Construction has halted at the corner of African and Somerset Streets. The house, known to locals as “Mordor”, was demolished in March. John Sierra, a partner in the development of the property, obtained permission because the property was zoned as “General Residential”.
Construction has halted at the corner of African and Somerset Streets. The house, known to locals as “Mordor”, was demolished in March. John Sierra, a partner in the development of the property, obtained permission because the property was zoned as “General Residential”. However it has since been discovered that the property also lies within a conservation area. In this case, the matter should have been referred to the Makana Municipality Aesthetics Committee, which would receive permission to demolish from the Eastern Cape Provincial Heritage Resources Authority (ECPHRA).
Chairperson of the ECPHRA, Monde Mkunqwana says that his organisation has not taken legal action yet but expects the law to take its course. According to the National Heritage Resources Act of 1999, the developers require a demolition permit, which in this case was withdrawn.
"They shouldn’t build on that property as it is against the law," Mkunqwana affirmed.
According to Mkunqwana, if the case goes to court, the magistrate could fine the developers up to R300 000 or even order Sierra to rebuild the previous house according to its former architectural design.
The Historical Society, an interest group in Grahamstown were not able to take action in time to prevent the demolition of ‘Mordor’. Historical Society chair, Rev Eric Kelly lodged an objection to the demolition at the Grahamstown Police Station just days before the demolition took place. He was informed that the police would look into the matter. However, before any necessary procedures could take place, the ‘Mordor’ was torn down.
“We drove past the house on the Saturday morning around 8.30, but by the next day it was gone,” Kelly said “Perhaps we should have done something sooner.”
According to Thendo Masia of the town planning section of the City Engineers Department, “zoning is the legal basis for use of land” and ‘Mordor’ is classified as part of the General Residential zone. This means that builders are allowed to make any changes to the house, including turning it into a block of flats. However, Masia says the property also lies within a conservation area.
Many residents were disappointed by the demolition of the Victorian house.
“We wanted to preserve the pleasant historic street façade but now the streetscape will be spoiled,” said Kelly.
According to developers’ plans, proposed development aimed to "understand the historic value of the area and capture the charm and character of Grahamstown”.
While the new building will not include any Victorian-style features, Grahamstonians may be consoled that the developers wish to “create a 24 unit block of flats well suited to modern living but in keeping with the broad concept of a colonial style of architecture”.
From a practical point of view Masia encourages developments such as the proposed flats in Grahamstown. “The more people we have living closer to the inner city, the better, as there would be no need to stretch the infrastructure,” he says.