The public consultation for the Kingston Arts Precinct has got off to a shaky start with the Suburban Land Agency calling off a formal Q&A at Wednesday evening’s presentation by the architects and developer Geocon to invited stakeholders.
Some stakeholders were also puzzled by the apparent casting aside of previous master plans for the site that had been developed in collaboration with the community.
It had been expected that after Fender Katsalidis architect David Sutherland’s presentation, questions would be taken from the floor but the SLA opted for an informal mingle instead, upsetting those with specific queries about both the public arts and private residential and commercial aspects.
Kingston Barton Residents Group president Rebecca Scouller said it was a disappointing way to end the evening, to which community and arts representatives were specifically invited.
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“There was certainly room for both and it was a missed opportunity to hear initial thoughts from other sectors of the community,” she said.
Ms Scouller said the dismissal of the master plans as just a ‘guide’ could be seen as a waste of taxpayers money.
“This raises the question about the purpose of master plans and the significant investment into their production by both the ACT Government and interested parties. Especially when they were identified as a key element in the implementation of the 2012 Planning Strategy,” she said.
Earlier at a media briefing, it was confirmed that previous plans for the precinct had never been formally adopted and that the Geocon and Fender Katsalidis proposal was now, in effect, the Master Plan, to evolve further during the consultation.
The good news is that the Government is reluctant to put a time frame on the consultation, saying it should not be rushed and that both it and the developer want to get the Precinct development right.
Ms Scouller said the evening was a good opportunity to hear from the architects about their thoughts behind the initial tender design and learn that there was a substantial consultation process planned before the final design is agreed.
“The site has a lot of potential to be an inclusive space for Canberrans to work, live and play,” she said.
Geocon’s Dan Stewart told the media briefing that a hotel was included in its plans, along with offices fronting Wentworth Avenue, which originally had been earmarked for CIT.
Geocon, which signed a contract with the Government last week to develop the Precinct, says it is too soon to say how many rooms or floors a hotel might have, or the number of apartments planned.
When asked what kind of density the Precinct would have, Mr Sutherland said ‘low, it’s Canberra’ and that all plans adhered to the planning rules.
Mr Stewart said buildings would be as high as the allowable six storeys in Kingston but size would vary across the site.
Mr Sutherland said the vision for the Precinct was for a central arts hub to be wrapped or framed by the private buildings, allowing glimpses of the recognisable heritage buildings to draw people in.
He said the essence of the Master Plan was that the Precinct should be a place for people.
While the Precinct, with its arts focus interacting with the residential and commercial aspects, would be a city – in the medieval sense – in itself, it would retain a strong connection to the lake and the Kingston Foreshore, with clear lines of sight.
Mr Sutherland said he did not want the Precinct to just be for residents and the artists, but also for people staying and visiting. “Then it becomes a city, a place where activities are happening all the time … and the arts bodies have a greater life,” he said.
He also said there would not be a fixed separation between the public and private, envisaging that the arts component seed compatible activities in the adjacent commercial ground floor tenancies, saying they can’t all be cafes and restaurants.
The issue of parking and access is addressed with a 507-space multi-storey car park providing more public parking than at present, although there may be debate about its location blocking the views to the Foreshore. Mr Stewart said it would be handed back to the Territory, and private parking would reflect the planning requirements.
Of the site’s 5.6 hectares, four is able to be developed, with the rest housing already existing buildings such as the Power House and the Fitter’s Workshop. That 4ha is split 40:60, public and private, and according to Geocon will be a $750 million development in total.
The Territory land will host the arts facilities and galleries, artist accommodation, the public car park, outdoor events space and public domain, for which the Government has budgeted $78 million.
The private land, which Geocon will acquire as part of the tender process for a negotiated price, will be home to retail, restaurants, commercial office space, a luxury range of residential apartments and the hotel.
Geocon has made an offer on the land but this information remains commercial in confidence until the land sale can be completed, subject to all development applications and planning approvals being obtained.
The SLA said a longer than usual consultation period would allow for the community to sight design development of the tender concepts, which will also be reviewed by the National Capital Design Review Panel and arts organisations.
“Geocon has also agreed to present the Precinct to the community as a whole development rather than as individual development applications. This has been done so the vision of the development can be considered and understood holistically,” an SLA spokesperson said.
Development Applications will be developed over the next six to 12 months, with approvals expected in 18 to 24 months, allowing construction to commence on or before mid-2021.