Sandy Soeko and Victor Penning , city councilor point to the onte the illegal business operating in a residential area. Durham street Sydenham Johannesburg. 15.08.2012 Picture:Dumisani Dube

DURHAM Street residents in Sydenham have been watching the value of their homes deteriorate because the City of Joburg has not enforced its by-laws.

Illegal businesses have taken over most of the residential homes and home owners want the city to declare the whole street a business precinct.

Residents say their homes no longer have value as residential properties and legitimate businesses will not purchase them because they have no business rights.

Residents claim they are being stonewalled by city officials who keep giving them incorrect information on the procedure which should be followed to do this.

Resident Sandy Soekoe has been living in Durham Street for 30 years.

“I cannot sell my house because it is surrounded by businesses. Many older people are trapped here. If the council gave me rights, I would be able to sell the house for business purposes. Nobody wants to live here anymore,” she said.

The city planning department has been stringing the residents along for almost six years, she said.

“We have had numerous meetings and at one they told us we had to pay for a traffic study which costs over R100 000 and that we would have to sacrifice about five metres of our properties to widen the street. This information turned out not to be correct and in the meantime, caused a lot of stress and worry for property owners,” she said.

Councillor Victor Penning, who is assisting residents, says the area should be changed into a small business precinct, much like Queen Street in Kensington, where private houses have been converted into businesses.

“The conditions have declined to a point where long-standing residents are no longer able to live a normal life on their properties Their lives are being disrupted on a daily basis by the activities of the illegal businesses. Residents, most of whom are past pensionable ages, are effectively trapped in an uncontrolled, mainly illegal, business environment,” Penning said.

About a year ago, after intense pressure, the department said Durham Street did not have sufficient capacity to carry the additional traffic that would be generated should business rights be granted.

“They were told that they could contribute financially by giving up a 5m strip of their properties for the widening of the street.

“As it turns out, the capacity of the street appears to have been nothing more than a red herring as the chief roads engineer of JRA has agreed, in writing, that Durham Street has sufficient capacity to handle up to an additional 50 vehicles per property at peak times – without the road needing widening or upgrading.

“Since this was revealed, the Planning Department has been obstructive and failed to agree to a meeting to discuss the possible upgrading of rights with the ward councillor and community representatives, despite numerous requests over a period of six weeks,” Penning said.

The residents are considering taking legal action to force council to grant them rights for business and to recover losses incurred as a result of the council not fulfilling it’s mandate to govern and apply its regulations and by-laws, said Penning.

City of Joburg spokesman Nthatisi Modingoane said a comprehensive precinct planning process was undertaken last year together with extensive consultation. This provided for the erven directly on Durham Street to be rezoned from a primary residential land use to a range of business uses that would complement the broader residential context. Examples of the types of businesses that would be allowed included offices, such as consulting companies, lawyers, printing companies, medical rooms, estate agents’s offices and beauty salons.

“The precinct plan furthermore identified the type of uses that would not be supported along Durham Street, which included workshops such as spray painters.”