Thursday, August 16, 2012

What the Trust said to Hornsby Shire Council

Thank you for giving me an opportunity to speak.  I am speaking on behalf of the Trust regarding DA 1305/2011, to build five storey blocks of flats within the Beecroft heritage area in land that is zoned AS Low Density.
The Trust, and many other individuals and organisations, tried to defeat this development on the grounds that it is unwanted, unnecessary, and unsuitable.  However the JRPP approved the proposal by the casting vote of the chairman.  This could become a precedent that results in a flood of high rise developments going into the cherished heritage triangle of Beecroft and Cheltenham.
To prevent that happening, we ask the Council to examine the legal basis for this application, which appears to warrant an unbiased second opinion.  I will get to that issue in a moment.
As I said, this development is indisputably unwanted, unnecessary, and unsuitable.  Unwanted because it is unanimously opposed by all those who have commented on it.  The project was displayed at Christmas 2011 while many residents were on holiday.  Coincidence, or a deliberate ploy to stifle opposition? The Trust only realised what the DA involved late in the submission period and did not have time to notify the local population other than by email to Trust members.  Requests for an extension of the submission deadline to allow wider dissemination of the details were rejected, and so very few of the affected residents had a chance to respond.  Even so nearly 250 submissions were received, all opposed to the development. The Hornsby Shire Council planning department produced an excellent report recommending rejection.  At two Joint Regional Planning Panel meetings many speakers opposed the development and the only people who have ever supported the development were the seven speakers representing the developers.  It is regrettable that the conflict of interest of those speakers was not recorded in the JRPP minutes.
As Councillor Hutchence explained at the JRPP, the development is unnecessary.  The HSC has gazetted the entire Beecroft Shopping Centre for five stories, with perhaps 500 new units available.  The 46 units proposed by Uniting Care are irrelevant in that context.
It must be remembered that an application to build three storey residential units on this block of land has already been approved, and the applicant could proceed with that plan without opposition.  Deciding to go for five storeys seems to be motivated purely by profit.
The development is also totally unsuitable.  Nobody can rationally claim that five storey slab buildings are in character with a low density heritage-recognised area.  At the first JRPP, the developer simply stated that he believed it was in character, met by snorts of derision from the hundred or so protesters present.  At the second hearing the applicant attempted to justify the "in character" claim by saying the five storey buildings would be hidden by tall trees.  Fine if those trees will live throughout the life of the building, but they won’t.  When the residents of the units find trees blocking their view, someone will poison those trees in order to obtain breath-taking views over the city!  Will Uniting Care replace the poisoned trees with plastic replicas?  Trees have recently been poisoned on 109 Copeland Road.  In years ahead the residents can sit on their balconies and watch the New Year fire-works, while the locals have to look up at these obscene five storey buildings and wonder how they were permitted.  And of even greater concern is that other developers will use these to justify further high rise buildings within the AS Low Density heritage area.
Having heard the arguments, the JRPP panel voted two for and two against the proposal.  Bruce Macdonald, chairman of the JRPP, used his casting vote in favour of the applicant, to cries of shame from the floor.  The application was thus approved by the JRPP by the very narrowest of margins.  
So now the question must be asked, whether the proposed five storey development is legal. The DA applicant’s glib answer to this question is “plainly ‘yes’”.  The Trust takes a different view.  We say that the issue is not plain.  The wording of the relevant regulations are very complex and may well disallow the application.
I do not intend to present a case against the developer’s legal argument, that being a matter for consideration by those with appropriate expertise.  That said, I do emphasise that this issue is very serious in terms of the whole future of the Beecroft heritage area.  The Trust submits that the Council should seek an independent evaluation of the issue by its own properly qualified legal specialists. 
I have in this presentation tried to show that a very large body of residents are unanimously opposed to this application, fearful that it will lead to further destruction of our heritage area.  The application must be rigorously and scrupulously examined and not permitted against the wishes of the residents unless it is unambiguously legal.  Even then the justification for going to five storeys whereas three have already been approved should be challenged.

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