing living environments that are in synergy with their natural surrounds and they often strive to weave the pristine natural element into the very fabric of the estate for the benefit of its residents.
“However, there are exceptions and, in these situations, local residents need to understand and be aware of the procedures that these companies should be following, the restrictions of building and zoning regulations and what recourse they have against developers who break the rules.”
Town Planner, Andre Roux, explains the process that developers need to follow before breaking ground and how the public can participate.
“A land use application is required when it is necessary to change the rights of a property (such as rezoning) or to relax the existing rights (such as building line, height departures) and this is usually the case with new residential developments, especially in semi-rural and undeveloped areas.
“The only exception is if the developer has procured a large tract of land that is already zoned General Residential and they then register a sectional-title scheme rather than subdividing the land.
“The process requires the submission of the application to the local municipality and it must include a comprehensive written motivation in line with the Municipal Planning By-Law criteria, plans and other supporting documents.
“Once the application has been checked for completeness and formally accepted, it must be advertised to the community for comment, with a minimum 30-day comment period provided.”
Roux says that it’s at this point that public objection is most effective because once construction has begun it’s far more complex to affect the desired outcome after the fact.
“The land-use application process makes provision for a public participation process and all interested and affected parties are given an opportunity to comment on the application and members of the community should make full use this opportunity to comment or object to an application if they feel aggrieved by the proposal.”
He adds that the relevant building plans and land use application documents are public information and can be viewed by anyone on request at council offices.
“If objections to the development are received, the applicant gets an opportunity to respond to the comments in writing and the application is then referred to the Municipal Planning Tribunal (MPT) where a decision is taken.”
He says that the public then still has the right to be notified of the date of the Tribunal and to further substantiate the arguments made in the submitted objection as well as for oral representation at the Tribunal.
“And if the applicant is granted the right to approve then they are allowed to begin limited groundworks, although the main construction can only commence once building plan approval has been granted.”
However, developers also cannot deviate too much from the approved planning and, although authorities may be flexible about minor changes like facade design, moving of windows and roof design, major changes like additional floor space require them to submit a new application.
Kempster believes that communities need to stand together for real change to be affected.
“If it is a matter for public participation and local property owners and associations have good representation, especially at the tribunal, it sends a strong message to Council and developers about the level of support and strength of objection to questionable development.
“Because even though questionable development is the exception rather than the rule, the repercussions are far-reaching, not only for the current residents and existing environment, but also long term as it sets a precedent for acceptable building standards for future development.