HISTORICAL land deals in the Port Alfred small boat harbour have made this highly significant piece of land a complicated and explosive issue.
Not many residents may be aware of the chopping and changing of who controls what at the small boat harbour since it was built circa 1987.
It was a revelation to this writer this week to find out that one of the former owners of the Halyards Hotel, Stuart Boucher, through his company Halyards Properties, has primary control of harbour land through a 40-year sub-lease.
The land is still owned by the municipality, but was originally leased to Pamcor – which developed the small boat harbour for the town as one of the conditions of being able to build the marina – to manage the harbour.
Nineteen years ago, Pamcor entered into a sub-lease with Boucher’s company, and in effect handed over all rights, responsibilities and obligations for the harbour to him.
The land issue was further complicated when erf 5203 was excised from other land in the harbour and sold to Boucher by the municipality for R100 000 in 1996. No-one seems to have paid this land sale any attention until Boucher announced plans to develop it a few years ago.
In 2004, with Boucher’s blessing, Pamcor and other tenants in the small boat harbour formed the non-profit Small Boat Harbour Company (SBHC).
Boucher retained his role as principal, but allowed the SBHC to make decisions about the harbour. Each harbour tenant contributes to a fund to be able to maintain the jetties and harbour walls, and other income comes from mooring and jetty fees paid by boat owners.
However, it is a sore point for the SBHC that Tahoe Spur, and the restaurants that have occupied that space before it, has never paid rent to the SBHC, but rather to the former owners of the Halyards, which includes Boucher.
The SBHC insists it is not receiving badly needed income to be able to properly maintain the harbour. Seventy percent of river use fees collected by the harbour master goes directly to the municipality and they are left with the remainder to do the work they need to do.
It could be said that Boucher’s “absentee landlord” approach has come back to bite him.
When he announced plans to develop erf 5203, Pamcor objected on the grounds Boucher was going against the condition of sale that the land should be used solely to build accommodation to supplement the existing accommodation capacity of the Halyards Hotel.
However, that clause goes on to say: “or other such buildings that may be approved by consensus after consultation (between Boucher and the municipality)”.
Boucher could reasonably argue that his development plans are in line with the second part of the clause.
But Pamcor, joined by the SBHC and River Hotels, is contesting that in court, and they are going further, questioning the validity of his sub-lease for the remainder of the harbour area.
Whatever the outcome of this case, harbour users are right to question the use of SBHC funds to fight a legal battle, as they did at the SBHC AGM last year.
Whistle-blower Derek Victor has merely brought the issue into the stark light of day.
– Jon Houzet