Cape Town - Melkbosstrand residents have raised concerns about possible illegal activity on a farm after a section of critically endangered fynbos was removed to make way for a marquee at the top of a hill.
Klein Melkbos Farm, on the opposite side of the Atlantic Beach Golf Estate on the R27, belongs to the International Pentecost Holiness Church.
Roy Fuller-Gee, chairman of the Friends of Blaauwberg Conservation Area, said he was having a meeting close to the farm a few weeks ago when he noticed a large marquee had gone up on top of Blaauwberg Hill.
The farm shares part of the hill with the Blaauwberg Nature Reserve.
Fuller-Gee said permission was needed from the City of Cape Town to remove fynbos, but it seemed the church was going ahead without this.
Going up the hill from the nature reserve side, it is clear that the top has been cleared.
Fuller-Gee said since the church bought the farm in 2010 as a Western Cape base (its headquarters are in Gauteng) they had presented plans which were turned down by the city.
One plan included building a circular church on top of Blaauwberg Hill with 10 luxury flats around it. Another included building 300 homes for church visitors from out of town.
It now appeared the church was trying to make changes to a historic farmhouse on the land without permission from the heritage authorities.
Fuller-Gee said the recent changes were more worrisome because “nobody has seen their plans”.
He said they had repeatedly tried and failed to have a meeting with the priest known as “your holiness” to get an idea of their plans.
He explained that when the church bought the farm it was valued at about R10 million, but they paid nearly R100m for it. The city had also been interested in buying the land to incorporate into the nature reserve.
Heritage Western Cape chief executive Andrew Hall said they issued an order for the church to stop working on the farm buildings last year after the church started making changes without notifying heritage authorities.
Documents at Heritage Western Cape show the farm was bought for R95m in 2010 by the church under the name of Reverend Glayton Modise.
Architects on behalf of the church had last year applied for a permit to make partial demolitions and alterations to the homestead to turn it into a church building, at a cost of R3m.
But Heritage Western Cape issued a stop-works order after realising they had already removed the corrugated iron veranda, some internal walls and flooring.
The homestead is rated as a Grade 3A building, which means it has great local historical significance.
On Thursday, Heritage Western Cape went to re-issue the order to the church but there was no one to receive it. Senior heritage officer Zwelibanzi Shiceka said they were asked to wait for a priest who would be arriving in 30 minutes, but after waiting an hour and a half they left.
Rev Nash, who identified himself as a priest at the church, asked the Cape Argus to e-mail a query on Thursday, but he has not responded to it.
Garreth Bloor, mayoral committee member for economic, environment and spatial planning, said the city has been made aware of illegal work on the farm. - Cape Argus