The Kingston Barton Residents Group is preparing to launch an appeal against the approval of Geocon’s controversial proposal for a multi-storey commercial development next to the former Kingston Post Office at 84-86 Giles Street (Blocks 13 and 22, Section 22).
The development giant revamped the proposal, which in its original form drew criticism from Chief Minister and local MLA Andrew Barr, halving the building height from eight to four storeys and switching from a mixed-use residential project to just commercial.
Community members and neighbours had been alarmed at the bulk and scale of the proposal, which many felt was out of step with the character of old Kingston, although nearby businesses were supportive.
The Inner South Canberra Community Council and the Kingston Barton Residents Group welcomed the changes in the DA lodged in October but remained concerned about the four storeys, which is double the Precinct Code height limit. However, there is leeway for higher buildings if it is “compatible with the desired character, and appropriate to the scale and function of the use, and minimises detrimental impacts, including overshadowing”.
That DA was amended in April but the Planning Authority deemed that it did have to notify the community.
KBRG president Richard Johnston, a retired planner, called the proposal “gross overdevelopment” of the site, being four storeys in a two-storey area and exceeding the amount of floor space allowed.
The DA said the building would have a gross floor area of 5295 square metres, including 800 square metres of ground floor commercial tenancies and three floors of offices totalling 3983 square metres,
“The applicant can elect to not apply with the rule, but they have to meet certain criteria that are spelled out in the Territory Plan,” Mr Johnston said.
“That’s where the argument is.
“Frankly, I’m concerned that this is the thin edge of the wedge, and the sort of thing we can expect under the wonderful new outcomes-focused regime that the Chief Planner and the Minister keep talking about.”
Mr Johnston said there was a lack of detail in the Notice of Decision and he criticised the planning authority for not notifying the public of the amended DA.
“They would have been well and truly aware of the amount of public interest in this so I find it amazing that they didn’t bother to notify [the amended DA], and then made a decision on it and haven’t actually made the amended application available until we jumped up and down and said we wanted it,” he said.
Mr Johnston said that given there were 105 submissions, mostly objections, there would be at least one appeal possibly involving several parties and possibly a slew of individual appeals.
He would also be talking to residents who would be immediately affected by the development.
The Notice of Decision listed a range of concerns, including building height, overshadowing, privacy impacts and traffic issues.
Some questioned the need for such a commercial project and the precedent it might set for future developments.
But the decision said that overall the development was permissible with impacts at a scale commensurate with the zone, site and surrounds.
“Impacts will occur to the surrounds but are of a scale and nature reasonably expected for the zone, the site and the locality,” it said.
A reduction in the height of the rear and upper floors to minimise overshadowing was considered but not imposed in light of the zonings and Territory Plan provisions.
The DA said the building had been sited to the west of the site to reduce overshadowing and overlooking the nearby residential properties to the east and south-east.
Geocon will need to lodge another DA to consolidate the blocks and a new lease reflecting that.
Conditions include a traffic control plan, a new verge and pedestrian path, which must take priority, and a desktop study of street parking within 400 metres of the site, given the proposal’s on-site parking shortfall. It only has 99 spaces when 140 are required.
Geocon must provide privacy screens to minimise impacts on neighbours.
The ACT Heritage Council said that Geocon must also provide an engineering assessment of proposed excavation works and their potential effects on the Post Office building, which has been provisionally registered on the ACT Heritage Register.
Comment has been sought from Geocon.