‘Hands off our heritage’

2014-06-24 00:00

THE Berea house that Durban is to demolish for flats was owned by the families of two city mayors and one 19th century business icon — and could be the second oldest home in Durban.

Meanwhile, The Witness has learned that the province’s heritage authority has joined 47 residents in objecting to the controversial plan to erect flats at 10 Poynton Place, which could get final approval as soon as tomorrow.

Yesterday, Amafa confirmed that the “core” structure at the large house — which eThekwini’s town planning committee has rezoned for flats in defiance of its own rules — was known as Thorpe Lodge in 1881.

Both the co-founder of Adams bookstores, Stanhope Adams, and the family of iconic turn-of-the-century mayor Ellis Brown lived at the then Musgrave Road address. Meanwhile, one objector, Wayne Webb, claims the original house may have been built in the early 1860s, around the time of the American civil war. He said he had found comparable architecture and “Victorian salt-glazed air bricks” beneath the house which support his claim.

A demolition petition to Amafa reveals the developer to be Rekesh Sewnarain, director of Jecholia Properties, which plans to erect a seven-storey apartment building. In the documents, Sewnarain claimed the house was “a typical house for a large family built mid [20th] century … with detailed windows and internal doors”.

Despite being located within a zoning area that prohibits structures over two storeys high, the committee decided to override its own planning map in approving the rezoning, due to the “primacy” of the city’s policy to densify the Berea. Dozens of residents and at least three opposition councillors objected, warning of a precedent that could see the move “leading to a concrete jungle” in the famous Durban suburb.

Ros Devereux, head of built environment with Amafa, revealed that KZN’s heritage authority had objected to the “change of use” zoning application that would allow flats to be built.

“A change of use there would have a detrimental effect on the heritage resources in the area,” she said.

However, she said the authority did not have the power to stop the plan, and had merely noted the objection on the demolition permit.

Devereux said the committee had approved the demolition application, as the building lacked any architectural features to go along with its historical significance, and was not in its original form. “This was one of those difficult cases, where there is certainly historical value, but where you don’t have a second element of cultural significance. Any requirement to restore this building to an earlier period would be onerous on a new owner,” she said.

Devereux said the property’s superb stone wall had also been briefly considered for conservation as it had been built by a black South African artisan who had been denied formal training during Apartheid’s early years.

Amafa has blocked demolition plans for the home of another former Durban mayor — Oliver Lea’s old house at 259 Montpellier Road. But Devereux said this house had retained its original form and fittings and been an original structure. Durban’s oldest home is the verandah-style Elephant House, which was built on Ridge Road in 1849.

Webb said, “I understand that it has been seriously altered, but this house is a symbol of what Durban stands to lose: if they can demolish what I believe to be Durban’s second oldest house to put up flats, then what won’t they demolish?” He said he planned to mobilise other concerned residents in a show of opposition at tomorrow’s council meeting.

Martin Meyer, DA councillor for Morningside, said: “Densification can easily take the form of two-storey duplexes, and we would not object to an application like that. We will certainly make an effort to stop this application, but it is very unlikely that the full council will override its committee.”

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