13 April 2023

Green-tinged Design Brief for key Woden site fails to impress community council

| Ian Bushnell
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Matilda Street Car Park, Woden

A section of the Matilda Street car park in Woden: the site will eventually be home to two high-rise buildings. Photos: Ian Bushnell.

First concepts for a key block in the Woden Town Centre have been unveiled, showing two multi-storey buildings, green spaces and frontages with shops and cafes.

The Suburban Land Agency has released its Place Design Brief for the 13,000 square metre government car park between Grand Central Towers and the Hellenic Club (Section 7 Block 1 Phillip) after two rounds of public consultation that included pop-ups, surveys, workshops and a co-design process.

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The land will go to market by tender in May and developers will have to show how they will achieve the goals set in the Place Design Brief.

The site – bound by Callam, Matilda and Bowes streets and partly turned over to the temporary bus interchange – is zoned for 12 storeys, but either one could reach a further four storeys in height under the planning rules.

One will be a commercial office block, while the other will be a residential project adding 200 dwellings to the Town Centre.

Both are expected to have ground-floor tenancies that will contribute to a vibrant mixed-use environment.

Any development will need to retain 370 car parking spaces.

place plan proposal

A place plan was developed for the site based on the community consultation. Image: SLA.

Senior development manager for urban releases at the SLA Andrew Jamison recently presented the Design Brief to the Woden Valley Community Council.

He told the council meeting that there had been a strong focus during consultation on culture, creativity and easy access to green open spaces and nature.

Other messages included a thriving mixed-use community, attainable housing for a broad range of household types, opportunities to work, live and learn, access to convenient public and active transport networks and proximity to education facilities, public amenities and shops.

Mr Jamison said the area had a lot of hard surfaces and needed greenery so the site had a specific open space requirement.

“Developers will have to show how they will be building green and sustainable measures throughout the precinct,” he said.

Mr Jamison said there was an aspiration in the Brief to bring back beauty into built form and the public domain.

While only given as an example of what could be done with the site, a place plan presented to the meeting showed a residential block facing the Callam Street interchange, the office building on Bowes Street, two parks, and a destination food and beverage anchor point on the northern frontage opposite the Hellenic Club.

At ground level, the buildings have hybrid mixed-use and activated fronts, particularly on the Matilda and Callam Street frontages of the residential block and green edges.

The site is bisected by a north-south shared street and another shared lane where the commercial building is sited.

Bowes Street, Woden

The Woden Valley Community Council says the active frontages emphasis should be on Bowes Street.

Council President Fiona Carrick acknowledged the work that had gone into the Brief but found it disappointing if the site plan was anything to go by.

Ms Carrick said it seemed odd to put the active fronts where people are intended to gather next to the interchange, which poses safety issues, away from existing activity on Bowes Street.

“Why wouldn’t we sit over on Bowes Street and slip up to the Town Square and up to the Doma Group activity and across to the CIT?” she said.

“I don’t know why they are moving us to sit by a major bus interchange.

“If they’re trying to say that this is the contribution of this building to street life and social activity, then having a spot to sit by the bus interchange doesn’t really cut it.”

Ms Carrick said street life had to be connected but this particular layout did not achieve that.

She also doubted the viability of yet another office block in the Town Centre, given Doma had already switched a commercial building to residential in its precinct on Melrose Drive due to a lack of interest, and both Westfield owners Scentre Group and the Hellenic Club were proposing 16-storey developments.

Ms Carrick said it was disappointing that such a strategic site would be sold for high-rise development when Woden was in desperate need of government investment in cultural and recreation facilities, yet the government said it was running out of land there.

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The SLA said the tender would ask for innovative design and development proposals that respond to the Brief, which would play an important role in guiding future developers in preparing a development proposal that responds to the area’s unique attributes and contributes positively to Woden’s identity.

The tender process will take six months, followed by a two-year settlement period in which the successful tenderer completes a development application.

It is expected settlement will take place during the 2025-26 financial year, with construction to follow immediately after.

The car park will stay open until a DA is approved and the successful tenderer is ready to start construction.

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HiddenDragon7:17 pm 14 Apr 23

“She also doubted the viability of yet another office block in the Town Centre…”

If the regular gloom and doom updates from the federal Treasurer are anything to go by, next month’s budget is unlikely to be doing much to increase the demand for office space in that part of Canberra – or anywhere else beyond the already announced developments such as the national security precinct.

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