Newlands has held onto much of its colonial character in a rapidly changing city, but now residents fear a proposed development could soon change all that.
Jeanine and James Mason are worried about plans to demolish five houses next to their historic home to make way for two 15-metre-high four-storey blocks of flats.
An application to rezone and remove development restrictions on five Kinkle Way properties was published in September.
A developer wants to build two blocks of flats – a total of 58 units – basement parking for 70 cars, and a visitors parking lot.
Such a development, argue its opponents, would be the only one of its size in the residential area off Campground Road, and would open the door for a wave of densification that would strip the neighbourhood of its historical character.
The Masons own Ochterlony House – the neighbourhood was formerly known as Ochterlony Township – which was once the home of celebrated poet Louis Leipoldt. There’s a photograph of the home in the book, Leipoldt, written by JC Kannemeyer.
“This was an original farm house, there is a lot of heritage significance in this house, we spent a year renovating it and we needed heritage approval,” said Mr Mason. “We heard about this development, two years ago, and I met with the developers and told him our concern about height, privacy, traffic and keeping the character in the neighbourhood.
“They said they would work on some drawings and come and present it us. We didn’t hear a thing from them till we got the notice from municipality 18 months later. The process really works against us: they had two years to plan, and we have 30 days to comment, and we don’t have all the information. We’re not town planners or lawyers.”
Mr Mason said the developers had claimed the flats would be screened from their home by trees and so would not invade their privacy. And there would be no added traffic burden because the buyers of the unit would use public transport.
However, Mr Mason said the trees shed their leaves in winter and people paying R3.5 to R4million per unit would likely not use public transport.
“We aren’t against development, just the scale,” said Ms Mason. “Instead of 20 to 30 double-storey units they said they were going to do, we get the four-storey 58-unit underground parking, which they say is in keeping with area because of the Claremont business district on the other side. But the railway line is a sort of buffer. If they start building that on this side, its going to be a slow creep and the infrastructure won’t support it.”
Allan Rhodes, of the Greater Lynfrae Civic Association (GLCA), said they objected to the proposed development as its scale clashed with the character of surrounding properties.
A planning report had stressed the proximity to the Claremont business district as a reason to support the development, but that was “fallacious”, he said.
“The railway line forms a hard boundary between the development and Claremont, and the Claremont hub has no influence on the land use in the surrounding neighbourhood.
“The elevated Campground Road forms a similar hard boundary between the surrounding neighbourhood and the office block, Boundary Terraces.”
The GLCA’s own traffic study, he said, had found the development would aggravate congestion on the roads at peak hour.
“The traffic in Mariendahl Street often queues back into Palmyra Road, and that in Campground Road can reach the traffic lights at the Palmyra and Keurboom intersection. Queuing traffic in Mariendahl took between two and three signal cycles to clear the intersection,” said Mr Rhodes.
Headland Town Planners, which submitted the development plans said the proposed flats were compatible with the surrounding land use, as the site was near the Claremont CBD and almost opposite the Newlands train station.
The firm also said the development would be sited where public transport was heavily promoted.
“The proposal is capped at four storeys and the building is split into two blocks to reduce its massing. The immediate area is dominated by the international sports arenas of Newlands cricket and rugby stadium. The establishment of flats is compatible with the broader surrounding land use.
“The developer is engaging with the neighbours at the moment and has asked them to come back with their recommendations. It’s not aimed at social housing, it’s aimed at the normal residential market in Newlands, Claremont. There are mature trees on the inside of the site that will be removed,” said Headland representative Claus Mischker.
Eddie Andrews, mayoral committee member for area south, said the period for public comment on the application to rezone the five properties had closed on Saturday October 30.
“The City’s Transport and Urban Development Authority will assess the provided traffic assessment and advise on and make recommendations regarding traffic-related matters and measures in light of the proposed development. Furthermore, a demolition permit will be required for the existing buildings.”