Court throws out municipal approval for student housing

IN a damning judgment against Ndlambe Municipality, the Grahamstown High Court has overturned a contentious rezoning approval to convert a home into student accommodation in Grand Street, Port Alfred.

Judge AJ Mageza described the rezoning process as an “unlawful charade”. The true purpose of the rezoning was kept secret from neighbouring homeowner Karen Zimmerman, who feared the house was being converted into multi-unit accommodation to be occupied by noisy students from Stenden South Africa – the very reason why the owners of the house in question wanted to sell it.

Zimmerman objected then took the municipality to court after failing to have her appeal against the rezoning decision heard. The municipality claimed an “appeal authority” had rejected her appeal, but the court found most of the decisions made were delegated to one official, town planning manager Ntomboxolo Ngxwashula.

Mageza described flaws in a procedure vested in the hands of a single official as “more easily likely to lead to indications of maladministration, bias, crooked conduct and even collusive activity”.

Also named as respondents in the suit were the owner of the house to be converted into student accommodation, Erika Freeme; the developers who made an offer to purchase it, Michael and Clinton Millard who are contracted to Stenden to provide student accommodation; Stenden; and conveyancer Johannes Griesel. Only the municipality contested the case.

The property in question, 40 Grand Street, was already being leased by the Millards to provide accommodation to 12 students. The Millards made a conditional offer to Freeme to purchase the house last year.

When she became aware of construction at the site in January pending a challenged rezoning approval, Zimmerman first sought an interdict to stop building works. This was granted by the court in February and remained in place until the review application was concluded last week.

See the full story in this week’s Talk of the Town.