Chief Minister Andrew Barr has stepped into the row over Geocon’s plans to build a six to eight-storey apartment building in old Kingston, saying the proposal goes too far and is not the right fit for the suburb.
Mr Barr’s unusual intervention comes as the pre-DA consultation for the Giles Street proposal enters its final week and a public meeting is being organised for Wednesday night (15 July).
Geocon plans 106 residential units and four ground-floor non-retail commercial units, with basement parking and rooftop gardens and amenities.
It is also seeking to use the rear car park and laneway as an access point, as well as creating a pedestrian laneway through the site from Giles Street to Eyre Street.
Nearby residents are alarmed at the scale of the project and also its impact on parking in the area.
Mr Barr, who is also a local MLA, detailed his concerns about the project in an email to the Kingston Barton Residents Group, which had invited him to the public meeting.
Although he declined the invitation, Mr Barr surprised the group by taking Geocon to task for proposing a development of this size in that location and calling on the developer to change its plans.
”I consider the proposal released does not fit with the form and amenity of the surrounding neighbourhood,” he said.
”The proposed height of the building could overshadow important communal areas, existing residences, and walking and cycling routes.
”While the Government supports residential changes that increase local economic activity and support the viability of local business, this proposal goes too far and does not meet the equally important goal of protecting what makes Kingston a special place to live and visit.”
Mr Barr said Geocon should amend the proposal and re-release it for a further round of community feedback before formally submitting a development application for the site.
The Chief Minister said that he could comment on the proposal because it had not formally been lodged with the planning authority but coming after his call for Doma Group to conduct an Indigenous heritage review of its Foothills site in Campbell, the comments signal a more activist stance and an acknowledgment of community concerns about developer overreach in Canberra, particularly with an election looming.
Kingston Barton Residents Group president Rebecca Scouller welcomed Mr Barr’s comments, saying they showed he was listening to the community as the local member.
She said the proposal would have planning ramifications across Canberra and would be the thin edge of the wedge in Kingston.
”This proposal puts a sledgehammer to the planning rules and, if approved, will have significant impacts on the residents of Howitt and Giles Street, and potentially impact the viability of many local businesses,” she said.
”It would also set a towering precedent for the Kingston Group Centre for future planned development sites.”
She warned that if Geocon was allowed to build close to four times the allowable plot, the planning rules were meaningless.
”We welcome developments that will support the Centre’s viability; however, we are cautious of any that compromise this by reducing parking and access to traders,” Ms Scouller said.
”This proposal is the thin edge of the wedge for Group Centres and smaller local centres if developers are allowed to chase loopholes in ACT planning rules to develop out of character developments.”
The community would welcome the opportunity to sit down with Geocon to discuss a re-released proposal as suggested by the Chief Minister, she said.
Ms Scouller said Wednesday’s in-person meeting was being organised at the community’s request and the numbers were being capped in line with COVID-19 guidance.
The meeting at the Baptist Church in Currie Crescent will include speakers from local business, the National Trust, a planning expert, and local residents, with presentations limited to 10 minutes.
The group is actively monitoring COVID-19 updates and will have a COVID-safe plan in place.
Purdon Planning, representing Geocon, has declined an invitation, saying it had concerns about the format and would prefer to include its entire Project Team in any presentation.
Ms Scouller said Purdon implied that the COVID-19 restricted numbers meant the meeting would not hear ‘varied perspectives from a wide sample’ of the community.
”We note that our cap of 40 (with a waitlist), is equal to, if not greater participation, than Purdon Planning’s Pre-DA consultation in June. That meeting was intended to be their only Pre-DA consultation until there was strong opposition to the proposal,” she said.
”Noting this a community-led meeting to hear from several experts and impacted parties, we are disappointed that a professional planning firm considers they cannot present their proposal to an audience in 5-10 minutes and answer audience questions in a Q & A session.”
Comment was sought from Geocon.