Small blocks of backyard flats get civics’ nod

The City is exploring a proposal to let homeowners build and rent out up to eight flatlets in their backyards.

Far south civic organisations are in favour of the City’s plan to let homeowners in Ocean View and Masiphumelele build and rent out up to eight flatlets, some multi-storeys, in their backyards provided that it does not “cram more people into already overcrowded areas”.

The plan is intended to reduce the need for housing, and according to a report by Sub-council-19, it has already done a lot to deal with the housing backlog in poorer neighbourhoods such as Khayelitsha at no cost to the City.

The City is checking with sub-council across Cape Town to determine which neighbourhoods would be suitable for what it refers to as “small scale rental units“.

Sub-council 19 has identified Ocean View and Masiphumelele as suitable areas.

Deputy mayor and mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment Eddie Andrews said the process was still in its infancy and the units’ floor size would depend on the size and location of the plot.

The proposal for the flatlets amounted to a new land-use category that was not contained in the current Development Management Scheme, he said.

Based on City surveys, he said, the maximum number of flatlets varied from six to eight and would be second or third dwellings that people could build in their backyards to rent out.

The public would have a chance to comment once the sub-council reports had been finalised, he said.

While the City’s Municipal Planning Amendment By-law currently allows an additional structure or the alteration to a structure on properties zoned as single residential 1 (SR1) as an additional-use right, Mr Andrews said there was a difference between it and the proposed overlay zone for the backyard flatlets.

“The overlay-zoning and additional-use-right concepts in the City’s Development Management Scheme are zoning tools available to the City to achieve a specific outcome. The purpose of an overlay zone is to vary the development rules or use rights applicable to the base zone of a property by either stipulating more restrictive or more permissive provisions. It is typically applied to implement council-approved policies,” he said.

According to the Sub-council 19 report, backyard flats are “mushrooming” across Cape Town in areas previously developed with public housing funds. Few of them have planning permission and even fewer meet national building regulations so it is vital for the City to respond to the needs of this emerging sector.

The report lists guidelines to ensure the flatlets do not have a disruptive impact on neighbours and the wider neighbourhood, saying they must integrate with the residential area, respect the development scale of the area, complement the existing massing in the area with no overlooking features intruding on neighbours’ privacy, and not restrict the development of similar units on adjoining properties.

“Small scale rental units will be designed to comply with the existing development parameters applicable to SR1 and single residential 2 (SR2) in terms of the Municipal Planning By-law and the maximum number of units permitted will not exceed eight units,” the report says.

Sunnydale Ratepayers’ Association (SRA) chairman Chris Dooner said the association supported the concept in principle, as it did with any initiative that was meant to improve the quality of life and safety of residents.

In this case, he said, informal backyard dwellings should be replaced with formal safe structures providing safe and legal water, electricity and sanitation services and they should not be seen as a means to cram more people into already overcrowded areas.

He said education, health, social safety, and security services were already overloaded in areas identified by the City and therefore, attention should be given to the provision of related additional infrastructure and services.

The association did not believe there would be any “meaningful” traffic impact as the concept should be replacing existing informal structures rather than attracting more residents, he said.

However, he said that multi-storey structures did imply more people on a footprint, although Masiphumelele already had a fair number of double-storey informal dwellings.

“The SRA commends the City on any initiative that has as an aim a reduction in bureaucracy – red tape – and time-wasting procedures,” he said.

The Fish Hoek Valley Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association (FHVRRA) chairman Brian Youngblood said the association was also in favour of the concept. He said creating an overlay had been possible for a long time and other Cape Town suburbs had done so already under specific guidelines.

Should Fish Hoek ever be identified as an overlay area, he would like to propose that all building plans, prior to submission to the City, be submitted to the FHVRRA or its successor, for comments before the City accepted the plans for consideration, he said.

An example of a double-storey block of flatlets in a Khayelitsha homeowner’s backyard