The owner of the heritage-listed former CSIRO School of Forestry site in Yarralumla has applied to the National Capital Authority to amend the National Capital Plan as it seeks to redevelop the site into a mixed-use residential precinct that includes an aged care facility and boutique hotel.
The draft master plan for the 11 hectare site, devised after community consultation last year, proposes buildings up to five storeys, up to 300 apartments, and commercial re-use of the heritage buildings such as Forestry House as an 80-room hotel, uses which are not currently allowed under the NCP.
The proponent has also referred the proposal to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
Now known as Forestry Place, the 11 hectare site was sold to Gunyar Pty Ltd in 2002 with a 20-year lease allowing CSIRO to retain control of the property until 2022.
Gunyar represents the Shepherd Foundation, a registered charity that helps children with hearing loss that has a presence in Canberra.
It has partnered with Sydney developer Oakstand to develop the site and provide an income to the organisation.
Buildings of between two to five storeys are proposed with the tallest below the treeline, including 250 to 300 oversized apartments with large courtyards or generous balconies and a 130-bed aged care independent living complex.
Most of the apartments will be two to three bedrooms pitched at owner occupiers, with ageing-in-place options through assisted seniors living and aged care accommodation.
The proponent says any development will be of a scale that follows the existing building footprints, limits the building heights to within the tree canopy, uses the site topography to limit impact on view corridors and retains 60 per cent open space as well as including a plan to maintain and renew the heritage buildings and significant treescape into the future.
It says it has has mitigation strategies to compensate for any heritage impacts
The consultation found that the impact of population increases from the combined Forestry Place and Brickworks developments on traffic congestion, parking at the Yarralumla shops and the quality of life for existing residents were the main concerns.
The Yarralumla Residents Association, which is conducting a survey of residents on the proposal, says the scale of the project and the impact on the site’s heritage values are also major concerns.
President Mike Lewis says that together with the development of the Old Brickworks site, Yarralumla’s population is estimated to increase from the current 3000 to 5000, or 70 per cent, and vehicle numbers by 54 per cent.
It is estimated that the proposed CSIRO site development alone will generate an additional 2000 traffic movements per day, the association says.
The proponent says that a traffic review found that any increase can be absorbed by the road network, taking into account the proposed new traffic lights at the intersection of Adelaide Avenue and Novar and Kent Streets, and the Dudley Street upgrade.
But Mr Lewis says it is hard to see how this can be so when the traffic from the site will have to flow through already taxed Yarralumla streets.
Mr Lewis said the cumulative effects of the proposal will have a significant impact on the site’s heritage values and the nature of the suburb.
“It’s one those situations where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” he said.
“If you put in 300 dwellings, plus an 80-bed hotel, plus a 130-bed aged care centre it’s really going to destroy the whole of the precinct in terms of its heritage values.”
The EPBC referral argues that a full assessment is not required and just needs the Environment Minister Sussan Ley to sign off on it, but the Association will be submitting that a full assessment is needed.
Mr Lewis said CSIRO had also applied under the EPBC process to start demolishing minor buildings, as well as the greenhouses, in July.
He said the greenhouses were important elements of the scientific heritage of the site.
Mr Lewis said the Association was keeping an open mind about the proposal and the residents survey would inform its final position.
The NCA is yet to consider the application to change the NCP. It will conduct further community consultation once it does so.