Government plans to develop a section of a popular park in Ainslie for supported accommodation have upset nearby residents who do not want to lose a community asset, worry that it will make their street less safe and change the character of the neighbourhood.
The YWCA has been gifted the land, believed to be worth $2.75 million, along with $125,000 for design and planning, but will not pay for construction of the development.
The organisation wants to demolish a former pre-school building on the site that it has been allowed to use free of charge for around 20 years and replace it with 10 units occupying about a third of Bill Pye Park on Rutherford Crescent.
The $5 million development is part of the ACT Government’s affordable housing plan and will provide eight units for older women and two two-bedroom units for families escaping domestic violence.
Residents say they are not NIMBYs or opposed to public or social housing; in fact, some residents in the area are in that kind of accommodation themselves, but they feel the site is not suitable and believe there are better pieces of land available.
The development came to notice late last December with a letterbox drop from architects AMC who staged a Powerpoint presentation, but a development application is imminent and residents believe that the project will now be rammed through.
Rutherford Crescent Committee spokesperson Ian Hubbard says the units and parking spaces are being crammed on a small 1800 square metre site on a very tight bend in Rutherford Crescent, with a driveway directly on to the street that will impact residents opposite and create traffic problems.
He says the park itself is heavily used and the building is an example of mid-20th century architecture that is designed into the park, unlike the planned development which ”looks like a 1970 motel”.
The park is one of only three of its kind in Ainslie, the others being Ainslie and Baker Gardens.
”If you are going to spend $5 million you could get a little bit more land, and land that is designed for residential,” Mr Hubbard said.
He believes the project is well-intentioned but bad planning policy in the making.
”The problem with this development is that it is just an excision of a block of land to put a whole bunch of supported accommodation on there because it’s an easy thing for the government to do,” Mr Hubbard said.
Ainslie is zoned RZ1 residential and the proposal is an RZ4 level planning project that will increase the density of the neighbourhood and have an impact on the design of the original suburb, he said.
Mr Hubbard said the situation was typical of what was happening across Canberra as the government searches for so-called unutilised land to build public or social housing.
”Across Canberra this is being too convenient, where they’re sweeping up all the community facilities land and converting it to residential, increasing the density of residential in areas not zoned for that density,” he said.
He warned that there may not be much land left for actual community facilities at this rate.
He added the development also went against the stated ‘salt and pepper’ policy for public and social housing in the ACT.
Mr Hubbard said the residents had written to the YWCA to see if it could assist it to find an alternative location but had not had a response.
”What the residents want is a more engaging consultation process. At least give us a chance to see if there is an alternative use that doesn’t impact on the people as heavily as this is going to do,” he said.
The project is an initiative of the Affordable Housing Innovation Fund established last year.