Battle over different visions for Bo-Kaap

2016-11-08 11:08
One of the Bo-Kaap's colourful streets. (Kim Alvelius, GroundUp)

One of the Bo-Kaap's colourful streets. (Kim Alvelius, GroundUp)

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Cape Town - The historical Bo-Kaap is locked in a battle between residents and developers, who have competing visions for the area that is famous for its colourful houses and cobbled streets.

Two developments of more than 15 storeys have already been approved in the area, on the border of the Cape Town CBD. Up the road from one of these developments is the Strand Street Quarry, which is currently being bid on for a 30-year lease. Two streets down from the quarry is a piece of land that the City of Cape Town controversially sold on auction in June for R1.4m. It is now on the market for nearly double that, GroundUp reported.

Other potential developments in the area are a hotel that would overlook the Bo-Kaap, the sale of the property on which St Monica’s Centre for the elderly is currently situated, and a gold refinery.

GroundUp has reported on residents of a Bo-Kaap community farm who face eviction.

The Bo-Kaap Civic and Ratepayers Association’s (BKCRA) chairperson Osman Shaboodien believes that a number of city planning provisions have promoted negative development.

One of these is that the city allows developers extra floor space if they are building a mixed-use development that contains a certain percentage of flats. Another is that developers need not consult or notify their neighbours if the zoning allows for their development.

“They don’t have to look at their environment or the impact. They don’t need to ask any neighbour. They don’t have to consult anybody around that building,” said Shaboodien.

These developments have occurred despite the South African Heritage Resource Agency according the area “grade one resource status”. This means it is a heritage resource of national significance and needs to be protected.

The area is currently in the process of being designated a heritage overlay zone, which would increase its protection.

High rises and heritage sites

Bo-Kaap residents have put up vehement opposition to Vantage Property’s 18-storey development, which they believe is “inappropriate and insensitive”. It is set to take over almost an entire block between Buitengracht, Longmarket, Rose, and Shortmarket streets

The Bridges Not Barriers campaign claims the city received over 1 000 individual objections to the development. Despite this, the city’s municipal planning tribunal gave it the go-ahead.

Another development that has also faced the wrath of residents is the 17-storey building on Strand Street that will house 117 apartments and is already being built. Most of the expensive flats have already been sold.

Just up the road from this block is Strand Street Quarry, the oldest known quarry in the country, which is open to bidders for a 30-year lease. The city states the land is currently underutilised and requires regular policing and maintenance.

Johan van der Merwe, acting mayoral committee member for finance, insists any use of the site will be “highly restricted” in accordance with legislation, its National Heritage status, and its cultural and religious significance.

Despite this, the BKCRA is concerned about what will be built on the site and whether community interests will be considered when a private developer leases it.

Adjacent to the quarry is the Kraal, which used to house a number of families, some in informal dwellings. Nearly all of these families have moved to Pelican Park.

Earlier this year, residents were up in arms over a proposed construction of a gold refinery by Lueven Metals. They believe it will be a health hazard.

Selling off the Bo-Kaap’s land

The sale of city-owned land in Rose Street has angered residents who believe that the property should have been used to develop housing.

The city sold the site for R1.4m and, just a few months later, it was on the market again for double that. This is despite auctioneer Joey Burke telling EWN that the sale was “way above market value”.

Van der Merwe said the site was sold for “fair market value”. As for the subsequent sale of the property, he said “it would be pure speculation to comment on an advertised price as there is no indication whether this would be achieved or not”.

While the BKCRA appears to have much support among Bo-Kaap families who have been there for generations, the sale shows not all residents agree with it. The land was in fact bought, and is now being resold by a Bo-Kaap resident. She describes herself as a “single mother of two children, coloured lady” who rents a property on Rose Street.

She doesn’t understand what the “big fuss” is about. “I've been struggling for years to buy land in Bo-Kaap, because the Bo-Kaap residents are selling their properties for exorbitant prices, which makes it difficult for people like me to afford. Unless of course you are a foreign investor,” she said.

When asked what he would say if a Bo-Kaap resident had bought the land, Shaboodien said: “The biggest scoundrels that you find in history came from the very people that need to be protected. It doesn’t mean because they look like you and talk like you that they think like you.”

Co-operative housing

The BKCRA wants “co-operative housing” in Bo-Kaap. Borrowing from concepts developed internationally, the idea is that this housing will be neither sold nor bought, that the community will do the building, and the city will contribute land and services.

The houses would belong to the community rather than to an individual. The ultimate plan is to build 200 homes in the Bo-Kaap. These would be flats and be built at various sites around the area, which have already been identified.

Residents are already holding meetings with the city, architects, and engineers to make their dream a reality.

Read more on:    cape town  |  housing  |  heritage

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