Cape's battle of the bungalows heads to court

Challenge to sale of 5ha of prime Clifton land to developer

08 April 2018 - 00:00 By PHILANI NOMBEMBE

Tycoons who have spent tens of millions of rands to live in one of South Africa's most exclusive and stunning coastal locations have gone to court in an attempt to turn back a tide of concrete.
The owners of bungalows in Clifton, on Cape Town's Atlantic Seaboard, filed papers this week in the high court challenging a city council decision to sell 5ha of prime coastal land between Clifton and Camps Bay for R1-billion.
Developers plan more than 50 new houses, a hotel and a shopping mall, as well as a 700-bay car park, but the lawsuit, brought by the Bungalow Owners' Association, celebrity divorce and criminal lawyer Billy Gundelfinger and businessmen Mark Willcox and Gavin Varejes, seeks to halt the plan
A 132m² three-bedroom bungalow overlooking Fourth Beach is on the market for R49-million, and last month an unrenovated two-bedroom bungalow owned by the city council was auctioned for R20-million.Billionaire businessman Christo Wiese is one of the residents anxiously awaiting further details of the development planned by a shelf company linked to Ethan Dube's Vunani Capital, which was announced six months ago as the successful bidder for the 5ha parcel.
"We are obviously aware of what is being planned but until the final plans are approved, one does not really know to what extent one will be impacted," said Wiese, whose wealthy neighbours include Spur founder Allen Ambor and Equatorial Guinea's playboy Vice-President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue.
"So we are just watching as this movie plays out. There are certainly rumours and people threatening all kinds of actions but one doesn't really know where it is going to end up.
"We have been living here for 44 years. It is a beautiful spot. These are bungalows, they are not mansions, and people have a very unique lifestyle."
Bungalow association chairwoman Nele Vermaak said the main aim of the legal action was to conserve the unique character of the bungalows, the environment and the heritage of the area.
In court papers, she said the city's decision was flawed because it failed to consider the "fair market value" of the land and the fact that most of the affected land was a heritage site.
"The council's January 2015 decision to authorise the public participation process was therefore unlawful," Vermaak's affidavit reads. "The unlawfulness taints the entire public participation process, and therefore taints the decision to sell and lease."
In support of the application, architect and heritage practitioner Stephen Townsend said the area had a "deep and visceral meaning" for the people of Bo-Kaap, District Six, Woodstock and the Cape Flats because Maiden's Cove was one of only two Atlantic Seaboard beaches where coloureds were allowed during apartheid."[The] aesthetic significance is one experienced by and 'owned' by all Capetonians, indeed, by all South Africans," said Townsend. "And its importance is signalled by the daily stop-offs of countless busloads of tourists who pause here during their tours to experience this scenic beauty, this sense of place."
Heritage Western Cape, the South African Heritage Resources Agency and the minister of environmental affairs have been cited as respondents by lawyer Richard Summers, representing the litigants.
City council spokesman Priya Reddy said the city would not comment until the case had been finalised.
Dube said the developers would discuss their response to the legal action with the city council. "However, we are very comfortable that the City of Cape Town has followed all the correct internal processes," he said.
"Since the award of the Clifton tender ... we have been working with our professional team to prepare the necessary package of plans for submission to the City of Cape Town ... at this time we do not see any reason for us not to continue with this work."
In October, Brett Herron, the mayoral committee member for urban development, said the sale would lead to a rejuvenation of the surrounding area, "improve public access to the beach, ocean and recreational facilities, as well as protect the natural vegetation".
Herron said Dube, fellow Vunani director Mark Anderson and property developer Tobie Mynhardt would build 52 detached homes, a boutique hotel or serviced apartment block, offices, shops, flats and a 725-bay underground car park.
Other parts of the Clifton Scenic Reserve would be "developed and managed by the private sector as sustainable assets for future generations" under 50-year leases.
The successful bidders would have to upgrade the Maiden's Cove picnic area into a coastal park, rehabilitate the Clifton Surf Lifesaving Club's buildings, construct two boardwalks, redevelop the Glen Country Club clubhouse and improve other infrastructure in the area.
“The memories of Maiden’s Cove are, for most of the people, tinged, even tainted, with the experience of apartheid, its oppressive restrictions and limited opportunity of the most ordinary kind. This is because, although the memories may be deep and rich, Maiden’s Cove was one of only two beaches on the Atlantic coast ‘reserved for coloured bathing’.” — Dr Stephen Townsend, an architect and heritage practitioner

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