Hotel and 500 houses for racecourse

A development proposed for Kenilworth Racecourse has been approved.

A major development at Kenilworth Racecourse has been approved by the City, paving the way for the construction of 500 homes, a hotel and other retail developments which residents fear will destroy the indigenous plant species and animals which inhabit the area.

Some of these are on the endangered species list.

The approval for rezoning of the land from community zone 1 to a mixed used zone to cater to the developments was approved on Wednesday April 19 and only recently came to the attention of the Friends of the Kenilworth Racecourse Conservation Area (KRCA) who were distressed that the approval had been made without an environmental impact assessment (EIA) being completed.

Margaret Kahle, a member of the Friends of KRCA, said: “The area is the last pristine remnants of the Cape Flats Sand Fynbos which is critically endangered.

“There is only 14% of this vegetation type. Over 300 indigenous plants occur (in the KRCA), of which 34 are listed as Red Data species.”

In addition 13 different amphibian species, including the micro frog and Cape Platanna, which are critically endangered.”

“No other single urban natural vegetation remnant in any country comes close in terms of sheer plant species numbers, relative to physical area.

“No EIA, has been done or even required before this latest approval for development was granted. It is a clear violation of the conditions imposed in the last rezoning of the area in 1999,” said Margaret Kahle, a member of the Friends of KRCA.

Ms Kahle said that some of the Friends’ many concerns include that people and animals may now have access to the ecologically sensitive area. They also want to know how access will be controlled; and want assurance that the wetlands and water will be protected from pollution and that development won’t encroach on the conservation area inside the oval.

When the Tatler last reported on the development(“Racecourse proposal includes high rise,” July 7 2016), it was still in the proposal phase, with opportunities being investigated to “rationalise and improve the racecourse”, which had seen a significant drop in attendance figures, in recent years.

A development proposal, submitted to the City by MLH architects and planners, stated that historically horse racing drew significant crowds to most of its races but there had been a shift in attendance as many now watched the races on TV.

“The consequence of this has been that many of the spaces and buildings within the facility are no longer required. It is in this regard that a range of development opportunities are being investigated in order to rationalize and improve the racing facility,” the proposal stated.

The document proposes numerous other development activities apart from the hotel units, with maintenance facilities and the offices of the Kenilworth Racecourse Conservation Area (KRCA) to be relocated within the track and provision made for parking and hospitality facilities on race days. The original Jockey Room will be converted into a restaurant which will link to the hotel.

The area located between the existing access road off Rosmead Avenue and the proposed hotel site is intended for mixed retail and commercial purposes. The area to the south of this is proposed for high density high rise residential units.

Environmental scientist Dr Clive McDowell, formerly from UCT and UWC, has been researching and actively protecting the Kenilworth natural area which he considered to be irreplaceable and “biologically priceless”.

When Dr McDowell finished his comprehensive survey of Cape Flats natural remnants in 1988 he identified the racecourse fynbos as being the top conservation priority among the 40 remaining areas which still had this type of fynbos. At the racecourse, he also re-discovered the tiny Cape micro frog previously considered to have been extinct for several decades.

Dr McDowell said he was amazed that the development had not been subject to a standard Integrated Environmental Management (IEM) procedure considering the development size which he said could have vital implications for the long term survival of natural remnants.

“There was a decision to not follow accepted IEM procedure. I can’t think of a case that merits the process more. A resulting EIA would take steps and reveal what the impact of various activities would have on the site. My belief is that the fault lies mainly with the City Council who has the power to request such measures.”

Dr McDowell believes the development was”insufficiently advertised”, with notices having appeared in one English and one Afrikaans daily newspaper.

“Residents can still appeal the approval but the whole development has been passed. This is a sad situation. Just one interesting aside, with all this development, where would all the parking go?” said Dr McDowell.

He said that he had been involved in two proposed developments for Kenilworth Racecourse in the past, which both followed the IEM process. One of these was a proposal for a golf course which had been turned down, and the other was the Pick * Pay development which was approved with strict conditions. But the City’s mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, Brett Herron, said an EIA had not been required, with the Western Cape Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning confirming that environmental approval had not been required because the proposed development would not extend into the conservation areas.

“Previous environmental authorisation issued in terms of the Environmental Conservation Act for the 1999 remain applicable.The development is entirely outside of the fynbos conservation area also, no new permanent structures are proposed within the racetrack area. The development on site will result in a greater pool levies available for the maintenance of the biodiversity area.

“The application was approved by the Municipal Planning Tribunal and is currently in the appeal process. The parties who have objected to the application have the right to appeal the decision. However, any person may, if they comply with the requirements contained under Section 89 of the Municipal Planning By-law, submit a petition to the City Manager to be granted intervener status,” said Mr Herron.

Mr Herron said two objections had been received and that the Kenilworth Residents’ Association supported the proposed application, subject to some conditions being made.

Chairperson of the Kenilworth Ratepayers’ Association, Pete Linnegar said that the KRA had been consulted about the project in March 2016, and met with the town planner to reassure residents that the development would be environmentally friendly and an asset to the neighborhood.

“We made several suggestions, most of which were accepted, including additional traffic lights at the entrance of the development, the upgrading of the verges along Rosmead Avenue and a limitation on the removal of trees. Based on the above our committee decided to support the development,” said Mr Linnegar.