When Emmy Wolff and her husband moved to Beach Boulevard in Blouberg, there were a mere 14 houses on the patch of beachfront near their home.
For more than 40 years, the couple led a peaceful and idyllic existence, and even with the onset of development in which high-rise apartments lined Beach Boulevard, they enjoyed the sound and the smell of the ocean across the road and being able to walk along the sea on the promenade, leaving the noise and crowds behind them when they returned home.
But in mid-January, the “surfers’ house’’ next door was demolished and a deep hole excavated to make way for a four-storey block of flats that the couple and their neighbour claim is making their lives a living hell.
Tabletalk visited the area last week to find a deep sandy dust bowl less than a metre from the Wolff’s and the De Freitas’ properties on Beach Boulevard and Seal Road respectively.
Ms Wolff said erosion had collapsed developer Inocencia Oberholzer’s boundary wall, and chief building engineer Atholl Mitchell of Mitchell & Associates was not acting swiftly enough to deal with the threat of further erosion.
Ms Wolff said the development had originally been built within the prescribed
1.5 metres from their property but it seemed to be shifting closer as the sand bank had been blown away. She placed her hand under the concrete of her driveway to show the effects of the erosion.
In his latest email to the Wolffs, Mr Mitchell told the couple repair work and casting of the wall next to their property would be done in a month.
In the meantime, Ms Wolff said she’s scared to drive her car too far to the right of her driveway in case it could cave in.
Ms Wolff said the excavation had been done too close to their house without accounting for the effects of erosion.
“We feel they did nothing until we started stamping our feet, and we appealed to them repeatedly to please keep our property and our driveway safe. Each time we approached the owner and developer, Ms Oberholzer, she passed the buck to Mr Mitchell,” she said.
The couple also claim they have turned down repeated offers from Ms Oberholzer to buy their house.
Ms Wolff said the developers had never “introduced themselves” or apologised for any of the inconvenience they had caused.
“Everything is covered in sand. With the strong winds, it seeps through the roof tiles into the house and, when we do washing and hang it on the line, we need to shake it out. Our privacy is gone and every drawer is filled with dust. It feels like someone is taking a shovel and throwing sand right into our house,” she said.
When the boundary wall collapsed it had blocked their driveway but the builders had only come to clear it after they complained, she said.
Jose de Freitas, who lives next to the new development on the other side on Seal Road, is also frustrated.
He said he had been unable to hold an overseas phone conversation with businesses associates after 6pm on Thursday March 23 because the cement mixers had been making such a noise.
“It seems that the builders are allowed to do anything they want, and every time I ask the owner for answers, she says I need to address my concerns to the engineers (Mr Mitchell).
“She is a neighbour, and I have all the right to know what’s going on. There are stones coming through my roof, I can’t drink my morning coffee without dust particles falling in, and they mustn’t treat me like a piece of s**t. They are all giving us the runaround.”
When Tabletalk called Ms Oberholzer to get some answers, she also referred us to Mr Mitchell.
“Athol is the engineer and was at the meeting (where the neighbours were present)… best he gives you the information, as I was not at the meeting.”
Mr Mitchell said he had met with the neighbours to tell them “exactly what was going on”.
He said he had told the Wolffs their driveway would be fixed after the boundary wall had been repaired.
He stressed that he and the on-site team had “at all times” engaged with the neighbours whenever they had requested it. “The pre-cast wall between Ms Wolff and the development was structurally deficient prior to start of construction – the posts were badly corroded and were in danger of collapse which then occurred with the strong winds on Sunday February 12.
“The bank along Ms Wolff’s boundary has been protected and stabilised with G5 gravel and shutter boards. Ms Wolff asked for a formal meeting which was arranged for Thursday March 16, which she failed to attend.
At this meeting, Mr Wolff and Mr De Freitas were both informed of the process to be followed in the construction of the concrete walls and were told they would be kept informed.
“Both gentlemen were asked to contact myself if any concerns were to be addressed.”
Mr Mitchell said there was no danger of the driveways collapsing and the new boundary wall would be built once the backfill had been done, possibly within the next two months.
Shade cloth fences had been put up to limit windblown sand from the site because it would be “irresponsible” during the water crisis to wet the sand. A lot of sand, he said, wasn’t coming from the site, but from the dunes across the road, especially during a south-easter.
He said there might be times when concrete casting would extend beyond a “reasonable time”, but only in exceptional cases. Otherwise, noise on a construction site was unavoidable.
“Both Mr Wolff and Mr De Freitas were okay with this. I asked that they advise me if this escalates and is unacceptable so that measures … can be put in place.”
Tabletalk asked the City whether the owners are entitled to complain and what measures they could take if they were dissatified.
Brett Herron, Mayco member for transport and urban development, responded: “Yes, the site operations and dust control are regulated in terms of Part F of the National Building Regulations. A number of different remedial actions can be implemented.”
Asked if there is a by-law in this area that states percentage of the size of the development relating to size of the property (approx 1 000sqm) Mr Herron said there was and that the Development Management Scheme for the City prescribes the development parameters, for example the building lines and height of a property.
Mr Herron said there was no by-law as to how deep the developers are allowed to excavate, but where the subsoil is of such nature that it may cause foundation movement, a report from a professional and competent person is called for.
“In this particular case, the appointment of an engineer was called for prior to the approval of the building plan.
“The City can confirm that an engineer was appointed to oversee the excavations,” said Mr Herron.