Concern about plans for heritage cottage

The Old Thatch cottage in Claremont.

Claremont’s “Old Thatch” cottage, which is more than 170 years old, could be restored and used as office space, with two three-storey buildings put up next to it, but some fear the proposal will ruin the heritage landmark.

An application to the City on behalf of the current owners, Old Thatch Property Limited, is to subdivide the plot into two parts.

They propose rezoning part of the Old Thatch property, at 43 Vineyard Road, from general residential to general business so Old Thatch can be used for non-residential office purposes.

The application says this will generate income for the continuous maintenance of the heritage building.

The part of the property behind Old Thatch will remain general residential and two-to-three-storey residential buildings will be put up there, each with two parking bays.

The single-storey thatched house would be retained and restored, while the various outbuildings – which were used for storage and as a workshop – would be demolished to make space for the residential buildings.

Rennie Scurr Adendorff Architects represents the new owner of the property who wishes to develop it.

The workshop area located behind the Old Thatch cottagewhere the proposed development could take place.

Director Mike Scurr says it’s not known exactly when the house was built, but it first shows up as a small L-shaped cottage on a survey diagram in 1848, when it transferred to Wilhelmina Patten.

“It is typical of farm cottages of the period, and there used to be many similar in Claremont and Newlands, and by 1900 it had been extended to the shape it is today.”

Since then, ownership has changed hands many times over the years. In the 1940s it was owned by Nerine Desmond-Smith, an artist whose work is in the Iziko South African National Gallery in Cape Town and the Johannesburg Art Gallery.

The development proposal has raised concerns about the impact it will have on the heritage of the building.

Ward councillor Ian Iversen does not support the application.

“The house certainly needs to be renovated as it is in a poor state of repair,” he said, “but it could and should be returned to a residential property.”

Granting the property business rights could lead to business creep into a residential area, he said.

“I also do not support the proposed buildings on the subdivided section, it is too over bulk and too near the thatch cottage.”

Alexis van der Merwe, chairman of the Upper Claremont Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association (UCRRA), said they would support development that allowed for the restoration and long term and appropriate protection of what they held to be a valuable heritage site.

However, the UCRRA was not in favour of the current application.

Mr Van der Merwe said the proposal should firstly be considered by Heritage Western Cape (HWC).

“In this particular case, to ensure the management and protection of such an important heritage asset and resource follows the requirements of HWC and National Heritage Resource Act (NHRA),” he said.

The development proposal, he said, would threaten the site’s heritage value.

In a letter to the architects and town planners, Ian Pretorius, the chairman of the Simon van der Stel Foundation, said they were not against subdivision and development of the property, especially if it would ensure the restoration of the Old Thatch. However, he added:

“We are not convinced that the current application for rezoning and subdivision is desirable.”

Mr Scurr said Old Thatch’s owner had a permit from Heritage Western Cape to undertake “urgent works to conserve and retain its current appearance, which will start early in the new year”.

He said the design of the residential building behind the Old Thatch had not been finalised and might well only be two storeys instead of the three described in the plans submitted to the City.

The heritage application, he added, would be tabled again in late January once supplementary design revisions, currently in process, had been issued to HWC and the interested and affected parties.

HWC CEO, Dr Mxolisi Dlamuka said they had received an application for the alteration and development of the site.

“However the project team is undertaking a design revision of the project and have requested that the application be put on hold,” he said.

The City of Cape Town did not not respond to questions by deadline.