Eco-tourism asset may be lost to Bay over rates pressure

Guy Rogers ENVIRONMENT &0x0026; TOURISM EDITOR
Source: http://www.theherald.co.za/herald/news/n13_20032008.htm

RISING costs and development pressures have forced the owners of Port Elizabeth‘s Kragga Kamma Game Park to consider transforming the property into an eco-estate open to residents only.

Opened 10 years ago, the park presently attracts about 50000 visitors annually, including regular school groups.

Founder Garnet Cantor, who owns the 200ha park with other family members, said yesterday the rezoning of the area two years ago by the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality from agriculture to rural residential had been a turning point. The rezoning meant, suddenly, that properties could be divided into 1,8ha plots.

“The rural aspect of this area was lost and development started all around us. Now, with rising maintenance costs and this new valuation roll . … the pressure to go this route is huge.

“But if we did it in terms of this rezoning, the park would be turned into a checkerboard. It would be destroyed.”

There were already about 30 neighbours on the park‘s boundary and the concern was that the checkerboard development option would eventually sneak in – unless steps were taken to stop this ever happening, he said.

“It won‘t be a threat for as long as I or my kids are the majority shareholders, but if our control is lost some time in the future, then this checkerboard model could be rolled out. If it does, the conservation and green lung aspects of the park would be lost.”

Cantor and his family have applied for a different zoning option for the park, to be set in place in perpetuity. This will allow for development of low-density cluster housing around the edge of the property and in the non-sensitive areas of alien blue gum and Port Jackson willow. Space will be kept for the game, and the wetlands and indigenous forest especially would not be touched.

“We would have to take out the dangerous animals like rhino, buffalo and cheetah, but big spaces would be left for the rest to roam. It would become a private eco-park … But it would be lost as a public asset of the city.”

The new valuation for the park was R70-million. This meant the owners would now have to pay between R2-million and R3-million annually in rates. This would cripple the park, Cantor said.

“It‘s crazy. The only way the park survives at the moment is because it is propped up by our other businesses.”

The new valuation appeared to have been worked out according to the high-density rural residential rezoning, he said.

“The park should have been valued for what it is – a game farm. Down the road there are similar farms valued at between R5-million and R6-million.”

Cantor is contesting their valuation on these lines but, if their argument is rejected, “it will certainly accelerate the need for us to make a decision,” he said.

“I feel sad about the possibility of changing the public asset aspect of the park, but we feel we have to be realistic.”

Municipal spokesman Lourens Schoeman said the Kragga Kamma Game Park was “a conservation asset contributing to biodiversity and conservation targets and one of our main ecotourism attractions.”

He said the municipality had not known the park was considering closing as a public entity. “The municipality was never consulted in this case. If it had been brought to our attention, plans would definitely have been put in place to arrange a business model beneficial to all stakeholders.”

Mandela Bay tourism specialist Peter Myles said while the trend in South African government seemed to be away from offering subsidies and incentives, it would be good if planning supported the sustainability of a facility like the Kragga Kamma park.

“Foreign tourists especially are always looking to get away from the built environment, but some don‘t have time to drive out to the big parks. This is where a place like Kragga Kamma comes in.”

NMMU economics department acting head Dr Pierre le Roux said the “benefit to society” of a facility like Kragga Kamma should be taken into account.

Source: http://www.theherald.co.za/herald/news/n13_20032008.htm

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