At least 28 found to be operating illegally in Richmond Hill
Scores of businesses in Port Elizabeth’s popular Richmond Hill area are operating illegally. The Richmond Hill Special Rating Area group has listed at least 28 businesses which have, mostly, been operating without rezoning permits from the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality.
The list, circulated to residents last month, includes popular spots like Vovo Telo bakery and cafe, and other businesses such as Hub on the Hill Boutique and advertising agency Cracker Jack.
Matt Repton, who is on the list and rents out his property in Raleigh Street to Vovo Telo, said he had eventually obtained approval from the municipality after a frustrating, drawn-out application process for rezoning.
He said it often took up to two years to get a business rezoning application processed.
“How do you start a business like that?” Repton said.
“When you start a business, you want to do it now and get it [the application] done in months, but it takes years to even get an answer. It is just difficult.”
The matter has again highlighted the municipality’s struggle to speed up the process – the slowness of which has led to some frustrated applicants giving up on their business dream and walking away.
At the centre of the problem is a shortage of town planners in the land planning department.
Human settlements department political head Nqaba Bhanga said the metro had only four town planners instead of the 15 it should have.
“The report I got was that it was not professional town planners receiving the applications, it was a clerk,” Bhanga said on Friday.
Hub on the Hill owner Johan Geber said he had received a compliance notice about six months ago from the municipality and then started the rezoning process.
“My rezoning application was publicised recently. We received no objections.”
He then paid a consultant R16 000 to do the rezoning application, with about R6 000 going to the municipality.
“I expect [the erf] to be rezoned within the next month,” he said.
The owners of some of the properties on the list claimed they did not know they had to apply for rezoning.
Chevone Bishop, who rents out her property in Raleigh Street to Bella Rose Boutique, said it had never crossed her mind to apply.
“When I bought the property there was already a business in it and I was told that the entire block was earmarked for business zoning and that businesses operating there would be zoned by the municipality,” she said.
“What makes Richmond Hill so attractive is all the gorgeous and cute spots and shops.
“Quality people spend money at all these businesses.
“What is the council trying to do, close down the businesses and then we lose our tenants?”
Bishop said she did not have the fees for the application.
Richmond Hill SRA chairman Kevin Slattery said they had circulated the list to residents to try to force the city council to act.
He said the SRA hoped the process would help to remove spaza shops which kept popping up in the area and were soft targets for crime.
Six spaza shops were listed as illegal businesses.
“Our biggest challenge has been the illegal use of properties because of zoning [issues], leading to the degeneration of the suburb. We have been engaging the MBDA [Mandela Bay Development Agency] for the past 18 months,” Slattery said.
“The frustrating thing is that a precedent has been set and high-profile businesses go ahead and conduct businesses without the proper zoning in place.”
Cracker Jack executive Kevin Grey said he understood why the municipality had to act against businesses that had not been rezoned.
“You cannot have restaurants opening up everywhere,” he said.
“You have oven smoke blowing in the direction of the person living next door, and you get the food and leftovers being dumped outside, encouraging cockroaches and vermin. “I understand the need for this.” Grey said he was aware that the property he worked from did not have approval to operate as a business when he signed his lease two years ago and was hopeful after his landlord said he would start the process.
Human settlements head Nolwandle Gqiba acknowledged that the city took too long to process zoning applications, but said this had been improved in the past six months.
She said the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act required all zoning applications to be processed within 12 months.
“I was not happy about the [previous] timeframe because it took them 16 months, that is almost two years,” Gqiba said.
She said the municipality was in the process of appointing more town planners, a senior director of land and planning and town planning interns.