Cape Town project ‘poses threat to heritage’ (Cape Argus)
(More information can be found in ‘Latest Newsletters’ – Drakenstein Bulletin May 2011)
Published on March 4, 2011 in Property News
An urgent meeting was to be held today in a last-ditch attempt to stop the development, designed by restoration architect Gawie Fagan, one of South Africa’s most decorated urban conservation experts.
The development has been approved by the province’s statutory heritage authority, Heritage Western Cape (HWC), on the strength of a positive heritage impact assessment by Dr Steve Townsend, who is a former head of the city’s urban conservation unit and a former chief executive of HWC and now an independent heritage consultant.
It has also been given the green light by the Cape Town Partnership and the Cape Institute for Architecture, and no neighbours have objected.
An architect’s drawing of the proposed development as seen from Waterkant Street, looking south. The new four-storey office block, standing on 8 concrete columns, is on the left.
But the proposal has been described by acclaimed art, architecture and heritage consultant Dr Hans Fransen as “threatening to be the worst disaster to befall Cape Town’s architectural heritage for many decades”.
He has called an urgent public meeting at the equally historic Old Town House on Greenmarket Square today to discuss possible protest strategies, including an “across-theboard petition”.
“This may be our last chance,” Fransen said in his invitation.
The proposed development would involve renovating an 18th-century, two-storey historical warehouse; replacing its roof with a concrete slab that would become a parking deck; and constructing a four-storey, glass-and-aluminium office block above the north-east portion of the building, at the corner of Bree and Waterkant streets.
The office block would sit atop eight huge concrete columns – in effect making it a seven-storey development – with three of these columns penetrating the structure of the historical warehouse.
Because the complete block – bounded by Bree Street, Strand Street, Waterkant Street and Buitengragt – is a proclaimed urban conservation area in terms of the city’s zoning scheme, the application must still be approved by the city’s spatial planning, environment and land use management committee.
However, the city’s report to this committee ticks “no” in the box for the question under the heading “Environmental implications – loss of or negative impact on the city’s heritage, cultural and scenic resources”.
The immediately adjoining properties are described as “unique” in the city: the Lutheran Church, the Parsonage (Martin Melck House, now the Gold Museum), and the Sexton’s House.
All are provincial heritage sites. The city’s report states: “These three buildings, together with the facade of the warehouse, form an unusually fine townscape (and) ‘constitute one of the most important historical groups of monumental architecture in the city’.
“The new four-storey office block is carefully positioned to avoid it having an adverse visual impact on (these) most significant adjacent historical buildings.”
Those opposed to the development are angry that a public meeting has not been held to discuss it. Nor was it advertised in the media or in the official gazettes as part of the public participation process, according to the city’s report on the plan.
Also ignored were the “special interest” groups, the VOC Foundation and the Vernacular Architecture Society of South Africa, the report notes.
It records the heritage impact assessment as stating that the proposed development is “sensitive to its historical context”, and has been designed to have “minimal impact” on the heritage resources in the block.
But Marie-Lou Roux, spokeswoman for non-government conservation groups the Cape Environmental Trust and the Habitat Council, said the development would “severely affect” the 18th-century Strand Street Lutheran Church complex.
The cultural significance of the proposed development site was “uncontestable”, yet there had been no public consultation or opportunity for public participation.
“We urge the people of Cape Town to speak up for the responsible safeguarding of this gracious and highly significant remnant of our architectural heritage,” she said.
“A very real concern is that if this high-rise development is given the go-ahead, it will be followed immediately with development plans for an eightstorey development on the remainder of the Waterkant Street erven of this block – applications which the city would then find impossible to turn down.”
The city’s report says the heritage resources branch supports the proposal, but that the urban design branch expressed concern about “the visual prominence of the shape of the new building”.