Residents comment on by-laws

Bouwe and Liete van Der Eems from the Milnerton Central Residents Association.

The public will have even less muscle to fight cellphone towers if the City goes ahead with proposed changes to its planning by-law, which it outlined for the public in Parow at the weekend.

That’s the word from Derek Main, of the National Alliance Against Cell Masts (NAAC).

He says the proposed amendments to relax the rules for the cell industry must be opposed until there is more clarity on possible health risks.

One civic leader at the information session, Milnerton Central Residents’ Association vice-chairman Bouwe van der Eems, called the public participation process surrounding the proposed amendments a “sham” and said it was “rigged” to comply with basic legal requirements so the new by-law could be “rubber stamped”.

The session at the Parow sub-council offices was the last of several held across the City during the month the public had to comment on proposed changes to the Municipal Planning By-law.

Mayco member for spatial planning and environment Marian Nieuwoudt said property owners should heed the proposed amendments – which were submitted to Cape Town’s 24 sub-councils on March 1 – as they could impact property rights, future developments and land uses.

Other notable amendments make it easier for the City to offer emergency housing on land not zoned for it; homeowners to build third dwellings without needing prior permission from the City, and short-term letting from flats. There’s also a proposal to change the way the City calculates the height of a property.

Clive Owen, chairman of the Bothasig Residents’ Association, said they opposed the raising of heights, such as double storeys that intruded on neighbours’ privacy.

“Whilst we are not opposed to double storeys being constructed, as there is a need to densify, owing to the scarcity of viable land, it is nevertheless vitally important that City officials do not approve plans where windows and balconies encroach on the privacy of neighbouring properties. City officials must always take cognisance that the right to privacy is enshrined in the constitution of South Africa, which overrides all subservient legislation,” said Mr Owen.

Residents also fear that under the amended by-law, they will only get to hear about plans to build a cell tower at a school, church or clinic after it has already been built and by then it will be too late to do anything about it.

The amended by-law will allow properties zoned “community use”, such as churches, schools, clinics and hospitals; “utilities”; “transport 1” and “transport 2”; “public open space”, as well as “agriculture” to install minor free-standing cell masts (of less than 12m in height) or minor rooftop masts (of less than 1.5m in height) as of right, that is without prior land-use approval from the City or adjacent land owners.

“Furthermore, a minor rooftop cell mast of less than 1.5m in height is allowed as a consent use for properties zoned as “single residential 1” and “single residential 2” as well as for properties zoned as “general residential 1 to 6”.

This means the owner of the property must still apply to the City for permission to install this structure.

Mandy Da Matta, chairwoman of the Table View Ratepayers’ Association, questioned how the City was going to police all the new by-laws with “an extremely limited metro police force”.

“The new amendments fail to mention what sanctions would be applicable if one fails to adhere to by-laws. Of great concern is the third dwelling unit on single residential erven leading to increased densification.”

She also accused the City of “venturing into land appropriation” with its proposal to allow for the building of temporary emergency housing on land that wasn’t necessarily zoned for it, without prior public participation.

Karen Davis, chairwoman of the Greater Table View Action Forum (GTAF), said more research into the effects of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) was needed before the City made it easier for cell masts to be built.

“Unfortunately there are many people who have a sensitivity to the EMFs at 3G level, so the thought of 4G and 5G is extremely worrying,” said Ms Davis.

The City’s Wilfred Solomon-Johannes said the amendments were intended to cut red tape.

“Residents can apply online, a building control officer will be allocated to the case as well as a case officer to oversee the application.

“We can’t stop technology. We need to be aligned with the advent of 5G,” he said.

Peter Bates, from the Edgemead Residents’ Association, said he did not support permitting “minor free-standing and minor rooftop bases telecommunication stations in certain zonings”.

“These amendments would mean that any school, clinic, park, hospital, parking garage, shop, office and warehouse or restaurant, among other venues, would be open to erect these structures without any input from their community within which they are located.

Mr Van der Eems said residents’ voices were being ignored.

“The whole process is rigged. The big issue is our area is densification,” he said.

“I believe these public-participation processes are a sham. This is just a check-box exercise to comply with the most basic legal requirements so the proposal can be rubber-stamped.

“For the record, I oppose the proposed changes to allow the inclusion of telecommunications infrastructure in certain zonings,” he said.

Ms Nieuwoudt said the proposed amendments would likely go before council in May or June.