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Can you give the Giralang shops saga a happy ending?

By Sharon Phillips 17 May 2018 0

Elevated view of the proposed Giralang shops from North East.

Having struggled along without the community’s ‘beating heart’ for almost 13 years, Giralang residents now have a final chance to support efforts to restart the suburb’s shopping centre redevelopment.

By 18 May, the ACT Government will close public comments on the development proposal and community leaders say it is critical that residents register their support to show they are united in sending a “strong message” to government about the need to move forward.

After comments close, the government will take into account all public submissions as it assesses the proposal ahead of making its final decision.

If the government decides in favour of the development plans, and there are no appeals, building the new centre could start as early as August 2018.

A smooth decision process backed by overwhelming public support would end a long history of blocked redevelopment proposals for the site stretching back to 2005.

In 2014, after nine years of negotiating with the community and navigating changing government approvals processes, developer Giralang Properties (formerly Nikias Nominees) began construction of a 1500 square-metre supermarket earmarked for Woolworths, only to be halted when three supermarkets in surrounding suburbs mounted a court challenge.

In the two years that the court case ran, the government introduced a new policy restricting the footprint for supermarkets in local centres — like Giralang — to just 1000 square metres.

Despite the court finding in favour of the larger planned supermarket, nearby supermarkets vowed they would continue to launch legal challenges to restrict the site footprint to the new government standard.

Faced with more years of legal uncertainty, the developers chose to voluntarily meet the new 1000 square metre limit. While the decision defused the legal wrangling, it also meant the Giralang site size was no longer of commercial interest to larger chains such as Woolworths or Coles.

Giralang Properties began looking for ways to offset the risk that smaller, independent operators would need assurance of a dedicated customer catchment before committing to take on a lease in Giralang.

The developer’s answer was to take a new approach to developing the centre … one that would feature a smaller supermarket, with other small retail spaces, topped by high quality residential units overlooking the nearby park.

The move would give the suburb’s growing number of ‘downsizers’ an appealing option to stay in the area they love, while creating natural surveillance that would enhance the environment’s safety and social viability.

Giralang Properties Director Dimitri Nikias said one of the biggest development trends occurring globally is to meet people’s desire for face-to-face interaction and connectivity. Joint commercial and residential projects that improve community amenities and enhance community interaction are at the forefront of these efforts.

“Giralang is a perfect example of where this can succeed,” he said. “I grew up in Giralang and lived there for 30 years. Many members of my family still live there and are raising their children in the community. We all want this development to bring the community closer together, to re-envision all that is best about the suburb and make it somewhere where people can continue to enjoy living.”

Giralang Properties’ new plan initially proposed 54 residential units with some ground floor apartments, however strong community sentiment has seen that reduced to 50 units, without ground floor apartments and set back from the retail shopfronts below.

The developer has also responded to community requests for more car parking spots, adding 22 dedicated shoppers’ car parks to the 92 residential car parks underneath the building A further 50 spaces will be available at ground level.
Although under no obligation to do so, Giralang Properties will create a further 13 car parks on Menkar Close to help the adjacent primary school better cope with traffic.

The school will also benefit from the developer’s construction of two new compliant car parks for people with disabilities, a new double lane school drop off, a reconfigured car park that increases parking spaces from 41 to 60, and accommodates school buses, a new children’s bicycle storage facility, and a waste enclosure.

The nearby Giralang Community Park which has long been little more than a vacant lot, will benefit from a $100,000 government investment which Giralang Properties will match to create new pathways to the school and landscape the entire area.

Residents say they have been ‘exhausted’ by the drawn-out process to gain ‘basic amenities’ and crave a result that will realise their vision for the suburb’s ‘geographic and community heartland’ to be reinvigorated.

Giralang Residents Action Group co-Chair Ross Calvert said the community had “long-held frustration at being deprived of shops for 13 years”. He said Giralang Properties’ current plan represented the most “realistic option”.

“It’s considerably larger than what was there before, but we understand the need to create a viable project,” Mr Calvert said. “Community needs change over time and what would have worked 13 years ago may not work now.”

He said there is broad support for the proposal, and the community appreciated the ‘respectful’ efforts of the developer to actively listen and consider the different perspectives of people who the project will most impact.

GRAG member, and Giralang resident of 42 years Ken Matthews, said he particularly applauded developer Dimitri Nikias’s efforts to integrate the shops with the community’s infrastructure needs.

“The developer is picking up the bill on a number of services the government should otherwise provide. Everyone has their part to play and we hope the ACT Government will step up to the plate and make its own matching contributions, and bring in services such as health services and the like, to make the centre thrive,” Mr Matthews said.

Rabbi Shmueli Feldman, Chairman of Chabad ACT Ltd, which includes the precinct’s childcare centre, said some people in the community were eager for new niche apartment options that would allow older residents to stay near family, and community and retail services.

“We’re looking forward to having a fresh, modern central precinct and communal facilities in one location that will keep people in the area, bring in new people, and contribute to creating a more vibrant and robust community,” he said.

To show the government that you support the new Giralang shops proposal, go to https://form.act.gov.au/smartforms/landing.htm?formCode=1251. Make sure you include the development application (DA) number 201833501 for Section 79, Block 6 in the suburb of Giralang.

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