Our Burning Planet

REZONING THREAT

Community pleads for preservation as Western Cape government eyes Oude Molen Eco Village

Community pleads for preservation as Western Cape government eyes Oude Molen Eco Village
The Western Cape government said the Oude Molen Eco Village property is currently a Utility Zone, a category which does not allow for any of the activities currently taking place in there. (Photo: Aghmad Gamieldien)

The Western Cape government’s initiation of investigations and assessments for development in the Oude Molen precinct in Observatory, Cape Town, has sparked concern.

Concern among community members in Observatory is that recent development plans by the Western Cape government could overwhelm the area and affect the community initiatives and businesses within the Oude Molen Eco Village, a vibrant and diverse village community that provides jobs, food security and youth development to local, neighbouring and outlying communities.

Situated in the Black River area of Cape Town, the Oude Molen Eco Village is bustling with unique biodiversity, an urban forest, horses, food gardening and programmes, composting activities, schools, nursing aid training and frail care homes. 

development

The Western Cape Government has begun investigations and assessments for various housing developments on a site known as ‘Oude Molen Precinct’ in Observatory, Cape Town. (Photo: Kristin Engel)

Amid chickens clucking about in the heart of the village, chairperson Dan Neser told Daily Maverick it was established almost 30 years ago. He said they had received a similar development notice and proposal in 2021, but that fell through during the pandemic.

The current investigations and assessments continue the initial 2021 proposal where the Western Cape Department of Infrastructure (DoI) described Oude Molen as a “strategic property [for] addressing spatial transformation due to these characteristics: proximity to the city and other economic opportunities, proximity and access to Pinelands rail station, and potential to be a key gateway for the Two Rivers Urban Park broader area.

“The precinct character currently has a rural feel which is largely due to the sparse building footprints.”

On its website, the DoI states: “The property is currently zoned ‘Utility Zoning’ in terms of the City of Cape Town Municipal Planning By-law 2015: Development Management Scheme, which will be changed through statutory applications as informed by the conceptual vision and key drivers for redevelopment planning which include that of a high-density, large-scale, sustainable, residentially led mixed-use with cultural heritage features based on a live-work-play philosophy and transit-oriented development principles and developed along eco-principles.”

The vision for redevelopment, according to the website, will embrace eco-principles whilst respecting the significant environmental and heritage elements and the role that this precinct plays within the larger area. 

However, Neser and other community members questioned how a “high-density” and “large-scale” development could be in line with the described “eco-principles”.

“Once that starts happening, it’s going to start looking like the River Club,” Neser said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Power, money and PR — the River Club development’s public costs and private benefits

The current eco-village is a low-density, mixed-use development comprising residential, commercial, institutional, hospitality and recreational facilities.

When the specialist investigations began in 2021, Neser and the community feared that the DoI sought to justify rezoning the area so that it could be sold to a private developer.

Neser said the property should remain a public asset with sustainable development that complemented the existing activities taking place and environment-forward initiatives.

“This is a unique property; one of its key aspects is that it allows access to the wetlands… All other places have been closed off – you can’t get to the green lung through the River Club because it’s a development. You can’t get to it through Observatory or Valkenberg Hospital. This is still public land.

oude molen development

The Western Cape Government has begun investigations and assessments for housing developments on the site known as Oude Molen Precinct in Observatory, Cape Town. (Photo: Aghmad Gamieldien)

“I don’t think we fit into their [the DoI] plan and we’d like to sway them to start thinking differently… Our concern is that this will be a different place, and we will not exist.

“We’ve got about 40 small businesses here and they range from making compost to small-scale, semi-industrial work, and in between there is a lot of gardening, horses and so on.

“We’re concerned that this is the only place like this in Cape Town, and if government stopped thinking that any development is good development, they would realise that a lot could be achieved – we could even have micro-farming. There’s [also] a lot [more] opportunities to deal with food insecurity,” Neser said.

Ntobeko Mbingeleli, spokesperson for Western Cape Infrastructure MEC Tertuis Simmers, told Daily Maverick there were no specific plans at the moment as the team of built environment specialists was still in the process of investigating possible development opportunities for the property. 

However, the assessments include various housing opportunities.

Voices from the village

One of the organisations operating in the eco-village is Mzanzi Organics, a social enterprise focusing on small-scale farming and the creation of pocket forests in and around Cape Town. 

Aghmad Gamieldien told Daily Maverick that soon after he rented a small plot in the allotment garden, he founded Mzanzi Organics in October 2020, responding to climate action and food sovereignty amid the global health pandemic. 

“In 2021, Mzanzi Organics, along with interns and volunteers, began assisting the Khoi First Nations people in their kraal with maintenance and food production… In 2022, we established the Khoi First Nations Forest, planting 600 native trees in a 200m2 area using the Miyawaki methodology. This forest serves as part of the global rewilding movement, attracting diverse wildlife.”

“The forest is not yet two years old, but numerous birds frequent the forest daily, mole snakes have been spotted, various insects and butterfly species, several Cape dwarf chameleons, and even tortoises. The Oude Molen Eco-village is crucial for us, providing a serene space for workshops promoting sustainability and urban farming. We cultivate basil, coriander and rocket, for our seasonal plant-based food range with low carbon emission,” Gamieldien said.

Gamieldien said they were deeply concerned about the lack of transparency of the Western Cape government and the potential impact of this development.

“Given past controversial developments at the River Club, we lack trust in developers. Development in the area could lead to congestion, pollution, and critical habitat loss for urban wildlife. The Oude Molen Eco Village is a vital green corridor and urban oasis, crucial for wildlife preservation,” he said.

crops

The Western Cape Government told Daily Maverick that there were no specific plans for Oude Molen as a team of built environment specialists were still investigating possible development opportunities, including housing opportunities. (Photo: Aghmad Gamieldien)

Gamieldien said their main concern was the risk of gentrification and selling off the land to foreign developers under the guise of affordable housing.

“Green corridors should be preserved, and the Western Cape government should prioritise protecting biodiversity in our urban areas… Development threatens existing wildlife habitats and breeding grounds for numerous bird species that migrate annually to the Black River to breed and feed. 

“Mzanzi Organics advocates for rewilding urban areas and having corridors for urban wildlife; any housing development would jeopardise this effort,” Gamieldien said.

The community said that the rural setting and atmosphere of the eco-village made it unique, and any alterations could affect its nature and heritage.

With numerous bird species and reptiles present, Gamieldien feared that this development could also disrupt their habitats and might limit spaces for horse riding and exercise.

Kendre Allies, owner and manager of Oude Molen Stables, said the stables had been in operation since 1996 with a total of 42 horses, most of which were rescues that had been rehabilitated and integrated into the riding school and were used to take locals and tourists on outrides.

“The eco-village allows for a natural, protected environment which is an urban oasis for both locals and regular international visitors who are seeking accessible, affordable and inviting natural green spaces for adults and children,” Allies said. 

On how future development would affect the stables, Allies said the security of the horses would be at risk, as many people did not understand how to interact with them in a kind and considerate manner.

oude molen rural

The Oude Molen Eco Village community believes its rural setting and atmosphere make it unique, and that these developments would affect its nature and heritage. (Photo: Kristin Engel)

He said the horses would also not have the space they needed to move around in a relaxed and natural environment, which was crucial to their wellbeing. 

“With development, we will no longer have the space required to take lessons and outings, which is the sole income of the stables. This then impacts many youth from neighbouring Garden Village who are employed at the stables. In addition, parents will no longer have this as a healthy, outdoor alternative to support their children’s wellbeing and development.

“We will also no longer be in a position to provide horses for equine-assisted therapy at both Valkenberg Hospital and Alexandra Hospital, as well as support government schools and Nicro (National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders) programmes,” he said.

Allies said the existing businesses had worked hard at preserving the character of Oude Molen Eco Village and have gone out of their way to provide critically important services including nursing aid training, frail care homes, two schools and gardening programmes.

Allies added that the village was among the few remaining natural, green spaces close to Cape Town’s CBD and should be protected and preserved, not exploited.

“Conradie Hospital has been allocated for affordable housing. This is just one of several state-owned areas of land, including unused military bases, which can be allocated to this need, without compromising the environment or traditional lands,” he said. 

diverse community

Concern among the community is that development will overwhelm the Oude Molen Eco Village, a vibrant and diverse community that provides jobs, food security and youth development to the local, neighbouring and outlying communities. (Photo: Kristin Engel)

Gamieldien said the Western Cape government should prioritise affordable housing in already identified areas in the City Bowl without privatising or rezoning vital green spaces such as the Oude Molen precinct. 

“Urgent action is needed to protect biodiversity in this decade and combat climate change’s effects,” Gamieldien said.

Another business operating in the eco-village is the Millstone Coffee Shop, an African-focused coffee shop situated next to the stables and run by Faiez Evans, with his son.

Speaking to Daily Maverick, Evans expressed concerns about the lack of clarity and inclusivity in the proposed redevelopment of the public open spaces.

He said he was not opposed to development, but that it should be well thought out for public benefit and use, and that the history and impact of the current operations should be considered. Regard should also be given to the people already there. 

In response to the concerns raised regarding selling the property to private developers, gentrification and comparisons to the controversial River Club development, the DoI said there were no specific plans at present as the team of built environment specialists were still in the process of investigating possible development opportunities for the property.

Redevelopment of the Oude Molen precinct

oude molen eco village

The DoI’s Mbingeleli said, “The assessment is for the development potential presented by the property, including considering the inputs received from the various key stakeholder engagement sessions, previous studies, spatial policies and legislative frameworks to develop proposals for consideration.”

Mbingeleli added that any development opportunities would be guided by the assessments to ensure the best possible development potential to serve the needs of the wider communities of the Western Cape

“The assessment for possible development opportunities is not complete. However, any proposals that are made will be in line with the spatial planning policies of the City of Cape Town, as the property in question is within the Cape Town metropolitan jurisdiction.

“The Table Bay Spatial District Plan identifies this property as part of the Two Rivers Urban Park Surrounds/Salt River/Observatory/Maitland Garden Village New Development Areas (9) to ‘support redevelopment of state-owned land at Oude Molen for mixed-use development including residential particularly around the Pinelands Station’.

“As such, the assessments include various housing opportunities,” Mbingeleli said.

oude molen enterprise

The Oude Molen Eco Village is home to several metal, wood and craft enterprises, social projects, food gardens, a public swimming pool and recreation facilities, a frail care centre, a horse-riding school, backpacker’s accommodation and artists, musicians and film industry services. (Photo: Kristin Engel)

As part of the assessment, Mbingeleli said the team would investigate all options which would include legislative and policy frameworks, constraints, and opportunities, as well as the inputs from all registered and affected parties. 

“Any possible adverse impact highlighted through the assessment stage will be addressed by applicable mitigation measures, according to Western Cape Infrastructure.

“The property is currently zoned Utility Zone, a zoning category which does not allow for any of the activities currently taking place in Oude Molen. The process currently under way is geared towards regularising this through the rezoning process.

“Furthermore, the community in Oude Molen comprises tenants with lease agreements who have been engaged and are aware of the process the DoI is engaged in. The current investigations and assessments being undertaken will consider the role of the site within the bigger contextual location and use the various informants to develop a balanced approach to any future development proposals,” Mbingeleli said. 

In 2021, the Department of Infrastructure (then the Department of Transport and Public Works) convened public engagement sessions in a focus group format where the public was presented with the status quo of the property and asked to make inputs on their history and connection with the property as well as their aspirations for the property as part of a visioning exercise.

“The assessment under way, and directives from mandated authorities in line with the policy and legislative frameworks they administer, will inform and guide proposals made for any future development of the property,” Mbingeleli said.

He said the public would have an opportunity to make inputs first to the draft Heritage Impact Assessment report once it was submitted and published for comment by Heritage Western Cape. The second opportunity for input would be once a land use management application had been submitted to and published by the City of Cape Town for public comment.

“The next key milestones include submission of the draft Heritage Impact Assessment report to Heritage Western Cape, which will be followed by the legislated public participation process in line with the National Heritage Resources Act 25 of 1999, and submission of the land use management application to the City of Cape Town, which will be followed by the related legislated public participation process.

“The studies currently being undertaken will consider all available studies and assessments done previously and highlight any existing site-specific sensitivities and propose suitable mitigation measures should they be necessary for implementation.

“This will be complemented by directives from mandated authorities where any of the National Heritage Resources Act or National Environmental Management Act listed activities may be triggered,” Mbingeleli said. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • ros72 says:

    This unique & utterly charming Oude Moulen CANNOT be re-developed. EVER. The people I meet, its present hustle n bustle of garden produce, houses, shops, eateries, horses, farm animals, chickens, vibrant earnest caring inhabitants are a genuine community of caring and sharing knowledge and uplifting of lives & land use. As well as the ONLY guest house of affordability, character, eclectic mix of characters, professional managers, like nowhere else in Cape Town. Please do not destroy Oude Moulen. Thank you, Ros

  • Rob vZ says:

    It would be very sad if government developed that land. It is a unique eco-village and example of how existing government land and buildings can be repurposed into small business and communal space with a strong ecological footprint.

  • William Dryden says:

    I totally agree with the comments from ros72 and Rob uz, the area should be left alone and not developed.
    It has a strong community base that is eco friendly, and should remain that way.

  • Ms B says:

    This “envisioned” scene is absolutely awful. Their “vision” is a nightmare.
    At the moment, the Oude Molen Eco Village as it is provides local people with a green space, community services, small local businesses – it has a huge positive impact for people’s mental health. People who live nearby with nowhere else similar to go to relax.
    Not everything needs to be filled in with concrete and “densely developed”.
    The “vision” looks scarily like the Amazon horror just across the river.
    Densification is all very well, but every city needs green spaces, and this is a vital one for the area.
    Remember CoCT and some property developers wanted to build a shopping mall on Princess Vlei? In 2014 the community won a huge victory in stopping it.
    We need to do the same here at Oude Molen Eco Village.
    They cannot be allowed to destroy this beautiful place.
    It would be absolutely devastating in so many ways, to so many people and animals, if they are allowed to continue

  • I lived in Oude Molen Eco Village for four months, from 2023 to 2024, and never felt “at home” in another city or area like Cape Town.

    The community within the eco-village is special.

    The plants, animals, horse stables, pool, small enterprises, tight bonds built, preservation of the land and stories, jobs offered, children who attend the schools, stories told, adventures, and slower pace of life are all assets to the community.

    I can’t wait to return later this year.

    Thank you for your time,

    Kim

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