Estate gets go-ahead after objections

Melanie Gosling

Environment Writer

A LUXURY housing development at the foot of the Hottentots Holland Mountains – entirely outside the urban edge – has been given the nod by the provincial government.

Called the Casa Maris Eco Estate, the development will consist of 148 upmarket houses, a restaurant, guest house and “tourism centre” to be built at the bottom of Sir Lowry’s Pass.

The approval of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) by the Western Cape Department of Environment Affairs and Development Planning comes after many public objections to the controversial development. A central objection was that the whole housing estate will be located outside the urban edge laid down by the City of Cape Town Spatial Development Framework.

The purpose of delineating an urban edge is to contain urban sprawl so urbanisation does not gobble up agricultural and environmentally sensitive land. Urban sprawl is costly because of providing bulk infrastructure further afield.

Gavin Smith, vice-chairman of the Greater Cape Town Alliance, said yesterday the site of the proposed estate was “slap bang in the green part of the Spatial Development Framework, which is coloured green because it is conservation-worthy”.

The provincial government justifies allowing building in this area by saying the housing estate “does not jump far beyond the urban fringe”.

Smith argues that giving any development the go-ahead anywhere outside the urban edge would set a precedent and lead to further encroachment on open space and agricultural land. If the authorities approved one development outside the urban edge they would have trouble refusing others, and eventually the purpose of having an urban edge would be negated.

The developer presented different scenarios for the housing estate, ranging from 400 houses to 200. The provincial government gave approval for 148 houses only so that the estate would not creep higher up the slopes. It also stated that no houses could be built in areas with sensitive or threatened vegetation and that natural vegetation should be left to create “ecological corridors” for the movement of plant and animal species.

Guillaume Nel, who compiled the EIA for the developer, Henk Maris, said 50 percent of the turnover from the development would go to uplifting the depressed Sir Lowry’s Village.

“The developer owns the land but can’t farm it. The idea was not to make a profit – well to make a small profit – but to try and uplift the community. A trust has already been set up,” Nel said. However, the approval document says 10 percent of the turnover will go to the trust. The provincial government has made it a condition of approval that the trust must be established before construction begins.

However,

Smith said it was dangerous to authorise developments because of promises of socio-economic benefits.

He referred to a Cape High Court judgment in 2009 in the Arabella case, in which judges Willem Louw and Lee Bozalek said: “This could give rise to a developer being allowed to ‘buy’ environmental authorisation by undertaking to make some payment to a worthy socio-economic cause.”


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