30 January 2019

Community heads to ACAT over approval of Curtin shops block

| Ian Bushnell
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An artist’s drawing of the proposed mixed-use block at the Curtin shops. Image: Canberra Town Planning.

The Curtin community’s battle over the proposed redevelopment of its shopping centre is now heading to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal where it will appeal against the approval late last year of a five-storey building it says is too big and out of step with the urban village character of the shops.

The Curtin centre has been in a state of upheaval since the Haridemos family announced plans to redevelop 44 Curtin Place into a six-storey shopping and residential development featuring some 50 apartments, sparking community outrage.

Their original development application was rejected but the family forced the closure and relocation of tenants.

The community had won some concessions from the developer, which had reduced the proposed height of the building by a storey, and the finalisation of the Curtin Master Plan had offered hope that the redevelopment would have to be more sympathetic to the site and the community’s wishes.

But according to Curtin Residents Association president Chris Johnson, the planning authority’s decision early in December appears to have fallen between the former precinct code and the new Master Plan, with ACTPLA ‘cherry picking’ both to achieve an outcome.

He said the Reconsideration had been assessed under the original precinct code because it had been lodged before the Master Plan was released.

While the original precinct code included a two-storey limit unless there was merit in going up further, the Master Plan does allow for five storeys on the southern side of the square, but under a number of new conditions, including a visual impact assessment and meeting the character of the place, which do not appear to have been applied.

The Association will argue in the Tribunal that the decision process was unacceptable and needs to be redone and that the building is still too large and will overshadow the square in the position it is in.

The approval did place several conditions on the proposal, including that the tall part of the building be set back a further three metres from the square to the line of the Coles supermarket rather than the awning.

The central square at the Curtin shops. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

Mr Johnson said a number of considerations about parking and service access had yet to be worked out with Transport Canberra, and were left as conditions.

“It’s an approval in the hope that these conditions will be met but they’re quite crucial in the way that that building project goes against the needs of people who are already using the parking areas,” he said.

Overshadowing remains a concern, and the Association believes ACTPLA should consider the situation during spring and autumn, not just at noon on the winter solstice.

“Despite this being an issue from when the first application went in, the second came up with only shadow diagrams for noon at the winter solstice,” Mr Johnson said.

“And that’s not the key time. It’s really the autumn and spring equinox. That’s when the shadowing comes in to the south-west corner. We believe the decision should not have been made without those diagrams being part of the submission.

“It’s not acceptable for ACTPLA to take midwinter noon shadow as a good indicator of how shadowing works in Canberra situations because so much of the middle parts of the year is when sunshine and shadow are so much more significant.”

Mr Johnson admitted some would like to see the shops get back to normal and traders return but he said it was the developer who evicted traders and fenced off the building before there was any development application.

“A lot more of the community are concerned about the bulk and scale and change of character of this five-storey block on the corner of the square will entail,” he said.

The Association had not been in contact with the developer.

“They do seem to be persisting in putting up applications that push the boundaries rather than trying to say this is a good thing for the area and in the spirit of the character of the place,” he said.

Instead, they want to put up something big and see how much they can squeeze in, he said.

Mr Johnson said last year’s concessions were little wins at the edges of the proposal.

“We are battling to get further reductions but also better process in the decision making,” he said.

Every case would not have to be fought so hard if the decision makers took the spirit of the plans they had developed with the community and enforced them first, Mr Johnson said.

“We don’t need to have such an amount of confrontation or process here. We should be able to have a regulator who applies the regulations and does it in a spirited way,” he said.

A directions hearing has been set down for 11 February.

The developer did not wish to comment.


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