GEORGE NEWS - Wilderness residents gathered on Friday 4 September outside the "Great Wall of Wilderness", a boundary wall around a private property that has caused considerable dismay among locals, to hand a petition to councillors Marlene Barnardt and Johan Stander.
"Over 800 signatories had voiced their concerns over the blatant contravention of fencing and zoning scheme regulations, Spatial Development Framework, Osca (Outeniqua Sensitive Coastal Area regulation), etc.," reported Chris Burlock of the Wilderness Ratepayers and Residents Association (WRRA).
"Often described as 'paradise' by residents, Wilderness is attracting new property owners from far and wide, but unfortunately, some of these newcomers have been conditioned by their previous existence of living behind fortress-like walls. This great wall in Wilderness Heights is one of the examples."
According to WRRA chairman Pierre Durant, George building regulations clearly state that no wall or fence may exceed 2,1 metres. "But this giant wall, for which no approval had been obtained, not only exceeds this maximum height but where it runs through indigenous forest reaches three metres. It is a blot on the Wilderness landscape," he said.
As a solution, one attendee suggested that Barnardt motivate for fines for such transgressions to be raised to R5-million. The municipality would then be highly motivated to apply themselves to acting on those who ignore the regulations, and even raise the funds for the required environmental officer that George has not had for 10 years.
The councillor promised to pursue this suggestion and the wall issue.
Said Durant, "The WRRA has recently produced a 'Welcome to Wilderness' folder for estate agents to hand out to clients buying in the area. The aim is to stimulate awareness of the regulations as well as the value of the natural riches of Wilderness, so this sort of insensitive development never happens again."
An ardent environmentalist of Wilderness Heights, Arne Witt, said, "One of the most valued aspects of Wilderness is the fact that you can still thrill at the sight of bushbuck tip-toeing across your garden or a family of porcupine in the moonlight.
Then a pristine smallholding is sold and the new buyer, without any thought for the wildlife or the numerous regulations that protect our critically biodiverse area, proceeds to fence or wall their property from edge to edge. Once they grow to understand the need for wildlife corridors and safe areas where animals can feed and breed, it is too late. Wildlife populations are becoming unviable and Wilderness is starting to look like Jo'burg by the sea".
Wilderness property owners who want more information on how to develop sensitively and with regard for the many regulations, can contact the Touw River Conservancy, Waleaf (Wilderness and Lakes Environmental Forum) or the WRRA.
George Herald reported on the matter in July this year when the municipality said it had become aware of the wall after being alerted by a neighbouring property owner in August last year.
A notice was immediately issued to the owner, demanding that he rectify the contravention. "Rectify" can mean to either remove or demolish the illegal structure or to submit application in an attempt to legalise the structure.
The municipality may not refuse a land owner the right to submit an application, the municipality said. It confirmed that the wall is also in breach of the Osca regulations, but said if required, further litigation in terms of the National Building Regulations and the Osca regulations can only start once a decision on the land use application has been taken.
Jan Vrolijk, the independent town planner who had lodged the application on behalf of the land owner, told George Herald that he was under the impression that the wall had been approved by the municipality and had been assured by the draftsman of the fact.
The applicant, Louis Botha, did not want to comment save to say that the plans have been submitted and he was waiting for feedback from the municipality.
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