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Friday Jun 14, 2013

V&A property development 'ill-considered'

The urgency with which the City of Cape Town is considering amended development plans for the V&A's Clock Tower Precinct, despite objections that the "ill-considered" proposal would result in the "strangling" of the V&A Waterfront and destroy its harbour character, smacks of special treatment.

There are fears the historic grain silos will be obscured by taller new buildings.

This is the view of some members of the city's spatial planning, environment and land use planning management (Spelum) committee tasked with considering changes to a development plan approved in 1999.

After hearing presentations from objectors and the Waterfront's motivation, the committee scheduled an urgent site visit so it could deal with the application before council closed for recess at the end of the month.

Councillor Gerald Siljeur, of the ACDP, said: "We can't see why we need to treat this as a special item and rush it through."

ANC councillor Victor Mfusi said there was no need to expedite the application, and it could be considered when council resumed. Committee chairman Christo Kannenberg said they should not delay the visit until August, as this would hold up development in a critical part of the city.

An artist's impression of the pedestrian walkway of the grain silo.

Retired harbour master Bill Shewell, one of the objectors, said in his written objection he was concerned that "our Waterfront is systematically losing its port appeal and sense of ownership by the city's population" as the need for a good return required "yet more building and crowding out of visual sites".

At the heart of the furore is how the proposed development and its new building heights will affect the historic grain silo complex. This houses the grain elevator, once the tallest building in sub-Saharan Africa.

The plan would alter the height of buildings to range between 28m and 40m. It would include a building just off the East Quay and a 40m building on an expanded envelope on South Arm Road. There would also be 400 more parking bays.

The extra land allocation would allow for mixed-use development. Since this precinct is the link between the V&A and the CBD, it would be the first area where visitors and pedestrians could access and experience the harbour character of the area, the city's land use department said in its report to the committee.

Plans for the grain silo include a design museum, a gallery space, a public market and restaurants and shops. The ground floor would be opened to pedestrians to create a public space. A new hotel may be included in the redeveloped grain silo space.

There have been almost 30 objections, most from residents in the adjacent marina. These include that the additional buildings will mask the grain silo complex from view; heritage resources may be compromised; the heights of the buildings are "unrealistic"; there may be a significant noise impact; there has been a misrepresentation in presentations to the public of the exact nature of the development; and that not enough work has been done on testing the wind tunnel effect that new buildings would create.

Willem Buhrmann Associates, representing the Marina Residential Homeowners' Association, said in a letter to the city: "There are more questions than answers at this stage. My client is not against the reasonable development of the Clock Tower Precinct, but believes the proposals are in direct conflict with the original Waterfront development philosophy and concept as was carefully considered, described and approved in the earlier heritage and precinct plans."

Architect James Laidlaw said only "small sketches" and conflicting information about other issues, such as the impact on traffic, were made available, while heritage consultant Ashley Lillie said the recommendation to the city was "ill-considered and unimplementable".

In response, developer Neil Schwartz Town Planning said this precinct had an approved package of plans for development and the application was consistent with these. No new impact assessments were required and the heritage aspects had been addressed. "All information necessary to make a decision on the application is therefore with the council. Most comments received focus on aspects already approved or issues not relevant to the application.

David Green, chief executive of the Waterfront, said the V&A was an "ongoing success story" that provided work for about 16 500 people. This precinct plan was part of the "ongoing and sensitive" development of the Waterfront. The changes to the height and bulk of the precinct would have minimal, if any, adverse impact. "It will be a much better use of the land area."

Schwartz said the development concept would be finalised this year so it could be publicised during World Design Capital 2014. This was a "unique opportunity to preserve and enhance an iconic building in the central city". More than R4 billion is to be spent on developing the precinct over the next 10 years.

Cape Argus

 
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