At the start of this blog (Part 1), the controversy was over whether the tender for the ISDF should have been granted to Knysna Creative Heads Consortium as team member, Chris Mulder, could benefit from the course they steer Knysna in.
Is there a conflict of interest?
The compliance officer expressed concern that there may be a conflict of interest as envisaged by Section 16 of the tender document for the ISDF as Human Settlement Planning would be undertaken by CMAI.
My goal isn’t to provide you an answer but to provide you information that will generate debate and eventually help Knysna make a decision. Key to this will be the current projects and intended projects of Chris Mulder and Associates Incorporated (CMAI), the enormous scope of which the general public is unaware of:
George Rex Place
I’m a fan of New Urbanism, which is being promoted by the Knysna Municipality and Chris Mulder through his proposed George Rex Place development.
New Urbanism is an architectural concept which mixes residential and commercial so that shops are within walking distance of residents. It aims to decrease traffic whilst increasing relationships of residents through greater interaction. Financially, the consumer theoretically benefits from savings passed on by developers who make more profit (due to the higher density) and local government’s reduced infrastructure costs.
New Urbanism fits into the Western Cape Provincial Spatial Development Framework (WCPSDF) which seeks to better integrate South Africans (still sharply divided despite apartheid having ended 2 decades ago) and curb urban sprawl which can be rich, low density suburbs (e.g. Eastford) or poorer communities (e.g. Khayalethu) far from the centre of town. Current urban development is unsustainable so New Urbanism is a must however its implementation is up for debate.
“The property of 19,4ha is located on Hunters Estate and is situated between George Rex Drive [opposite Premier Hotel], Howard Street and Hunters Estate Drive. The proposal consists of a residential housing mix for a wide spectrum of buyers, with a commercial component that will address the daily needs of the residents and people from the area. The development will be surrounded by a system of open spaces consisting of wetland, water bodies and landscaped parks.”
It’s owners, Jazz Spirit, included Chris Mulder who bought it in 2005. Their intention was 209 apartments, 116 single residential units, 11 office units and 16 retail units. Chris Mulder has since said that he is no longer a partner but the designs are still up on CMAI’s website.
It’s an ecologically sensitive area with wetlands. It acts as a filter between several suburbs and the Knysna Estuary which has been in the news with regards pollution the past 2 years. Mulder negates it’s environmental value, stating that the Parkes brothers dumped sawdust and other wood waste which is as deep as 1m. This is true. And there’s value to the fact that the development will feature waterways which will ‘unplug’ the freshwater system and stop the flooding of the roads in Hunter’s Home during major storms (as we witnessed in 2012).
In 2006, in an IOL report, ecologist/limnoligist/estuary expert, Professor Brian Allanson, and the Knysna River Catchment Management Forum were against development, reasoning that “the developers are applying to develop 76 percent of the property, although the area was rezoned in 1994 on condition that only 20 percent of the property be developed and the rest be rehabilitated as wetland. Secondly, Knysna’s road, water, sewerage and electrical services are too stretched to support a new residential area. Thirdly, the development is seeking a three-storey business/residential component.”
A second reason Chris Mulder gave for development is the abundance of alien vegetation. Also true but he’s failed to add that, by law, the property owner is obliged to get rid of it i.e. it isn’t a reason to develop.
He also said that it would provide work which is a truism in the short term but, as we discovered after the boom, is unsustainable and can be negative in the long-term.
A goal of the WCPSDF are more integrated communities but it is yet to be determined how that will happen here.
Where controversy arises is that attempts to develop it have been done secretively.
In December 2005, The Argus reported that Chris Mulder was dumping tons of sand onto the wetlands. It seemed that he was going to force the development. But the Knysna Municipality stood up for him, bizarrely claiming that he’d been given a temporary permit yet none ever saw the sand removed and Bruce Botha, a local resident, claims that there are now trees growing atop the dumped sand. Mulder made attempts to mow the wetlands but, at that stage, SANParks was more conscientious in stopping that.
In February 2013, a resident of Hunter’s Home noticed movement in the tall reeds and stopped his car in Howard Street,and witnessed a large mower marching through the wetlands with no regard for wildlife. He also claimed to see Chris Mulder who came up to his car and allegedly threatened to “fuck him up”. Chris Mulder, in the comment section below, strongly denies this, saying that he has not being on the property in 3 years. Whoever the threatening person was, he was driving a white, Toyota Prada with licence plate CX 177777 (or numbering very similar – does anyone know this car?). [Ed: Please note that i did email Chris Mulder for comment on this whole blog on the day of posting, 3 days ago. He returned now which is appreciated. I’m hoping that he will participate beyond this point but apologies to him for it. The goal is always truth so correction welcomed and i’m hoping that the public steps forward with the driver of that car].
This author was also a resident of Hunter’s Home at that time and often walked beside the wetlands which made it easier to notice that the bordering reeds, 2m deep, were subterfuge, disguising that an expansive area was been cleared. I sent a query to both Andre Riley, head of SANParks and Lauren Waring, Municipal Manager, asking, “Who is responsible for the cutting of the wetlands opposite Premier Hotel?” and, “with regards the wetlands in Hunter’s Home, are you destroying them illegally them for ‘development’?” I included my own photos. Whether it be for those queries or for the one i sent shortly after asking for a list of municipal salaries, it is notable that i was removed from the Knysna Municipality’s mailing list thereafter. It has also meant months more of unchecked banishment of the wetlands.
In 2011, at the time of the Knysna-Plett Herald’s article What About Our Wetland?, SANParks had also not responded to them. And, as they did in 2005 with the soil dumping, the Knysna Municipality were non-committal to investigation with, “We requested the owner of the property to create fire breaks on the property and they did this to our satisfaction. The contractor on site last week was only contracted to maintain the fire break – not to do any mowing. No permit for mowing wetlands or clearing fire breaks was issued, as there was no need to do so – the fire breaks had already been cleared; they were being maintained. The compaction effect is absolutely minimal due to the nature and infrequent use of the machinery used.”
LOWER CENTRAL URBAN ENHANCEMENT STUDY
“This is a Municipal bid that CMAI Architects won, which involved the undertaking of an intensive study of Knysna’s town centre and the preparation of a document that can be used in conjunction with the existing zoning regulations. It also included a public participation process and a very successful open public workshop was held where comments were obtained & incorporated into the document. A transect map was prepared for the whole of lower central and a document was presented to Council in which proposals were made regarding densification, infill, change of use, street frontages and possible interventions in order to improve the town’s public domain.
A proposal was also drawn up to upgrade the former industrial node in the southeastern corner of the town centre and to change it into a mixed use area with both commercial and residential components.”
The latter section is likely referring to the area from Long Street (Thesen Island bridge) to the graveyard along the Costa Sarda Walkway beside the Knysna Estuary.
RHEENENDAL LOCAL AREA SPATIAL PLAN
Grant McAlpine (Chairman of the Rheenendal Farmwatch Association, stated it clearly:
“This issue has nothing to do with Farmwatch but I need to put my oar in together with my two cents worth as some confusion seems to have arisen. At the end of the day it will become a Farmwatch issue when there are possibly another 500 houses in the area and an additional 300 cars moving along Rheenendal Road every day…
The FIRST is the Rheenendal Local Structure Plan (LASP), This is dealing specifically with the Rheenendal area. It is being funded largely by P G Bison (though the municipality is making a small contribution) and P G Bison, as the funders appointed Chris Mulder and Associates Incorporated (CMAI) to do the Structure Plan. This was not subject to any Municipal Tender requirements as the amount given by the Municipality was less than the monetary threshold which requires the tender process to be followed.
[Wicked Mike note: A largely unreported but relevant issue is that PG Bison/Steinhoff have allegedly being forcing rural communities out of the forests they control since 2006. Knysna Municipality has done little to assist them, so little that one could assume intentionally so. I have seen the correspondence]
I have corresponded with a Municipal official on this issue, voicing my concerns that there is potential for conflict of interest. I do not wish to elaborate further on this here but I will discuss it further if you contact me directly. The Municipal official response was :
Part of the reason for the Local Structure Plan is to create a broader, more widely owned context in which proposals being prepared by CMAI for P B Bison’s property can be evaluated. Whether this is a complementary process or a conflict of interest depends largely on the way you see it and the way that it plays itself out. The function of the Steering Committee is to ensure that what is put on the table is as close as possible to representing the ideas and aspirations of all the communities in the area and not only P G Bison. Council will not approve or adopt the Structure Plan unless it is satisfied that the views and interests of the broader community have been taken into account.
Our local Councillor, Magda Williams, put my name forward to serve on the Steering Committee but for some of the other reason I was not invited.
The SECOND initiative an administratively distinct process, which is the Integrated Strategic Development Framework. Clearly it cannot be functionally distinct because the Rheenendal Local Area Structure Plan (LASP) will have to be a component of the Spatial development Framework that will be part of the ISDF, and to make this possible the SDF and the ISDF will obviously have to be responsive to what is being done in Rheenendal.
The award last week of the tender submitted by CMAI has caused much apprehension especially in the area of conflict of interest. Once again I do not wish to elaborate further here but I will discuss it if you contact me directly.
The award of this tender to CMAI sparked the advert placed by “concerned ratepayers” in the latest Action Ads which was attached to an e-mail from the Phantom-Homtini Conservancy to it’s members.
I am probably one of the worst when it comes to wanting to ignore things hoping they will go away. This is not going to go away and before your whole life and the face of Rheenendal and Knysna is changed irrevocably. I urge you to do something. GET INVOLVED.”
There is an obvious need for a better urban design framework for the CBD that restores the charm of ‘old’ Knysna. Although much money has been spent on studies, the fact is that they were wasted as they suffer from conflictions. One plan, as opposed to the previous 4, makes sense. This, to repeat, is called the Integrated Strategic Development Framework (ISDF). Where it gets confusing is that this will fall under the mandate of the Integrated Development Plan (IDP).
Chris Mulder should also be given his due. He is possibly the most qualified and talented person in his field in Knysna.
Note that his blog is about more than possible tender conflict. It’s about where the hell is Knysna heading to? With collapsed prices and so many houses for sale, so much of the industrial area empty and shrunken salaries (except for our politicians and municipal staff), do we need more middle class to upper class homes and businesses properties? Should we not be figuring out how to fill what we already have? Should the Knysna Municipality not be making an effort to understand the situation, count how many holiday homes we have and how many residential properties are for sale? Should they not be keeping us, who pay their exorbitant salaries (2 of them over R100 000p/m) informed?
You have only until the 7th of May 2013 (yes, Tuesday) to make your inquiries or to launch your objection. If the latter, it need only be a paragraph to count. You can email Municipal Manager, Lauren Waring, at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow-up everyday until you get acknowledgement thereof as Lauren’s nature, too often, is to not respond. Save your sent mail or make a copy.
Participate in Knysna. This is your home!
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