20 July 2019

Woden child care centre tackles Hindmarsh goliath

| Ian Bushnell
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Reesha Stefek

Woden Early Childhood Centre director Reesha Stefek and a young charge: our viability is really on the line. Photos: Daniella Jukic.

A Woden child care centre is taking on a developer giant in a David and Goliath battle over a $132 million project set to change the face of the Town Centre skyline.

Hindmarsh’s massive mixed-use development proposed for the corner of Easty and Wilbow streets will feature twin towers rising 25 and 26 storeys to become the tallest residential building south of the lake.

The apartment towers and a smaller townhouse structure will contain 445 dwellings sitting on a four-level podium with above and below ground parking.

The one-storey Woden Early Childhood Centre, directly opposite the development site, has lodged an objection to the development citing parking, privacy and traffic issues that threaten its viability.

The not-for-profit Centre’s director of 24 years, Reesha Stefek says talks with Hindmarsh began about eight years ago when the proposal was for a much smaller development of about 12 storeys before the lifting of building heights in the current Woden Town Centre Master Plan.

Hindmarsh has offered to pay for a six-space area at the rear of the centre to compensate for the loss of its 12-space car park at the front, which the company says is a laneway and wants to use as its access point for the construction site.

The site map shows the child care centre opposite.

But Ms Stefek says the new smaller car park was on a rise and would mean a difficult, longer walk, especially in poor weather, for parents with young children to the centre, which cares for 100 children across the week.

It would also mean the 21 staff would need to find paid parking elsewhere.

Ms Stefek says the towers would overlook the centre and residents would be able to see down into it. While the centre’s rear was reasonably shaded the front play area would be exposed.

The development’s multi-level car park would exit opposite the child care centre. “So there is going to be a lot of cars coming and going, right at the front of our centre,” she said. “If someone comes out of the car park too fast they will end up in our lap.”

The centre is calling on Hindmarsh to relocate the car park exit on Easty or Wilbow Street.

The centre will lose its car park.

The other issue involves Hindmarsh’s plans to set up a shade cloth partition to separate the construction site from the child care centre, which Ms Stefek says will see the centre become virtually invisible and hard to find.

“If there is an emergency within the centre, how do emergency services access us and how do new families find us?” she says. “The appealing nature of the centre that we think we have now will be lost because it will be covered in their shade-cloth structure.”

Relocation seems out of the question for the centre, with few viable sites nearby and the owners of the 33-year-old building, CIT, in the middle of a handover to ACT Property Group, and still investing in the property.

Like many of the residents of the nearby low-rise apartments, Ms Stefek says the scale of the development – next to a single-storey, stand alone not-for-profit service, run by management committee of parents – seems overdone.

“We need to let everyone know what’s happened to us because our viability is really on the line here if we can’t come to some working arrangement that works well for both of us,” she said.

Submissions from the public closed on Friday.

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I can’t understand why developers want to build in that area. It is flood-prone land, it was underwater in the Australia Day 1971 flood.

At the time it was called “a one in a hundred years flood”, but who can forget that incredible January day during “the angry summer” a few years back when a cyclone dumped masses of rain on Canberra twice in a six hour period?

That’s awful Reesha! Let us know how we can help. All four of my kids (now aged 19, 16, 13 and 9) went to this centre. It’s a fantastic childcare centre and the carers were just like our family. Finger’s cross the developers see sense.

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