Construction headache

Residents have raised concerns about a large-scale student housing development currently under construction in Main Road, Rosebank, saying they have never been consulted on alleged alterations to the original building plans.

Neighbours have also complained that construction work on the property at 24 Main Road is causing them sleepless nights, while the Rosebank and Mowbray Civic Association has described the development as a “monstrosity that the City has allowed to go up”.

The developers, CampusKey Student Living, however, insist they have kept within the framework agreed to by the City when the plans were approved in December 2014.

They have also refuted claims that the building would only be seven storeys high on the Main Road side, saying it was always going to be eight storeys from the ground floor to the seventh floor.

Last year local developer Shamus Fitzhenry sold the development rights to CampusKey Student Living after years’ of objections from local residents.

Before the sale, the City had approved plans for a 570-student residence, but not before Mr Fitzhenry had been required to change the design of the building several times as a result of the objections.

In terms of these plans, the property would be a mixed-use development that would include residences, a supermarket and extra parking.

However, some residents claim that not only have these plans been altered since construction began, but the City is turning a blind eye to numerous noise complaints over construction work.

Gordon Billbrough, whose home is situated directly behind the building, said whereas the previous plans reflected the building would have four distinct sections of varying heights, it now appeared as though the development was “one giant block”.

“They clearly have applied to have the gaps (between the buildings) filled in somewhere along the line. We have never been consulted on this,” Mr Billbrough said.

“What is even more concerning is that the we were told that the building would have 536 rooms, but now there will be well over 800 rooms. It also looks like they are going to build well beyond seven storeys at the front of the building. Even as you look at it now there are eight storeys.”

He said the situation was exacerbated by the “constant noise” experienced by neighbouring residents – something he had addressed repeatedly with City law enforcement and Mobray police.

He provided the Tatler with a list of more than 30 reference numbers received after submitting complaints about working past 6pm or on Sundays to City Law enforcement officials between March and August this year. These do not include complaints for which reference numbers were not given due to “problems with the system”. I do have most of the SMSes,” he said.

“They are working on this building until 11pm or midnight, and it is getting worse as they are getting closer to deadline. They are working with impunity,” he said.

Jonathan Hobday, chairperson of the Rosebank and Mowbray Civic Association, said he had also never seen the “new plan”, adding that many residents were “completely in the dark”.

“There are only two possibilities: either the City has been duped by the developer, or there is someone in the council who has let this pass through,” Mr Hobday said.”

He said when Mr Fitzhenry had been the developer, residents had always been consulted.

“Now this monolith has been snuck onto Main Road. It is a travesty of building regulations. What we see now is nothing like what was described to us. It is appalling.”

He said in no way was the civic association against development, but this had to be undertaken properly.

“There is no vision. There is a rush to develop and this will have catastrophic consequences for the area.”

However CampusKey’s Chris Heunis, one of four shareholders in the group which owns several student housing developments across the country, said while he understood an 18-month building project would be inconvenient for residents, the only alteration that had been made was closing in the stairwells which were exposed in the previous plan.

“It has always been one building. The gaps that you saw were the stairwells which have now been closed in,” he said.

“In fact, the City was even more pleased with our plans. We are highly committed to the area as residents ourselves. We are just as eager for the area to be uplifted as the residents are.”

Mr Heunis said it was not true that the building would have more than 800 rooms.

“We are also building student housing in Observatory, which will have 200-plus bedrooms. People have heard rumours that there will be 800 rooms, but it is only 800 if you add the two developments together.”

Questioned on concerns that residents had not been informed of alterations at the building, Mr Heunis said he once a decision had been taken by the council, the developer was not required to liaise with anyone.

“’We don’t need to liaise with anyone. The decision was taken on December 5 2014 by the (then) Spatial Planning, Environment and Land Use Management Committee.” This was when Mr Fitzhenry still owned the development.

Brett Laing, who has been appointed by CampusKey to act as a community liaison, added that the company recognised the challenges to the community, and had met with residents at the Mowbray Library on several occasions this year.

“We have let residents know when we will be working late. When the trucks are running late (to and from the site) there is definitely inconvenience. There are a lot of houses in the area where people work from home, and we understand their frustrations.”

Simon Birch, chairperson of the Rosebank and Mowbray Planning and Aesthetics Committee (RAMPAC), agreed there had been “an abrupt change in plans to which we were not party to”.

“In fact, we have very little information on it except that yes, it is eight storeys but not necessarily higher than the previous proposal, which had six dwelling levels above with a double-volume ground level facing Main Road,” he said.

“There are benefits in that there are two larger courtyards, rather than the three narrow ones in the initial approved scheme. The east level also steps down to three levels, above a parking level below the level of Main Road. This is 12 metres compared to the 18 metres of the previous proposal.”

However, Mr Birch said these improvements were “minor” in light of the City’s “laissez-faire” approach to planning.

“This has led to a rubber-stamping of all rezoning applications that we have encountered, without any apparent overall spatial planning apart from a broad-brush ‘densification’ policy along arterials. Even the extent of what qualifies as an arterial seems vague, and we already see this ingress of densification deep into established neighbourhoods.”

The development drew the ire of residents earlier this year, after several trees were erroneously removed by a sub-contractor on the project. (“10 trees uprooted during construction”, Tatler, August 24).

The main contractor on the project, Aveng Grinaker-LTA, confirmed that the City had granted the company permission to remove five trees on the site but due to a misunderstanding with the sub-contractor, an additional five trees had been removed.

The company undertook to replace the trees once the project was completed.

According to the City, the Planning and Building Development Management Department received a rezoning application to permit the development of a boarding house, supermarket, place of instruction and related parking on the property was approved by Council’s Spatial Planning and Land Use Management (SPELUM) committee in December 2014.

The application also included approvals relating to departures and various council consent applications.

Specific conditions were imposed by SPELUM regarding the design and form of any proposed building on the subject property. These conditions included, among others, the reduction by two storeys of the building along the eastern boundary, to ensure an improved integration with surrounding properties and conditions relating to architectural detailing, to ensure a positive interface between the building and the surrounding streets.

A building plan, complying with the land use approval and associated conditions, was approved by the City in October 2015.

Johan van der Merwe, the City’s Mayco member for energy, environmental and spatial planning, said: “There was no further public participation required, in respect of the latest plans for the development, as the proposal complied with the conditions of rezoning approval and the Development Management Scheme.”

He added that the department’s Southern District Planning Office will require details of the specific incidents in question, including the dates and times, and will forward it to the developer for their investigation.

He added that noise complaints could also be reported to SAPS.