Thursday, May 9, 2013

Earthscapes 1

At the same time that we had our house built, in 1988, the owner of the land in front of ours started building his too. His builder sneakily stole huge volumes of soil from our land to fill in the foundation walls of his construction. Once we became aware of it (we were living elsewhere while we built) , we demanded that he cease. He had excavated and stolen the soil from  a second erf that we owned, which purpose was to act as a buffer and garden in front of our house.

So much soil had been excavated that the remaining embankment threatened to collapse. The authorities assured us that the owner of the land in front of us would have to build a retaining wall to stave off this collapse because he was the instrument of its creation. They sent to us a letter which confirmed their ruling. Two years went by and the owner just dragged his heels about any retaining wall. In fact, he never finished building the house and all that lovely soil of ours inside his foundation walls just blew away over the years. What a waste!

Realising that the situation with the remaining embankment was likely to drag on indefinitely, and not wanting to lose any more of our garden soil, we took it upon ourselves to spend precious income (so precious, because we all know how difficult the first years are in paying off a mortgage)  to buy huge, ugly retaining concrete blocks. These would shore up the soil until such time as the municipality enforced their ruling. At one place, the embankment was 3 metres high. In fact, it is illegal to have retaining blocks stacked over 1 metres high without a foundation. But from our point of view, it was  temporary and no building inspector ever came to look at the situation again.

Twenty years on and new owners picked up the reins of building on the property in front of us. They have built the most overpowering dwelling, 8 metres high and taken up almost the entire 500 m2 of their single erf. Different strokes for different folks, I guess. They have managed to take away the view of the coastline from every window in our house. Grateful that we could still see the horizon of the sea, the owner soon sabotaged it by erecting  a monstrous chimney to spoil even that.  (who needs a chimney 1.5mx1.5mx1.5m in size?)

Once they had finished building, they complained to the building inspector about our illegal concrete blocks that had no foundation or drainage. The building inspector demanded that we submit plans and build a properly authorized retaining wall. 

Luckily, I still had the letter from the municipality informing us that the owner of that erf was responsible for constructing a wall. At first we were told by the Cape Town City Council that they would not consider a situation that went back over twenty years.  I argued that if you buy a property for its assets , so you also accept the accompanying liabilities. I felt that this prescribed wall was definitely an inherited liability for the new owner.

Now living on a small income, we could never afford to construct an engineered wall at this stage of our lives. Eventually, for some reason, the building inspector realised that we were not being obstructive or cheeky. We had been totally genuine martyrs in this ongoing long-term situation. So the owners on the property in front were ordered to accept their inherited liability and to add a retaining wall to their construction.


Our adjacent neighbour might take issue with the lack of backfill
 behind the wall, his tree roots now exposed and soil slippage from his side.

It was built over a year ago. I have been itching to rearrange our soil so that we no longer lose part of our garden footprint to our retaining blocks, but waited  to see whether they would plaster or paint the shoddy brickwork on our side of the wall (one can always live in hope!) 

We have given up on that and have started the tricky job of rearranging things. It is likely to take some time. Here are photos of the state of affairs up to this point. Its a process of removing blocks, shifting soil, replacing blocks, reshifting soil into and behind the blocks.  

Star and Midge serve as supervisors on site. 


The photos do not really give an idea of what we are trying to achieve but here is a little sketch again which might give a better idea of our plan. Sadly, we can never fill the garden to its previous levels. We did have an opportunity about three years ago for a huge mountain of soil from a neighbour but while we did use much of it elsewhere in the garden (See Earthworks and the follow-up), we had to refuse at least half of it because we had no idea how long we would have to store the soil(about 9 m3)  while waiting for this wall to be built. So now its a question of shaping it into varying levels along the wall, using the existing soil.


I do hope that the transplanted Wild Camphor survives




Its still a work in progress.
I cannot wait for it to be finished so that we can start planting!!

No comments:

Post a Comment