18 August 2020

Geocon DA knockback in Gungahlin vindicates YMCA childcare centre stand

| Ian Bushnell
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YMCA Gungahlin Early Learning Centre staff

YMCA Gungahlin Early Learning Centre staff were not happy about the proposal back in May. Photo: Supplied.

Development behemoth Geocon has lost a battle with the YMCA child care centre next door to its proposed mixed-use development in Gungahlin after the planning authority comprehensively rejected its bid to change its already approved plans for the site in Swain Street.

YMCA Canberra CEO Torrien Lau said the outcome was a sensible decision and vindicated the Y’s stance, which feared for the future of the YMCA Gungahlin Early Learning Centre.

”There are 17 main issues with the development application. We feel quite confirmed that we’ve made a good effort and by liaising and working in an appropriate manner with multiple government agencies the right decision has been made,” Mr Lau said.

”It doesn’t entirely resolve some of our issues but it goes a long way to making a statement to the developers that you have to consider your neighbours and the community when you are submitting a substantial development application such as this one.”

Mr Lau said the YMCA wanted to return to the negotiating table to work out a viable solution.

”We go back to the position we have always maintained: let’s work this out together, let’s come up with a solution that meets the needs of the community, the developer and ourselves so it’s a win-win-win situation for everybody.

“It’s obvious this development application was not going to benefit anyone other than Geocon,” he said.

The Gungahlin Community Council also welcomed the decision and praised the YMCA’s stand.

”The issues raised by the GCC on behalf of Gungahlin residents were all explicitly addressed in the DA’s assessment and the GCC applauds the enforcement of the planning rules that are in place,” president Peter Elford said.

”We would also like to acknowledge the strong position the YMCA undertook to ensure the viability and safety of their early childhood centre so that it can continue to provide services to the Gungahlin community.”

Comment was sought from Geocon.

The YMCA had argued that the two-building high-rise development, renamed The Establishment from the original Air Towers, would overlook play and nappy changing areas and overshadow the outdoor play area.

It said a shared driveway off Swain Street for access to the basement parking and waste collection would be a danger to families at drop-off and pick up times, and the proposed extra apartment and commercial tenancies would also exacerbate already congested streets and parking shortages.

The child care regulator, Children’s Education and Care Assurance, supported the YMCA, noting the risks to children posed by the traffic and parking issues, the overshadowing impacts on play areas and child health, and the disruption to the centre’s emergency assembly areas.

The notice of decision said proposed changes would integrate poorly with the childcare centre, reduce privacy and create an undesirable amount of increased traffic.

The privacy screening to the YMCA Early Learning was insufficient, it said.

It noted that the ground floor car park did not provide enough room for vehicles to enter and leave the site in a forward direction, an issue that the childcare centre had raised.

The Establishment proposal

An artist’s impression of The Establishment proposal. Image: Geocon.

But the amended development application fell down across a range of criteria, including proposing more storeys than permitted, reduced privacy for residents, greater overshadowing, and substantially less landscaping that would affect the amenity of residents.

Geocon had sought to increase the number of units to 290 from 270, remove ground floor residential and replace it with commercial tenancies, replace the mezzanine level with parking and add a pool and spa.

It had also wanted to replace a large portion of the landscaped courtyard with a car park, but the planning authority said this would reduce permeability and pedestrian movement through the site.

The notice of decision said the viability of the 10 small tenancies proposed instead of two large ones was questionable.

It also doubted whether all parking for the development, with an increase in the number of units, would be contained on the site, and questioned Geocon’s calculations on solar access for residents.

The changes were not considered an improvement on the original proposal.

”The overall building design and architectural treatment in the proposed iteration is considered to be far less appealing than what was previously approved with the façade treatment, change to materials and overall architectural expression,” the notice of decision said.

A number of agencies did not support the proposal, including the Conservator of Flora and Fauna, which opposed the loss of a significant remnant eucalypt.

The development has been a sore point in the community since it was first proposed as twin 26-storey towers, only to be reduced to 16 and eight storeys by the time it was approved in 2018.

This version was to be 15 storeys tapering to nine in one building and nine in the other.

Last year the project was renamed after Empire Global announced a joint venture with Geocon to help it complete the project.

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It’s time for the ACT to have “prior occupancy” laws to stop this kind of predatory development to occur. This time, they were stopped, but so many times it gets through. If these rules were in place, there would still be many live music venues still in Canberra. Now, they re virtually non-existent.

Congratulations to the YMCA for standing strong.

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