The team behind the redevelopment at the Curtin shops has broken its silence, expressing frustration at another legal hurdle being put in the project’s way by the Curtin Residents Association, which is now contesting how the plans were approved.
The developer, the Haridemos family, has been reluctant to comment but their representatives now say the delay is putting everybody concerned under pressure and that any further scaling back of the revised and now approved project will put its commercial viability at risk.
The Residents Association, spearheaded by Chris Johnson, has been campaigning for more than two years against the Haridemos family’s plans to redevelop the Curtin Place premises and build a multi-storey shopping and residential building on the western side of the centre, arguing that the proposal was too big, would overshadow the square and was out of step with the village character of the shops.
In the process the building to be replaced was closed about a year ago, traders relocated and asbestos removed.
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The planning authority rejected the original application for a six-storey building, including 50 units, but the Haridemos family resubmitted scaled back plans for a five-storey building and 36 units in the middle of last year, which were approved with conditions in December, about the same time as the Curtin Master Plan was adopted.
Now the Association has taken the planning authority to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal, and will argue that the decision process was flawed and, despite the proposal’s changes, will maintain that the new building is still too big and will harm the character of the shops.
But the family’s representatives dismiss these concerns, saying the proposal is now compliant with the Territory Plan and Curtin Master Plan and another delay only hurts the centre’s businesses and the residents, and imposes unnecessary costs on the lease holder.
JGS Property’s Director Project and Development Management Zelko Mandic says there is a continuing loss of opportunity and revenue, and the centre is in decline.
“It’s difficult, difficult for the business community, difficult for the Curtin residents, difficult for the precinct as a whole. You can see a decline,” he said.
“It’s very much unfortunate from the point of view of the client, the business community and broader residents that this has taken as long as it has.”
Mr Mandic says concessions have been made in response to the community’s concerns and he believes that the project as approved will not impose itself on the central square or overshadow it as claimed.
He says the multi-storey residential component of the project now sits in the south-west corner of the site and is aligned with the Coles supermarket.
As well as losing a floor, the ground floor height has also been reduced as part of the revised plans.
Consultant Tania Parkes, who conducted an extensive community consultation, says this is the equivalent of reducing the height by two storeys.
“It lost quite a lot of the height and the bulk. While the footprint of the building is the same, the height of the building has been brought back from the north so there’s only a single storey facing the courtyard,” she said.
As for the ageing shops’ character, Mr Mandic questions whether it really has one, and says the project seeks to provide economic and social benefits, and new amenity.
“I don’t know that the square has a character other than one of a tired square that requires capital injection. That’s a view that has been shared by the business community broadly and what this project seeks to contribute to the square,” he said.
“The lease holder is very mindful of community opinion, mindful of business needs, very mindful of the broader intent and plan for the Curtin precinct.”
Ms Parkes says the centre’s traders are hoping that the project will be a catalyst for upgrading other buildings in the area that date from the 1960s.
They have been collateral damage in the process with businesses having to relocate when their leases were up and the building closed in anticipation of the original development application being approved, while those remaining in the centre have suffered.
Many of them have petitioned Planning Minister Mick Gentleman for the project to go ahead.
Curtin residents Paul and Michelle Cains operated Urban Cellars at the centre for five years and are looking forward to reopening in the new building.
Mr Cains believes it’s time for the redevelopment to get under way and that businesses in the centre are hurting.
He’s particularly concerned that the ongoing dispute and loss of trade may put the anchor tenant, the Coles supermarket, at risk.
The couple feel that the Residents Association has not accurately represented them, particularly in the current action.
“All development proposals have strengths and weaknesses, and in our opinion the developer has done a great deal to address the concerns raised during the consultation process,” he said.
“Other Curtin businesses – owned and run by friends of ours – are now showing signs of the detrimental impact of these protracted protests. We are keen to return to running our business in a revitalised Curtin shopping precinct – and we are raising our family in the area and we want to have a vibrant and future-focused community shopping centre for the coming decades.”
Mr Cains welcomed the residential component of the project, saying it will mean 100 new customers for the centre.
Mr Mandic also rejects claims that traders were forced out. He says the original traders knew when their leases expired and were given plenty of notice before the building was closed as part of the proposal’s project management, with the Haridemos family assisting some to find temporary premises and securing a site for the chemist.
“It’s not as if there was some arbitrary, short-notice decision around when you board it up,” he said.
Ms Parkes questions whether the Residents Association is now truly representative of the community, considering the number of emails she has received asking for the developer to get on with it. She believes many people who had been opposed to the project are now happy with the revised proposal, and simply want their shops back.
Mr Mandic says the team is confident that ACAT will uphold the approval decision and it can get on with delivering the project.
“We’re very confident as an application that right and due process has been followed,” he said.
“As a project, the entire project team is right to be confident that the right outcome will be achieved once we come out of the ACAT process.”
If all goes to plan, Curtin could have its new shops and units by early 2020.
A directions hearing is set down for Monday 18 February.