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Inherited problems of heritage resources

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Developers put off by costs, risk and ‘fuzzy’ legislation

Increased risk associated with properties with heritage resources or properties near them, and higher costs to access development rights on them, are also constant challenges which sometimes need to be resolved through the courts.

Despite this, some developers believe the conflict can be overcome if they make themselves aware of legislation and the processes involved, and if heritage authorities provide better information and guidance, says developer Casey Augoustides.

“The Cape Town CBD is a Heritage Protection Overlay Zone, which means any potential property development must be considered in terms of its impact on heritage resources on that property and surrounding properties. The main source of conflict and frustration is likely due to property developers not being properly informed about the associated legislation, and by its ‘fuzzy’ nature.”

Although there are guidelines for decision-making, heritage is “largely interpretive and subjective”, and decisions are arrived at through iterative processes of consultation with various bodies, Augoustides says.

Rob Kane, chief executive of the Boxwood Property Fund and chairman of the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID), says the three processes that need to be complied with – environmental, land use and heritage – overlap, and this “causes problems”.

“This can be scary for a developer as there is little or no certainty and this translates into risk. The most dilapidated buildings in town are the heritage ones – because developers are wary of heritage restrictions. If heritage authorities allowed some sensitive development, these old buildings could be restored beautifully.”

In an article published on its website this year, Maurice Phillips Wisenberg attorneys states although the heritage authorities are required to strike a balance between conservation and development, some clients “have been on the receiving end of (a) decision, which could have significantly impacted on their rights to alter or develop their properties, and which would have rendered the entire development unfeasible”.

Both provincial and city heritage authorities did not respond to media requests for comment.

The City of Cape Town manages heritage areas, sites on the Heritage Register and memorials, says Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for Transport and Urban Development. It also takes heritage decisions on developments in the Heritage Protection Overlay Zone under the Municipal Planning By-law.

“This does create a measure of duplication of process that could be streamlined if the city could take all heritage decisions relating to Grade III heritage resources.”

Herron says the city encourages the “sensitive and appropriate” redevelopment of heritage resources, and points out that historical buildings require routine and more careful maintenance.

“Some of the best maintained and most innovatively adapted buildings are heritage buildings, such as the Grain Silo in the V&A Waterfront.”

Augoustides believes with a “good dose of patience and the right team”, heritage preservation and property development can coexist. This is evident by the Melck Warehouse project, considered by many to be a benchmark project.

“The existing buildings on the site are going to be restored/reconstructed to best reflect historic photos.  All authentic historic fabric is going to be retained, restored and showcased for the public to enjoy – nothing will be lost or destroyed.”

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