Residents in the dark about building proposal

A group of 50 Kenilworth and Wynberg residents is strongly objecting to the development of a five-storey block of flats on the site of the well-known Palm House guest house, which lies between Oxford and Tennant roads.

Most of the residents say they only became aware of the proposal last week, although a heritage impact assessment has already been submitted to Heritage Western Cape.

Chief among their concerns are that they were not made aware of the development as they are not members of the Wynberg Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association, which was informed of the proposal, and that any intention to rezone a property should involve input from neighbouring tenants both in the same road and adjacent roads.

They fear the development, which proposes 150 parking bays for tenants, will cause unmanageable traffic congestion and put more vehicles on Oxford Street, where Wynberg Boys’ Junior School is located.

The residents also say a block of flats would ruin the character and heritage of the area, where many homes are more than a century old.

Property owners, who have until Monday August 22 to submit their objections, have been trying to rally support from neighbouring residents in Kenilworth and Wynberg.

The residents’ representative, Barnett Herdien, said it was unacceptable that the Kenilworth Ratepayers’ Association or neighbours had not been informed of the proposal.

“There are also additional issues. There are homes here that should have heritage status but have not been graded, which is why we are going around to all the property owners in the area imploring them to apply to be placed on the heritage registry. When they did the heritage report, they only went to a few properties.” he said.

Mr Herdien said he had discovered that the consolidated property at Palm House had been rezoned from “single residential dwelling” to multiple dwellings and buildings 25m high after a consultation period in February 2012.

However, the group feels the developer is taking advantage of the situation.

Apart from challenging the final heritage report, the residents are also exploring the possibility of challenging the 2012 zoning ruling on the basis of a lack of consultation.

“Another option is to challenge the validity of the rezoning status under the by-law of 2012, in that rezoning lapses after two years and a new application must be made. Under the amended zoning by-laws, the expiry date has been extended to five years.”

Three options for the development were drawn up by BBB Architects on behalf of Leisure Developers and the owner, the Scarlett Group, the third of which is deemed to be the “one that provides greatest respect to both the existing building and site as well as other structures of significance in the immediate environs,” according to the heritage assessment report.

In terms of this option, existing trees will be retained or relocated which would “significantly imp-rove” the visual axis and recognition of Palm House from Oxford Street.

Several outbuildings will be demolished to make way for the block.

The report states that while Oxford Street is “devoid of any marked heritage significance”, Tennant Road has remnants of significant individual structures”.

This includes a landmark turret, an example of Cape Revivalist architecture.

Palm House itself may not be altered due to its heritage status, having been built in 1925.

In email correspondence to Mr Herdien, Andrew September, heritage officer at Heritage Western Cape, noted the residents’ concerns.

“The committee felt that the mitigation measures and design and apartment blocks along Tennant Road were not a new phenomenon or the manor houses did not have enough significance in both local or provincial heritage context to warrant it being a cultural landscape. Thus, meaning that the development could not be opposed in terms of heritage as the site context, with exception of the isolated manor houses, is a fairly modern context,” he wrote.

“HWC does not make decisions on whether a decision should happen or not, but whether the development is appropriate in terms of its impact of heritage resources and whether the development responds or mitigates appropriately to heritage resources or to a significant cultural landscape.”

Paul Scarlett, of the Scarlett Group, said he was away from his office until August 12 and would “respond to emails on my return”.