City gives go-ahead for massive River Club development

The River Club in Observatory.

American fortune 500 company Amazon could open its African base of operations in Observatory when the mixed-development of the River Club is complete, though many organisations believe it will destroy the historical heritage of the land.

Last Monday April 19, the City of Cape Town gave the go-ahead for the development proposal by Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust(LLPT) for a R4 billion mixed-development over the area the size of 15 rugby fields.

The development would include, retail space, office space, gym, hotel, restaurants, conferencing, school and events space and 20 percent of the residential floor space will be allocated for affordable housing opportunities.

Mayor Dan Plato says the planned mixed-use development will be a significant boost to the economy and the people of Cape Town in the aftermath of the national coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown. “The City has carefully and thoroughly considered all of the submissions and concerns during the appeal process and we are acutely aware of the need to balance investment and job creation, along with heritage and planning considerations,” he said.

Interested and affected parties have been in a long tug-of-war with the developers since 2016 to block this massive development.

Observatory Civic Association(OCA) chairperson, Leslie London, says that he does not believe that the City followed all the legal requirements to depart from the existing framework. “They try to change the planning framework in a rushed job when they put out the Two Rivers Urban Park spatial framework which would make the River Club rezoning a fait accompli, though they failed to get it past heritage,” he said.

Mr London says Amazon is making a big mistake to build on a sacred floodplain that is part of the urban park.

Two Rivers Urban Park Association chairperson, Marc Turok, says that the destruction of this heritage would be a crime and should not be approved. “This place known as the Two Rivers Urban Park was adopted as policy by our City in 2003 based on environmental assessments and our organisation was part of that and a constitution was put in place,” he said.

Mr Turok says this place should be recognised as a Provincial and National Heritage Site with aspects of World Heritage and not be destroyed by non-conforming, inappropriate mega structures.

High commissioner of Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council (GKKITC), Tauriq Jenkins, says the development does not have their consent. “We say no to Amazon and no to Liesbeek Leisure Property Trust,” he said. Mr Jenkins previously told the Tatler that the authorisation of the development was an attempt to undermine the country’s spiritual soul.

Mr Plato says the developers have informed them that the mixed-used development will commemorate the heritage significance of the site by including an indigenous garden, a heritage-eco trail; a cultural, heritage and media centre for the first nations; a garden amphitheatre for use by the first nations and public symbols central to the first nations’ narrative; and naming of internal roads inspired by the first nations’ narrative.

“The developer must invite and consider representations from at least the First Nations Collective before these are submitted as part of the relevant detailed landscape plan or building plan for each feature,” said Mr Plato.

The City has indicated that the land is currently zoned as Open Space Zoning 3. Therefore, the developer has applied for the rezoning to Subdivisional Area Overlay Zoning to permit general business uses and various other uses. The approval is granted under Section 98(b) of the Municipal Planning By-Law 2015, which is required to raise the structures on site above the 100-year flood line.

Trustee for LLPT, Jody Aufrichtig, welcomed the City’s decision to approve the River Club redevelopment in Observatory. “In these fraught times, we are proud that the River Club redevelopment can contribute to improving all Capetonians’ quality of life and ability to sustainably live, work and play in our beautiful city together,” he said.

Mr Aufrichtig says this development will directly employ on average 5 239 workers during the construction period, at times peaking at 8 382 workers.

Mr Plato as the final adjudicator of planning appeals the City gave the go-ahead for the development, which is set to result in a vibrant business and residential precinct that will unlock enormous investment and job creation potential.

Mr Aufrichtig says that Amazon has agreed to build a facility in the redevelopment. “The proposed facility will house a data and call centre, and Amazon’s web-based services in Africa,” he said.

The OCA has not given up and is raising funds to take legal action, including looking at taking the matter to the Western Cape High Court to object against this development. They have started a Back-a-Buddy campaign to raise the funds.

An artist impression of how the garden amphitheatre would look once the development is completed.