Residents questions development plan

Mark Turok, of the Observatory Civic Association, shows the proposed site for the R4 billion River Club development.

Observatory residents are fighting plans for a R4 billion development of the River Club saying it will ruin the area’s connection with nature.

The open land adjacent to club is home to diverse wildlife and was for years protected by the Two Rivers Urban Park (TRUP) Association’s environmental management plan.

The announcement by the club’s operator, Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust, in August last year that it wanted to develop the area (“R4 billion redevelopment plan for River Club,” Tatler August 2016) startled residents. They filled the Observatory community centre on Wednesday last week to talk about what the development could mean for the area.

Lynette Munroe, from the TRUP Association, said the City of Cape Town had created an environmental management plan to protect the area from development. But province had reviewed the plan about seven years ago after which it had been decided that the land would be redeveloped for commercial, manufacturing and recreational use.

The development will take place over four years. Five hectares of the site will be used for residential, retail and commercial space including a 200-room hotel.

The remaining 10 hectares will be landscaped and rehabilitated for recreational use or used for infrastructure such as roads and parking, while the golf course will remain unaffected.

Tension was tangible in the community centre, as Mark Turok, of the Observatory Civic Association, and Ms Munroe elaborated on the historical value of the land and explained how the development could impact the 100-year-old flood line and biodiversity in the area.

“TRUP was developed in order to protect this area from development and maintain the “urban lung”, which is also prone to flooding during the periods of high fall rain. The River Club has been identified as a gateway to TRUP and is the catalyst for increased development in TRUP,” said Ms Munroe. “There is a paradigm shift in use for the area, saying that one can’t build on wetlands and areas which flood is no longer the case. They will raise the ground 100m above the 100-year-old flood line,” said Ms Munroe.

Mr Turok had an alternative plan, dubbed “Scenario C”, created in collaboration with TRUP, which, he said, would preserve the park while allowing for substantial development around it.

He encouraged residents to not oppose development but support alternatives that would not take away from the land.

“We insist that the City and province work with us and adapt the plan to address our concerns. The problem of not being heard is faced all over the City. Comments on paper are not enough, we need community participation,” he said.

“We need participation and activism to have a balanced approach to development. We need to plan what we want to get the best outcome possible. That’s our park, you don’t put buildings in the park, you put them around the park,” said Mr Turok.

Residents at the meeting were concerned about plans to raise the flood line as well as the impact the development would have on endangered Western leopard toads in the area.

Cambridge Road resident Bonnie Auret said it would be sad to lose the land to development.

“The bird life, which is such a joy, will undoubtedly be affected,” she said.

TRUP will hold a presentation about the development at the River Club on Wednesday February 1 from 6pm to 8pm.