Rezoning dispute flares up

JON HOUZET

THE DA councillor for Ward 10, Ross Purdon, has been slammed for allegedly acting in self-interest in approving a rezoning application for accommodation for Stenden students.

Purdon has a three-year contract with Stenden to provide student accommodation and owns a house in Prince’s Avenue which accommodates 20 students. He is also believed to have bought a second property in Muller Drive to rent to Stenden.

A fortnight ago, he and his ward committee recommended for approval an application for rezoning and departure by other contracted accommodation providers, despite strong objections from neighbours.

Stenden itself has come under fire for the “haphazard manner” in which it has secured accommodation for its students, relying on private property owners to turn houses in quiet residential areas into student digs, some containing up to 45 students.

TotT has heard that Stenden pays private accommodation providers a minimum of R1 100 a month per student, but Stenden academic dean and general manager Wouter Hensens would not confirm this.

He did however reveal that Stenden charges students an annual fee of R18 500 for sharing a room and R25 000 for a single room, and adds its own margin to the rent it pays its contracted accommodation providers.

Grand Street resident Erika Freeme was one of the most vociferous objectors to the house next door to her being turned into student accommodation in 2010, prior to Purdon being elected ward councillor.

She said building operations had started at 38 Grand Street on December 17 that year and was horrified to discover an application had been made to house 85 students there.

No consultation had been made with neighbours and the building plans were rushed through during the Christmas period.

She accused the Ward 7 committee (the forerunner of the Ward 10 committee) of being “unbelievably one-sided” in recommending that the application be approved. It was ratified by council.

Freeme pointed out that the Ward 7 councillor at the time, Louise Swanepoel, was also on the Stenden board of directors, though it is an unsalaried position.

She sought an interdict in the High Court, and the settlement was that the property could house a maximum of 45 students, though she still felt it was still too many.

Property developers Mike and Clinton Millard acquired a second property in Grand Street last year and again applied for general residential zoning to rent the house as student accommodation for 12 students.

Freeme and other neighbours again objected in several letters to the Ward 10 committee, between September and November last year. Among their objections were concerns over parking, sewerage, noisy parties and building lines contraventions.

At the time Freeme expressed concerns that Purdon was also renting accommodation to students and “will therefore not necessarily be objective”.

Last week TotT reported that the committee recommended the Millards’ application be approved. Several letters of objection were included in the Ward 10 agenda, but were not discussed in the meeting.

Ndlambe town planner Mluleki Matiwane stated: “The benefits that are derived from the existence of Stenden University in Port Alfred far outweigh the concerns raised by the objectors”, and Purdon said Stenden “will always get my support”.

Ndlambe Action Group chairman Derek Victor, who resigned from the ward committee last year, said he was “extremely concerned” at the turn of events.

In a letter to Purdon and copied to mayor Sipho Tandani, municipal manager Rolly Dumezweni and TotT, he wrote: “It is disgraceful that people should present objections, reasoned by legal personae at a cost, and they are brushed aside.”

He said Purdon should have recused himself when the item came up as he had a similar pecuniary interest by renting accommodation to Stenden students in Prince’s Avenue, and had purchased another property in Muller Drive for the same purpose.

“It leaves the question: has a very dangerous precedent been set? It is appalling that well-reasoned argument was not, I am told, even heard in your ward meeting. Does this further mean that ‘anything goes’ if seen to be for the good of Stenden and by extension for yourself as a service provider?”

TotT followed up and asked Purdon how much money he was making from renting to Stenden students and whether he could fairly consider applications for ventures similar to his own when they came through Ward 10.

In response, Purdon said: “As far as I am concerned an impartial decision was taken by the Ward 10 committee. This itemhas been submitted to the executive committee for decision and is therefore sub judice.

“I am not prepared to enter into any correspondence regarding my private affairs.”

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