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Wed 27 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Cape conservation

James Boley finds out how a lakeside development in South Africa proved both a commercial and an environmental success.

James Boley finds out how a lakeside development in South Africa proved both a commercial and an environmental success.

It's almost a given that developing a natural site will damage the existing environment. Yet South African landscape architects CNdV did what would seem to be the impossible - it transformed a natural wetland area into a prize-winning residential estate, while at the same time improving the site's natural location.

Located in the Nordhoek Valley at the Western Cape in South Africa, the Lake Michelle development consisted of the area surrounding a 30-hectare saline lake that had previously served as a sand mine. Converting the site from a derelict space to a new community took two years and cost US$10 million.

"Central to the entire project was the need to sustain and augment the lake environment," CNdV says.

One of the key things that the firm needed to do was to improve the quality of the water, which was currently polluted from storm water, landscape architect Tanya de Villiers tells Commercial Outdoor Design.

"Because of all the other development that happens in that valley, there's a lot of storm water run-off which is polluted and which runs into the lake," she explains.

To tackle this, the firm incorporated reed beds into a road design, which helped to clean the water before it entered the lake.

The reed beds had the additional benefit of helping to attract more waterfowl to the area. Over 120 species of birds now live at or visit the lake, according to the managers of the estate.

Another problem was that the lake was almost entirely covered in invasive alien vegetation, but also had a number of endemic plants resident that needed to be protected.

Before dealing with the alien plantation, the firm identified the endemic plants, and then transferred them to a local nursery where additional numbers were propagated for use on the site. In total, 50,000 plants were rescued with 300,000 plants reproduced for the project.

The islands in the lake were then cleared out of the invasive species and repopulated with the endemic plants that had been saved.

Such was the success of the development as an exercise in sustainability that it recently won an award from the Institute of Landscape Architects of South Africa (ILASA).

De Villiers attributes the success of the development to the fact that the landscape architecture team was involved in the planning of the development from an early stage. "Often on a project we're brought in afterwards and the roads are already tarred and you try and make do with what you've got," she says. "In this case the client saw the whole potential before we began doing the layout.

CNdV worked on every aspect of the site's design from the design of the open space to the design of bridges, boardwalks, lighting and even signage.

The development also proved to be a commercial success despite the number of plots of land being reduced.

The original site plan for the residential estate allowed for 314 plots, but this number was cut to 224 to create more artificial wetland ponds. This decision resulted in more plots being located by the water, which led to an increase in the value of the properties.

"In the Cape there are very few waterfront developments, and to get something on the coast is almost impossible. If you've got a plot on a lake or pond the value just goes up, potentially by as much as 50%," says de Villiers.

"This successful development shows that careful analysis and a holistic approach to design can result in a development where environmental benefits also make business sense," she adds.

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