About 30 minutes into the Wynberg East community meeting held at the Wynberg Youth Centre on Thursday 18 October, the lights went off, leaving residents exactly how they felt: in the dark.But not even load-shedding could detract from concerned residents’ fervour at the well-attended assembly. They had gathered to discuss the increasing occurrence of single-unit homes being sold and demolished in the area. In their place were set to rise apartment blocks – or so it was rumoured. One of the main complaints raised by residents was that they had not been consulted or even informed of developments that could change the fabric of their community.The newly registered Wynberg East Civic Association (WECA) had called the meeting to attain a mandate from the community to address the issue. Demolitions were currently underway in York Road, Park Road, Byrnes Avenue and Castletown Road, to name a few. Residents wanted to know how these demolitions could have been approved without a red flag being raised earlier.Achmat Salie, an architectural technologist and a member of WECA, explained that the properties in question all fell within an area zoned as general residential (gr4). This meant the owners of these erven had the Constitutional right to build flats if they so wished. Once granted, the right to build flats stayed there in perpetuity, unless an application was made to the City of Cape Town to change the zoning. He said there were certain restrictions to gr4-grading developments. According to the City of Cape Town’s zoning scheme regulations, you can only build on the boundary 18 metres into the plot. No more than 60% plot coverage is allowed, and the height of the building must not exceed 24 metres.“The developers stayed within these parameters. There was no legal reason for the council to circulate these plans,” he said.Judy Ferdenando, chair of WECA, said the association was now in a position to prevent this from happening again. “We have registered with all the relevant bodies. In future, we will have the right to look at plans when they are submitted to the council.”She asked community members to report any cases where people have been offered far more money for their properties than they were worth. She vowed the association would follow up immediately.Another burning question at the meeting was whether these kind of developments were legal, considering that some of the homes demolished were more than 60 years old. Residents felt the area should have been considered as a heritage site.Salie explained that as long as a proposed development did not materially alter the streetscape, zoning rights trumped heritage, according to the Constitution.However, a resident pointed out that, according to a Constitutional Court judgment on 19 February this year (the consolidated matters of trustees of the Simcha Trust v Da Cruz and Others and City of Cape Town v Da Cruz and Others (Simcha Trust)), there was an obligation on local authorities to apply the legitimate expectations test when considering whether the surrounding area where the building is to be erected would likely be disfigured or whether such a building would be unsightly or objectionable.A further point made was that an area zoned for flats 20 years ago was not necessarily suited for this type of development today. The question was asked if those who approved development plans considered that Wynberg East’s decaying sewerage system was already insufficient to handle the sewage generated by its current population. The reoccurrence of seeping sewage drains in Park Road was given as an example.Other concerns raised were the effect increased traffic would have on the already congested area, the negative impact it might have on property values and whether the influx of people, combined with the planned Wynberg interchange, would lead to an increase in crime in the area.A minority of residents wanted to pursue radical action. Others asked for a moratorium to be placed on all developments in the area pending the outcome of an investigation by the council. In the end, most agreed that more information was needed before steps could be taken. The civic association was given the mandate to set up a meeting with the developer and to report back to the community.“How we move forward depends on what happens at that meeting,” said Ferdenando.She urged all residents to stand together and to lend their support to WECA.To get involved visit WECA’s Facebook page or call Judy Ferdenando on 082 493 6076.