Neighbours fight over room with no view

Louise and Allison Burher have been in a legal dispute with their neighbour who decided to build a second storey.

A bitter and costly battle has been raging between neighbours over extensions that will block their scenic views of Blaauwberg beachfront and slash property values.

When the Mill Row complex was built about 30 years ago, its seafront position with a full view of Table Mountain was what attracted Allison and Louis Burger to buy one of its 17 free-standing houses: the back row consisting of nine double storeys and the front row of seven single-storey houses.

About three years ago, two of the newest homeowners in the front row had plans approved by council to build up, one of them, Gavin Brown, went ahead and started doing just that.

Ms Burger, whose husband was one of the original buyers 30 years ago, said the complex was designed so that all could enjoy the priceless view as well as privacy, but now all of that would be lost by the extensions.

“This will block the view, sunlight and remove the privacy of the back-row residents.”

In 2014, Ms Burger had a valuation done on her home.

At the time, it was valued at R6 million, but the valuator noted that the value would drop to R4.8 million once a second-storey had been added to Mr Brown’s home.

Ms Burger said they had had no idea about Mr Brown’s plans to extend his property until she saw he had removed his roof.

“In all the years we have been living here, if any of the residents wanted to make any changes, even minor, permission was first requested from council. Council would either immediately decline or tentatively approve based on consultation and buy-in from neighbours. I find it inconsistent that some minor alterations may have been declined, while permission for a major structural and architectural change was granted without any consultation with neighbours.”

Several Mill Row residents, in the back and front row, came together and obtained a court interdict and managed to stop the building plans from going ahead.

They battled council in court over its decision to approve the plans, but they lost the case in the high court. Last year, they appealed the case but lost again.

“It may be legally correct but is it right?” said Ms Burger. “When the homeowners within your complex fight all the way to the high court and the majority show their opposition, I personally feel it is incredibly selfish and inconsiderate to continue regardless.”

Ms Burger would not divulge how much had been spent on legal fees, saying only that it was an “enormous” amount and that “everyone felt strongly enough about this to justify the cost”.

Desmond Winterbach, one of the three developers of Mill Row, said the complex had been designed for everyone to enjoy the view. He said construction of a second storey in the front row “destroys the architectural integrity of the entire scheme” and, most importantly, robs the properties in the back row of their “unobstructed views across Table Bay”.

“We find it inconceivable that the local council could consider the destruction of the architectural integrity of this unique beachfront development by allowing double-storey dwellings on the front erven to the prejudice of owners to the rear of the development,” said Mr Winterbach.

He further criticised council for their “lack of proper consideration” in their decision making and said they were going against their own rules. National building regulations prohibited an addition to a building if it “derogates from the value of adjoining or neighbouring properties”, he said.

“Had they done proper investigation, they would have seen by approving the extensions they are going against their rules,” he said.

He encouraged the Mill Row’s residents to start a homeowners’ association so that in future its constitution could regulate additional building. In a statement, Mill Row’s architect, Reg Whittaker, said the “addition of an extra storey to one of the frontal compartments would not only have a catastrophic impact upon the whole architectural integrity, but would devastate without question the value of every single double-storey component behind”.

When Tabletalk called Mr Brown, he referred us to his attorneys for comment. We emailed questions to the attorneys last Thursday, and a secretary at the firm confirmed receipt, but they did not respond by the time this edition went to print.

Tabletalk also sent questions to the City of Cape Town last Thursday, but it also failed to respond before deadline.