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Saturday, 28 August 2010

Atlantic Sun - The Crystal 5 August 2010

Reply letter (see Thomas Geh letter below)

It is a fact of life that when an organisation or individual stands up for the rights of the people, certain disaffected individuals will attempt to vilify their public spirited efforts. South Africa has a long, often sad, legacy of this.

Mr Geh has been running a long standing personal vendetta against the CBRRA, in general, and me in particular, to which the many residents of Camps Bay who have received his unsolicited defamatory e-mails will attest.

Indeed, Geh served for a long period on the CBRRA Manco - but was required to leave the planning portfolio many years ago due to the conflicts of interest that frequently arose with his own projects.

However, CBRRA is not interested in being drawn down into his mudslinging match and responds to his comments as follows:
The CBRRA certainly supports sensible, sensitive and sustainable development. This is policy. The fact that it has brokered over 100 agreements between Applicants and Affected Neighbours for new development, bears testimony to this. There is not another ratepayer organisation that is so pro-active.

The Cape Town Stadium in Green Point falls outside the sphere of influence of CBRRA. Whether the billions spent on this magnificent stadium and precinct can be justified, will remain a moot point.

The fact that Troben Heights was in a poor condition does not, in any way, condone the illegal structure that the City has now allowed to be built on the site. A well designed, legal building would have been just fine.

Geh is wrong when he claims that this large building complies with the Zoning Scheme and title deed restrictions.

It is a complete non sequitur that developers will not develop legal structures that the community accepts. But they will push the envelope for financial gain if possible - and it is the ratepayer organisations throughout the City that must guard against this. The City do not, in our experience, protect community rights.

As an example, the CBRRA made it a condition of approval that the roof of the Geh-designed block at the top of Geneva Drive be lower than the adjoining sidewalk on Camps Bay Drive at any point. Without CBRRA intervention, the exquisite viewline from the Camps Bay Drive would have been broken. However, a developer has been prepared to accept the requirements of the community and the completed building is to the satisfaction of all parties

Insofar as my house is concerned, Geh's 2 year long tirade needs to be put in context:
  • The approved plans comply with the coverage requirements
  • It is a 3-storey building with a basement which is completely legal. Given the steep site and that the building is only 2 storeys at any point (in fact, 1 storey in over 50% of the erf), a further storey would be legal,
  • At the time of plan approval (2004), there was no restriction on a pool being built in the setback area.
  • The City refused to police the "built upon" area at that time. As this title deed condition is actually in favour of my neighbours, I obtained their approval for this indulgence prior to plan submission to the City, which is what the CBRRA encourages.
  • There are no building line encroachments, hence the planning approval.
Geh's architectural planning applications almost always draw fierce resistance from affected neighbours, for the manifold reasons enumerated in their various letters of objection. This is not the doing of the CBRRA and that situation will not be changed by Geh launching personal attacks on the CBRRA or individual members.

Chris Willemse's reply (CBRRA PLANNING)


Letter to the Atlantic Sun, 5 August 2010:

Regarding the Camps Bay Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association (CBRRA) letter “Crystal clear”, Atlantic Sun, July 29.
I have been a Camps Bay resident and architect since 1971, was an active member of the CBRRA and I am fully aware of the ongoing developmental calamities, drama and bickering in our suburb.

Ratepayer and civic associations can play a very important role and have done good work in several fields. However many members and often unelected activists are conservative individuals who simply can't accept change and would prefer to turn the clock back to the “good old days”, but the rest of us know that urban renewal and densification is essential. Typical case: the Green Point Stadium and Urban Park. First court cases, demonstrations and now praise by the same antagonists.

Here in Camps Bay we now have the Crystal case, amongst others, where Chris Willemse for the CBRRA has now for months complained about all the “illegalities” approved by the City and the construction by the “greedy” developers (see CBRRA blog page) who want to line their pockets with gold as is often claimed by objectors.

Several years ago I designed the four town houses next door (29 Woodford Avenue) and had to get the consent of the neighbours and CBRRA for the four units and had to also consider the Crystal site conditions.

At that stage the old flats known as Trauben Heights was already a rundown, dilapidated building with no gardens, unkempt embankment with half dead and burned alien shrubs, rocks and no pavement. CBRRA and neighbours complained over years to the owners and the City without success. It is also a fact that the old flats were on a level platform well above the street more or less where the current new ground floor is. The parking basement was largely excavated into the embankment. Furthermore the zoning scheme permits 2.10m fill above the original natural level. Whatever Mr Willemse's argument, the new embankments and retaining walls are a vast improvement over the past situation. When in a few years the plants have grown and cover the ground and walls the previously unattractive streetscape will certainly be an enhancement to the built environment. Yes, the building is large, but this is what the title deed and zoning scheme permits, so why bash the developer and the City? Without developers we would not have rental accommodation, no work, no jobs.

Mr Willemse's vendetta against developers, the City and individuals like myself is the height of hypocrisy when viewed against his own development at 13 Blinkwater Road Camps Bay where he started to build his own four-floor development, the top floor in front of his previous house terrace behind which he sold. The development exceeds permissible coverage, the building lines are encroached and structures built on the street boundary are in conflict with the title deed and applicable law. It also seems that in this case the plans were approved erroneously.

Instead of looking at the Crystal pavement, as Chris suggests, have a look at his interdicted development.

A person like that should not judge others! Apart from this Medburn Road, Woodford Ave and others to a large extent do not have accessible pedestrian pavements. There are also not many mothers in Camps Bay pushing prams, but Mr Willemse is on a Robin Hood ego trip and should get real for the benefit of his CBRRA and all of us.

I also think The Crystal looks a bit oversized, but very much better than the old ugly flats in Camps Bay. The CBRRA should use their scarce resources and the empty “war kitty” in a more proactive manner elsewhere.

Good luck with that!

Thomas Geh, Camps Bay architect

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