City breaks own rules

2014-06-12 00:00

DURBAN’S town planning committee has overruled its own regulations — and the formal objections of 47 outraged Berea residents — in a zoning precedent that critics say could allow blocks of flats “anywhere”.

Despite being zoned “special residential” in the city’s own 2012 plan — which means no building can be more than two storeys high in the elite area south of Poynton Place — an Edwardian home at 10 Poynton Place, Essenwood, was approved for re-zoning for the development of a seven-storey apartment building.

At an eThekwini town planning subcommittee meeting, chaired by ANC councillor Velile Lutyeku, city officials acknowledged that the property lay within its map boundary which prohibits flats — but said it should go ahead anyway due to the “overarching” policy to densify the Berea.

Over 250 pages of objections in the committee agenda — including breaches of zoning rules, “crippling” traffic congestion and a loss of views, lease agreements, privacy, and property values — were dealt with in a three-minute summary from town planners, who concluded: “Civic organisations are mushrooming, essentially to preserve the Berea of 80 years ago.”

Lutyeko said, “Times change. We just don’t have space. Where [else] are we going to send our people?”

Some neighbours vowed to leave the area should the full council endorse the committee’s approval; others insisted they, too, would now be entitled to be re-zoned to save rates costs; while others declared they would be “ruined”, having poured fortunes into buying and renovating their stately homes.

Wayne Webb, who lives next door, said, “They are breaking their own rules, and dangerously so. This means that no matter where you live — Durban North; Morningside; anywhere – a block of flats could go up next door, and there’s nothing you could do about it.”

Webb (55) added, “I have spent the past six years renovating this place, ploughing in over a million rand — it will all be for nought if I’m now behind a construction site, and then living in shadow.”

Webb vowed to launch a group appeal against the decision.

The area’s councillor, Martin Meyer, said he was “alarmed” at the “precedent set”. “It is now a real concern that properties can be re-zoned irrespective of boundaries. The DA will oppose this at council but it is very unlikely that council will go against its committee. And what we saw here is that public participation doesn’t count for anything — it’s just to tick a box to say we did it.”

Kavi Soni of SiVest — the agent for the re-zoning applicant, Dextaphase Ltd — told The Witness, “This still has to go through Exco and council, but we felt our application does support a sound policy of densification, as there are very few vacant plots on the Berea, so the only way to achieve this is vertically. We welcome the fact that people have exercised their rights to object, and they may yet lodge appeals. But even if it is fully approved, I don’t think this would set a blanket precedent, as the municipality would determine at what point a threshold was reached for densification the area could support.”

Soni denied that the approval would lead to a “concrete jungle”, as most objectors claimed.

The property’s other immediate neighbour, Chris Glendining, was astonished when The Witness revealed the decision yesterday, “I just assumed that when they read the 47 objections and realised the zoning mistake, this matter would have been a dead duck.

“What’s the use of having town planning rules and building regulations when developers can just get what they want in council? If it is finally approved then our family will no longer want to live where we are.”

In his objection letter, Glendining wrote: “If this application is granted, then your municipality will be obliged to also grant re-zoning by the other owners in Area 29”.

Committee member Gill Noyce — who dissented to the ruling — said the 47 written objections were “simply ignored — and we are also now ignoring our own rules, opening up the area to becoming flat land.

“The ANC wants more rates revenue, come what may,” she said.

Officials also argued that 10 Poynton Place was opposite a block of flats in an area zoned for flats — and that the official plan for the area — the Berea Urban Core Extention Plan (Bucep) — rendered the zoning map boundary “a grey area”.

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