Illegal builders in Cape ‘sin now, pay later’

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Copy of ca p3 Construction6955 CAPE ARGUS Residents are complaining about a development of luxury flats in Exner Avenue in Vredehoek which are blocking the view of Table Mountain Picture: David Ritchie

Cape Town - Sin now and ask for forgiveness after. This is how developers and property owners get away with unauthorised illegal building work, says Taki Amira, chairman of the Good Hope Subcouncil that includes the City Bowl.

“The enforcement is non-existent when it comes to illegal building work.”

Between October and December last year, more than 120 cases of illegal building work were referred by the City of Cape Town to the municipal courts, with offenders being penalised with fines of R300-R8 000.

For many applicants and developers, this is nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

Amira refused last week to approve an application for a permanent departure on a property in Victoria Road, Bantry Bay, because it would have required the subcouncil to “tacitly agree to an illegal building”.

The application was to allow for alterations and additions to the building’s roof terrace. However, photographs of building work already under way indicated that some alterations were not in accordance with the approved plans. There was extra decking and instead of a skylight, as originally presented, there was now a pool.

Copy of ca p3 Craig Levinthal  illegal building work-1373 Craig Levinthal points out what the neighbours have built, which blocks his view of Table Mountain from the middle level of his house Picture: Robin Clark CAPE ARGUS

Greg September, of the city’s zoning department, said the changes that had been made were not significant, and that there would be no updated plan.

But Amira was firm that proper processes had not been followed. He deferred the subcouncil decision pending the submission of updated plans and called for a cease works order to look into the possibility that there was illegal building work on the site.

The question of whether changes are “significant” or not is also being raised in connection with another development in Tamboerskloof.

Resident Manuele Martella has been trying for several weeks to get access to a file from the city council that would provide information about approvals granted for the construction of a five-storey block of flats in Exner Avenue. The development was to include the demolition of two houses that were more than 70 years old, he said.

Martella was told by Emil Schnackenberg, regional manager of city building and planning, that all the building work was according to approved building plans.

“Once work is completed, the building inspector will ensure that the work conforms to the approved building plan – included the parking scheme.”

He initially contacted Pieter Koekemoer of the city’s Table Bay office, who told Martella he was “welcome to view a copy of the approved plans” at the office. He could then apply through the access to information process to see the relevant town planning files.

But when Martella visited the office, he was told the file could not be found.

He was referred to the city’s legal office where, after paying a R35 fee, he was told that this file was “missing and unaccounted for”.

Martella’s request has now come full circle as he has again been referred to Koekemoer’s office. But Martella has asked for the matter to be referred to a “higher authority” in the metro.

In response to questions from the Cape Argus, Cheryl Walters, director of planning and building management, said the enforcement processes in terms of the national building regulations and land use planning ordinance would be activated if there was any unauthorised building activity.

She said the original plan for a five-storey block of flats was approved in 2010, and this included a total demolition permit granted by Heritage Western Cape. “In 2013, two further storeys to the 2010 development were approved along with minor external additions and alterations to two existing double dwellings situated on neighbouring properties 20 Exner Avenue and 16 Exner Avenue (erven 870 and Remainder 869). The dwellings remain. Therefore, there was no need to demolish them.”

Furthermore, the applicant decided not to proceed with the proposal for a block of flats on the consolidated three erven, she said.

Craig Levinthal, of De Hoop Street in Tamboerskloof, is also frustrated with the way in which the city’s planning department has dealt with his complaints. After also trying for months to get council officials in the planning department to heed his concerns about possible irregular work, Levinthal has asked the city manager to intervene.

He alleged that a circumvention of zoning regulations had enabled his neighbour to erect a guest house on a site supposed to be used for a single dwelling.

Levinthal said it appeared as if the neighbour had ignored the requirements for setbacks and built her house right on his boundary. Like Martella, Levinthal has contacted several officials in the planning department to no avail.

Levinthal meanwhile has met his neighbours who have agreed to get the advice of a town planner to take the matter forward.

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Cape Argus

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