Foentjies Estate raises ire in Heathfield

LAUREN O’CONNOR-MAY

Heathfield residents are concerned that a large un-fenced deceased estate in Rochester Close is causing an increase in break-ins in the area.

The Foentjies Estate, which is about the size of a small farm, has been uncared for since the owner’s passing several years ago. His elderly widow and a former tenant still live on the property. Homeless people also frequently make their way onto the land and are evicted by Law Enforcement, residents say. The property has fallen into ruin with broken down fences, rundown buildings and overgrown bushes. All of this has created a criminal’s nest, residents say.

Ursula Schenker, of the Princess Seniors’ Social Club, said: “It used to be a beautiful place. They must have had parties there in the yesteryears.”

The expansive property’s two swimming pools are now dried up and derelict, she said.

Seniors in the area contacted Ms Schenker with their concerns and a letter was sent to the City for clarity. One of the concerned seniors is Charles Adams, 62, who has lived in Heathfield for 28 years. Mr Adams, who started Heathfield’s first neighbourhood watch in 1991, lives in Rochester Road, which is adjacent to Rochester Close.

He said the property is being used by criminals as a hide-out and get away.

“People run and hide there. The property is completely open. It is a headache for us. We are trying to keep our properties clean and secure but criminals are using that property to watch the other houses and monitor us.”

Gillian Arendse lives two doors down from the estate. Her yard is trespassed daily by pedestrians who use the Foentjies Estate as a thoroughfare.

“The property is exposed and people coming from Retreat, along the Diep River Canal, climb over my wall.”

Ms Arendse says pedestrians use the route as a short cut and her fenced property is blocking the way, so people jump over the fence.

“Every day people are just marching through here. Even in the middle of the night as well.”

The constant thoroughfare has resulted in theft as well.

“Anything metal is stolen. My husband runs an electrical company and his distribution boards were stolen. Our braai grill was stolen.”

The family have since acquired dogs and subscribed to a security company which has put a dent in the thefts but it hasn’t stopped people from crossing her yard.

“It’s an endless battle,” she said.

Mr Adams said all neighbours want is for the property to be fenced until construction begins.

Heathfield ward councillor, Kevin Southgate, said the land has been earmarked for development “for which the plans are at an advanced stage”.

He said the City has been keeping an eye on the property and have responded to the community regarding their concerns.

Howard Fischer, financial director of DNL Properties said the developer is eager to get started on the planned development – a secure complex called Brindley Estate, comprising 136 mixed units. However, they cannot start any work on the property, not even just erecting a fence, until transfer takes place.

“The developer is not yet in control of the site and does not enjoy beneficial occupation. There have been substantial delays to the start of the development due to legal complications.”

According to Mr Fischer the Master of the High Court could only approve the sale once the legal challenges were resolved.

“Approval was granted in October 2015. Sadly, we have to stand by and witness the deterioration of the site as we await the long legal processes to run their course. The trustees are unable to act because the funds in the estate have dried up, hence the sale of the properties.”

The complications, he said, were caused by tenants on the site.

“There are some tenants who have rented dwellings on the property for more than 30 years. They have refused to comply with a notice of termination of lease and to vacate the premises, issued more than three years ago, in May 2012, when the initial trustees resolved to sell the property. This was before the developer was even aware of the property,” Mr Fischer said.

The tenants are Johannes Britz, 72, and his wife. Mr Britz worked on the Foentjies Estate and in the attached scrap metal business in Retreat since he was 28 years old. In later years his children followed suit. Mr Britz said he had a verbal agreement with the late owner to remain on the property for life.

“I’ve been living here for 42 years. I have been working here and at the yard in Retreat. When my children grew up, some of them worked there too. I worked as security in the evening there.”

Mr Britz said he had initially been employed as a farm labourer because he was told that the estate was a farm. The section of the estate that he has been living on, which is about 2 000 square metres, he has maintained out of his own pocket, he says.

“Now the developer comes and wants to push me off the property. After so many years, what must I do? I’m not a young man anymore.”

According to Mr Fischer, Mr Britz’s claim has been settled out of court. “At this point, however, agreements have been reached and it seems that the longstanding delays have been overcome.”

But Mr Britz disagreed.

“It’s not quite settled yet. I’m waiting for the developer. I maintained the section that I’m living on out of my own pocket. If they want to remove me then they must give me likewise.”