Residents comment on by-law

The public will have much less muscle to fight cellphone towers and other red-button issues if the City’s proposed changes to its planning by-law goes ahead, say civic groups and activists.

The City outlined changes it wants to make to the Municipal Planning By-law, at information sessions during the month-long public comment period, which has now closed.

Derek Main, of the National Alliance against Cell Maas (NAAC), says the proposed amendment to relax the rules for the cell industry must be opposed until there is more clarity on possible health risks.

Milnerton Central Residents’ Association vice-chairman Bouwe van der Eems, who was at the final information session in Parow at the weekend, said the public-participation process a “sham” and said it was “rigged” to comply with basic legal requirements so the new by-law could be “rubber stamped”.

Mayco member for spatial planning and environment Marian Nieuwoudt said property owners should heed the proposed amendments – which were submitted to Cape Town’s 24 sub-councils on March 1 – as they could impact property rights, future developments and land uses.

Other notable amendments make it easier for the City to offer emergency housing on land not zoned for it; homeowners to build third dwellings without needing permission from the City, and short-term letting from flats. There’s also a proposal to change the way the City calculates property height.

Leslie London, of the Observatory Civic Association (OCA), said the 30-day public comment period was insufficient.

Rosebank and Mowbray Planning and Aesthetics Committee chairman Simon Birch said allowing three dwellings on a single residential plot was worrying, while Allan Rhodes, chairman of the Greater Lynfrae Civic Association’s planning sub-committee, said Municipal Planning Tribunal decisions paid little, if any, regard to urban-design considerations.

“There is most certainly a difference between appropriate densification, which in some instances is the replacement of a large house on a large erf with two or three town-houses, and inappropriate densification, where the scale and nature of the building bulk and typology is completely out of sync with the immediate surrounds,” Mr Rhodes said.

There are also fears that under the amended by-law, residents will only hear about plans to build a cell tower after it has already been built and by then it will be too late to do anything about it

The amended by-laws will allow properties zoned “community use”, such as churches, schools, clinics and hospitals; “utilities”; “transport 1” and “transport 2”; “public open space” as well as “agriculture” to install minor free-standing cell masts (of less than 12m in height) or minor rooftop masts (of less than 1.5m in height) as of right, that is without prior land-use approval from the City or adjacent land owners.

Furthermore, a minor rooftop cell mast of less than 1.5m in height is allowed as a consent use for properties zoned as “single residential 1” and “single residential 2” as well as for properties zoned as “general residential 1 to 6”. This means the owner of the property must still apply to the City for permission to install this structure.

Mr London said multiple cellphone towers were the cheapest and ugliest way to meet the needs of communities for better signal.

“We believe the City should first explore alternatives before considering an amendment that opens the door to laissez-faire and uncontrolled explosion of towers in sites that are not appropriate.”

Mr Main said the cell mast amendments made mockery of public participation.

“This will take away residents’ rights to comment on or oppose unwanted development.

“Residents will not have their say in matters that directly and negatively affect them. Surely this is unconstitutional? Cell masts should never be allowed near particularly vulnerable people like children and the elderly. Schools and creches should be off limits,” he said.

The City’s Wilfred Solomon-Johannes said the amendments were intended to cut red tape.

“Residents can apply online, a building control officer will be allocated to the case as well as a case officer to oversee the application. We can’t stop technology. We need to be aligned with the advent of 5G,” he said, referring to the latest generation of cellular mobile communications.

In an apparent response to the rise in short-term letting through apps such as Airbnb, the amended by-law would allow a house or flat to be let out for a period not exceeding 30 consecutive days.

But Kenilworth resident Louisa Theart said sectional-title blocks’ security measures might not cope with new guests coming and going all the time during the busy tourist season.

“Party-goers often choose to rent a holiday unit in a residential block to gain access to communal pools and braai areas, which causes discomfort for full-time residents,” she said.

Mr Leslie said: “The best way to regulate Airbnb rentals should be subjected to a more detailed and consultative discussion rather than rushing through a set of arbitrary and ill-considered changes.”

Ms Nieuwoudt said the proposed amendments would likely go before council in May or June.