A group of Mowbray residents has claimed a section of the suburb is being overrun by “illegal” boarding houses that threaten the historical character of the area, designated a Heritage Protection Overlay Zone by the City.
In addition, the 20 members of the, recently formed Upper Mowbray Residents Group (UMRG) claim that three properties acquired by developer A-M Squared for the purposes of housing foreign Semester Abroad students are exceeding both zoning scheme and tenant regulations. The group has also claimed that late-night parties at 8/10 Rhodes Avenue (Charlton House) and 9 Glencaird Road are characterised by excessive drinking and loud noise.
However, Mike Pelteret, of developer A-M Squared, said the claims were untrue, as all the properties complied with all zoning requirements. He added there were numerous student houses in the area and surrounds where parties were held.
“On several occasions complaints of noise have been received when no one was at home. The blame has been laid incorrectly on our properties,” he told the Tatler.
“The residents are, of course, always entitled to address their concerns with the students directly or the SAPS to enforce bylaws. The students do not even occupy the houses for more than three months a year.”
The group, which has received the backing of the Rosebank and Mowbray Civic Association, says it has had some complaints addressed during its three-year battle with the developers – including a “cease works” order
being served on the Glencaird Road and Salford Road Properties by a City building inspector, and A-M Squared withdrawing a High Court application to have the restrictions on Charlton House’s title deed removed.
UCT, which had also approved the properties for the housing of foreign students falling under its Semester Study Abroad programme, has also removed the company from its approved list until their zoning was regulated, according to the residents.
However, recently A-M Squared applied to have 9 Glencaird Road rezoned from Single Residential to General Residential. The deadline for public comment was Monday June 13.
“Three years ago these developers acquired Charlton House which was already being run illegally as a boarding house. They had more than 20 students staying there and noise disturbance was a terrible problem, with excessive drinking and frequent parties. With the last round of students we had to report students gathering on the roof. There were large open parties when anyone could come in. These tenants were unsupervised, unlike in an official student residence where it is stipulated that a warden must be present, said Dr Moira Niehaus, speaking on behalf of the group.
Dr Niehaus said as a result of the alleged noise and drinking, residents often found themselves acting as “gatekeepers” for the suburb, and had frequently requested law enforcement to intervene at Charlton House.
“Later A-M Squared acquired 9 Glencaird Road and 6 Salford Road. In both cases they embarked on building works without council permission, and in the case of 6 Salford Road d without even submitting plans,” she claimed. “We did some investigating and it was clear that a lot of building alterations were going on at these two properties. They were being turned into dormitories.”
“Fed up, in May 2015, we hired Tommy Brummer Town Planners to object to land use contraventions. Following this, the cease works order was delivered. But razor wire has subsequently been put up in the last few months. This followed a dramatic increase in the incidence of dangerous crimes which we believe followed these boarding houses.”
The group believed that if the rezoning of the 9 Glencaird Road property were approved by the City, the face of the neighbourhood, which is a recognised Heritage Overlay Zone, will essentially be altered forever and quality of life will deteriorate with the presence of boarding houses in this quaintresidential enclave.
The UMRG claimed that in line with the City’s policy, appropriate large-scale development is already in progress along the Main Road Development Corridor to accommodate the pressures of student housing. In this context they believe that there is no justification for re-zoning homes within this Heritage Protection neighbourhood.
Last week, the Rosebank and Mowbray Civic Association passed a resolution fully supporting the Upper Mowbray Residents’ Group.
“These developments ride rough-shod over planning and heritage considerations and, in the association’s view, are part of a general insensitivity on the part of the City to planning and heritage matters,” association spokesperson Jonathan Hobday said.
“The RMCA – via its Planning and Aesthetics Committee – as well as the UMRG are objecting strenuously to the developments.”
However, Mr Pelteret countered all the group’s claims.
“The Glencaird property has approved plans (and) the Salford property’s plans have been submitted at council for approval,” he said, adding that in respect of the allegations that alterations being made to the buildings were contravening Heritage Overlay Zone regulations “the proper process for plan approval was being followed”.
Mr Pelteret said the rezoning application for the 9 Glencaird Road property was also in line with the process as required by council.
He said the Glencaird building had approved plans, but work was stopped there as there was not a copy of the approved plan on site. Work, however, resumed the following day, he said.
“The Salford building did get a cease works order as plans were changed and revised during the building process and required additional approvals. Only one of the properties has external building work, (which involves) enclosing a stoep.”
In respect of Charlton House, Mr Pelteret said it had been operating as an accommodation establishment for more or less the past 25 years.
“Title deeds must be amended in order to rezone. This may be effected through the courts or through (a) rezoning proress. The court action was withdrawn in favour of following the standard rezoning procedure through council. Professional town planners are overseeing this process.”
Mr Pelteret added that the Upper Mowbray Residents Group had approached UCT to “pressurise the university into not placing their international students in these houses.
“The university no longer places Study (Semester) Abroad students directly into private housing. Instead it now uses an online booking portal where students choose their own housing. The university has decided not to place these houses on their Study Aboard portal. Instead we would need to source our own tenants.”
Mr Pelteret said the developers were operating “entirely within the by-laws” and were within their rights to offer accommodation to students or any other tenants.
“Being in close proximity to UCT, there are many students in this area, with several houses in the area being occupied by students. We do have some foreign students in the houses, but not exclusively,” he said.
“We have been willing to meet with local residents to ensure that their concerns were addressed, as long as these meetings were constructive. Disappointingly, we were advised that unless there was 100 percent quietness in the neighbourhood and that no students were present in the houses, especially foreign students, they were not prepared to meet with us.”
However, he said, the developers remained committed to finding a working solution whereby students could co-exist in their neighbourhood harmoniously with local residents.
“We have appointed a ‘live-in’ warden to oversee students in all the houses. It is ironic that several neighbours immediately adjacent or opposite to these properties have absolutely no concerns or complaints at all against students in the houses and do not see the need to be part of this action group.”
Contacted for the comment, the City said it had “received the enquiry and will respond once the necessary information has been obtained”.
Queries sent to UCT had not been responded to by the time this edition went to print.