Neighbours fume over Gupta mansion

2013-09-15 06:00

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A battle is brewing in the posh Joburg suburb of Saxonwold between residents and the super rich Gupta family over their massive housing estate.

The residents are opposing the Guptas’ application to the City of Johannesburg to rezone their property at 7 Saxonwold Drive to legitimise the construction of mansions they have already built, which are too large for the stand.

Although the city granted the Guptas temporary permission to occupy the vast home, they face having to demolish balconies and “roof overhangs” if their application fails this week.

Residents claim that the Guptas are trying a “backdoor method” to legalise an “unlawful building” because they have already broken the Joburg town planning scheme rules.

The family wants to merge their adjacent properties at 5 and 7 Saxonwold Drive into one so that the palatial residence will not contravene any rules dictating how large it is allowed to be.

Residents hired their own “building experts” and established that the Guptas broke several planning rules since work on their luxury compound began in 2009.

These include:

» The house is far too big: the building covers 859m² – 170m² more than allowed by the zoning regulations;

» They have too many kitchens: the building plans include three kitchens, even though the regulations only allow one per house;

» The house is too high: Lift and stair access was added to make provision for a fourth story but a maximum of three storeys is permitted; and

» They’re blocking the sewer: the building was built on an existing drainage system, contravening requirements that buildings must have adequate access to all drains below as well as the existing sewer connection.

The family owns three properties on Saxonwold Drive where brothers Atul, Ajay and Rajesh live with their families.

Earlier this year, City Press revealed how their 6 000m² property was valued for rates purposes at less than a third of the R26.5 million the family had poured into it.

The Guptas, who have close ties to President Jacob Zuma and several members of his Cabinet, some of whom are regular visitors to their Saxonwold home, caused an outcry when they landed a private jet full of wedding guests from India at Pretoria’s Airforce Base Waterkloof.

See: Nightmare at Gupta Airport

They have also previously irritated their neighbours by landing their helicopter at nearby Zoo Lake without permission.

Correspondence dating back to 2011 between residents and council, which is in City Press’ possession, reveals that the city admitted that the Guptas had not complied with all regulations. It then asked the Guptas to submit a proposal indicating how they intended to comply.

It is not clear what the response was from the Guptas, and questions sent to their spokesperson, Gary Naidoo, remained unanswered this week.

The city said this week that it supported the rezoning application. But residents have objected strongly and a hearing is set for Wednesday.

Saxonwold & Parkwood Residents Association (Sapra) chairperson Tessa Turvey said they wanted to ensure that all applications abide by the rules.

“Sapra has objected based on the fact that the building exceeds the allowed coverage. We object to the rezoning of a site to legalise an already built structure,” she said.

A neighbour of the Guptas, who asked not to be named, said: “The building department informed (us) that there was nothing that could be done as the plans were approved and that all building work was legal.

“However, neighbours then appointed building professionals who further investigated and discovered that in fact the plans had been incorrectly approved.

“The council then withdrew the approved plan and issued a stop order. But this was ignored by the Guptas and the building continued to completion.”

City spokesperson Nthatisi Modingoane said objectors would be given a chance to raise their objections next week during a planning committee hearing. He said between 2009 and 2010 the Guptas submitted two plans which were approved.

He said a third plan was submitted “due to deviations undertaken that did not comply with the previously approved plan”.

These showed the house was even bigger because of “roof overhangs and balconies”.

But Modingoane said that if their rezoning application was unsuccessful, they will have to remove them so that their house “reverts back to the original approved state”.

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