A Hout Bay resident is concerned about the historic milkwood tree at the Red Sails building in Main Road, believing that its future is being jeopardised by commercial development.
However, both the tenant and the chairperson of the building’s board of trustees have vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
Joanita Lubbe, who purchased two units for her daughter in the Red Sails building, says the milkwood is now surrounded by synthetic grass and a play park, which includes a tree house. This, she claims, has been done without due process being followed by the Red Sails building’s board of trustees.
The tenant, Innes Smith of The Vine restaurant, has informed the Sentinel the tree house will be coming down. This was also confirmed by trustee chairperson, Dr Andy Effting.
Ms Lubbe laid a complaint with the Department of Forestry, Agriculture and Fisheries (DAFF) about the developments.
“The plans and conditions originally submitted and adhered to by the developers indicate the milkwood will be free-standing and there will be no interference with it,” she said.
The tree was a major feature of the Grill Under the Milkwood restaurant until it closed last year, and Ms Lubbe had already expressed concern about a pizza oven being located near the tree. A friend of hers, who is an ecologist, had warned of the dangers of the proximity of the oven.
With the play park having been established, she now also wonders who will foot the bill in the event of a child getting hurt.
Ms Lubbe said she had attempted to engage with Dr Effting, requesting that she be given the contact details of other unit owners to ascertain whether they were in favour or against the development around the tree.
She claimed she initially had been stonewalled, but earlier this week she met with Dr Effting to discuss the matter.
“In terms of the Sectional Title Act, any new development requires the input of all unit owners.”
Ms Lubbe hopes that with the milkwood being one of the last few prominent milkwoods left in Hout Bay, the play area can be returned to its natural state.
Dr Effting, who rents out Unit 1 in which The Vine restaurant is located, said the trustees knew the tree very well, and they had followed all procedures in ensuring its protection.
“The people from forestry are very happy with the changes we’ve made,” he said.
“We take great care of the tree, and in our opinion our tenant has brought the tree alive. People can sit and read while they have a coffee, while the kids play. The tree house is actually built in such a way that it protects the tree.
“The kids do not get to touch the tree because of the protection around it.”
Dr Effting said previously the area around the tree was a wasteland and used to be dangerous, but this was no longer the case thanks to the developments.
“The tree is not at risk. There are milkwoods across the road in the Checkers parking lot, and they are a mess. But we protect our milkwood. We are very sensitive to this tree.”
Mr Smith signed the lease on the property late last year.
“When we got here, the outside area was rundown and there was sand everywhere. Vagrants also used to use the area,” he said.
“So we set about transforming it, and we always informed the landlord about what we were doing. We put in stone terraces and made the area more secure. We cleaned the whole area and put up the tree house. However, we have decided that we are going to take the tree house down, because we feel it doesn’t really do anything for the business.”
He said even though there were disclaimers in the area that children played at their own risk, he did not want anyone getting hurt.
That said, he pointed out that the tree house stood on support structures and did not actually touch the tree.
He added that forestry officials trimmed the tree, and had been happy for the developments to go ahead.
Mr Smith said even the harshest critics had praise for what the business had done with the property, saying they had done an amazing job and uplifted the building.
“I don’t quite understand. Something changed when we put up the awning earlier this year. We did this because of winter. But I’ve always said to my landlord that he must let us know what we need to do if other tenants think things are detracting from the building.”
Although DAFF spokesperson, Merle van Diemel, told the Sentinel the regulations around milkwood trees fell under the Department of Environmental Affairs,
Ms Lubbe did receive a response from DAFF’s Thando Ndudula.
“The information you provided is highly appreciated. An investigation with the aim of getting to the bottom of the matter will be undertaken in due course and you
will be informed when date and time has been scheduled,” the response said.