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Wednesday May 28, 2014

Property owner, council clash over land encroachment

A Pinetown businessman is livid after the eThekwini Municipality began building a road on his land without notifying him - and failed to stop despite receiving a letter of objection.

Delayne Gray, managing director of SBS Tanks, said yesterday he became aware of the 'Go Durban' project and the plans to encroach on his property, owned by his SBS Estates, when a tenant alerted him in December.

Go Durban is eThekwini's integrated rapid public transport network development, which would link various modes of public transport between Bridge City, Durban Central, Pinetown, uMlazi and uMhlanga.

Construction on the first phase had started on Qashana Khuzwayo (Shepstone) and Cherry roads where Gray's business and property are located.

In a letter dated December 16, Gray called for a meeting with the municipality, demanding an explanation, just as preliminary work had begun.

'Our property is severely and negatively directly affected by the roadway, intersection and bus station. This serves as our official objection and our demand to have a formal meeting with all roleplayers before any work on our property commences,' wrote Gray.

He said he only got a meeting earlier this month when work had already started. Another meeting was held on Friday.

'A verbal apology was offered. The city asked if SBS Estates would grant them permission to occupy and to be allowed to continue work on our property while a settlement was reached. SBS denied the permission and said no,' Gray said.

He said there were to be negotiations on compensation for damages and inconvenience.

'It is our hope that more detail and planning will be given to the impact the project has on our properties and critical matters like traffic flow, driveways, pedestrians etcetera will be discussed with us.

'Once agreement is reached and all is correct, accurate and within the legal parameters, the work will be allowed to continue,' said Gray.

He said he was angry at the city's lack of concern for the rights of landowners, the legal process and the fact that protocol was ignored.

'SBS Estates is not against the project; we understand the advantage it will have for the people of Pinetown,' he said.

However, Gray said the physical changes - road widening, increased intersections with new turning lanes and traffic lights - would have operational impact on businesses.

'Properties are purchased for their potential and their ability to be suitably let.

'This potential has been impacted and the property values have altered as a result,' said Gray.

'In some cases the impact may be positive, but not in our case.'

He said his property was let to a tenant for a five-year period with an option to purchase on the strength that it offered the tenant certain direct benefits.

'As a result of the imposed changes, albeit that some are temporary, our tenant can no longer operate his business as he did and thus the property as he initially rented it from us is no longer what he has access to so he is requesting a reduction in rental or he may have to move out,' Gray said.

'We have had to reduce our rental to retain our tenant.'

Gray said the municipality's project, considering its magnitude, should have received much more public participation.

However, the municipality's deputy head of Road System Management, Carlos Esteves, said the project was advertised in the relevant media during the design process.

'Several public meetings were held as required before council approved the project. The process included the statutory consultation for environmental impact assessment requirements and approvals,' said Esteves.

He said when the design was approaching finalisation, the city notified 'all affected parties' and public meetings were advertised in community newspapers and business chambers in November.

Esteves said printed invitations were 'hand delivered at each property' and landowners who raised concerns were visited 'personally' early in December.

'In Mr Gray's case the site teams obtained permission to start with excavation from the people inside the building. They (site teams) were not aware, nor were they told, that they (the occupants) are only tenants and not the owners,' Esteves said.

'We apologised to Mr Gray for this misunderstanding and this matter is being addressed to mitigate against it re-occurring.'

Esteves said although the city felt that all businesses had been informed, should any business still not be clear on how they will be impacted, then they must immediately make contact with the project team.

He said compensation would be made for any private land that had been encroached on in the course of the project.

'Given the situation, and to avoid another misunderstanding, an instruction to stop work on Mr Gray's site has been issued. The same applies to any portion of work that encroaches onto any other private property, and where approval has not been confirmed,' said Esteves.

He said Gray was the only landowner affected who had engaged with them.

Daily News


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