By JOHN MOYLE
Under the cloak of Covid, this week the Central Sydney Planning Committee approved development application D/2020/916, known locally in the Kings Cross area as the Bourbon DA.
The controversial plan has divided the Cross since it was first submitted in 2017, only to be knocked back for bad planning, local protests and an online petition that gathered over 12,500 signatures in a month.
Late last year, it was back to the barricades again as Sam Arnaout’s Iris Capital Group resubmitted the DA with a new design by architects Tonkin Zulaikha Greer.
This time the budget was raised to $65.5 million, placing it out of the reach of the City of Sydney Council and into the hands of the Central Sydney Planning Committee, consisting of four people elected by the government plus the Lord Mayor and two City of Sydney councillors – in this case Philip Thalis and Jess Scully.
The development will see the entire block along Darlinghurst Road from Kingsley Hall, near the El Alamein Fountain, to the Empire Hotel demolished – except for a few street facades – to accommodate a development rising to nine stories and containing 54 apartments and two pubs, as well as a number of shops. It will also plunge to a depth of four levels below ground for 80 car spaces.
This is the largest development in the area since Frank Theeman’s ill-fated 1970s Victoria Towers in Victoria Street, which led to the disappearance of activist Juanita Nielsen.
Commenting on the outcome, local heritage expert Andrew Woodhouse suggested that the community was presented with a fait accompli.
“The approval of the DA by the government-appointed committee highlights why we need to have some democracy and put the call back into local government and have our elected representatives make these neighbourhood decisions,” said Woodhouse, President of the Potts Point and Kings Cross Heritage and Residents Association.
The City of Sydney will benefit from a developer’s contribution of $974,222.65 to cover costs for public amenities such as traffic, stormwater and open space.
The development comes at a time when the Cross saw a glimmer of hope, with the Committee for Sydney recently releasing its A Vision for Kings Cross plan to revitalise the area after seven years of lockouts and 18 months of Covid restrictions decimated local businesses and street life.
With the Cross already on the ropes, it is extraordinary that the City of Sydney should be accomplices in delivering the coup de grace by its approval of a plan that will take three to four years to deliver and will see major disruption to the physical and social fabric of the area.
The immediate impact will be on the 40 or so low-cost accommodation residents at 30 Darlinghurst Road, called the Commodore building, who will see their entire building turned to rubble and a hole in the ground.
There is nowhere in the area for these people to go.
“It is disgraceful that these people will be just turfed out – and there is little chance that they can be relocated anywhere near the area at that rent, even if the space was available,” Robyn Greaves, Coordinator, Kings Cross Community Centre, told the Sentinel.
Number 30 Darlinghurst Road still carries advertising for its spaces to rent.
Local musician and producer Ross Johnston has lived and owned in the building at the end of Barncleuth Lane for around 20 years, the tiny one-way road bordering the eastern side of the development and sees a bleak future for himself and his partner.
‘This is terrible news, it means that we will have to leave home at 7am when demolition starts and not come back until 5pm as the dust and noise will be too much to live with,” Johnston said.
An elderly man lives downstairs on the laneway and spends his day with his window open so he can talk to people walking past.
His future is unknown but equally as bleak.
The only building standing on the northern end of the development is the Emile Sodersten-designed Kingsley Hall, considered one of the great art deco structures of Potts Point.
At nine storeys, Kingsley Hall abuts the Lowestoft on Darlinghurst Road, the site of a doctors’ surgery, yoga centre and a chemist shop downstairs.
As part of the development, the Lowestoft site is scheduled for demolition and excavation to five levels, which poses a threat to the structural integrity of Kingsley Hall, whose building committee submitted a 78-page submission to the DA hearing last year.
Spokesperson for the committee, Dr Martin Denny, felt that the Kingsley Hall objections were ignored when he said, “When I spoke to the Planning Committee via Zoom, I made it a victims’ statement, as all the work with consultants was completely dismissed.
“There were about 21 pages of consent and management that were relevant to us such as vibration and dilapidation reports and we want to know what they are doing.
“They don’t know about the footings of our building and they might be very weak.”
Replacing the Lowestoft will be a structure of around 32 metres tall will also obliterate light, views and airflow into Kingsley Hall’s corridors.
Kingsley Hall resident Francoise le Cosses will lose all of her views to the south and is now fearful of what may be to come in other parts of the area.
“I am looking out of my window in across Darlinghurst Road and I will also lose my city views if a development goes up across the road,” le Cosses said.
“And for what?
“They (the developers) are going to create something like the Omnia that has brought nothing to the area except Hungry Jack’s and KFC.”
The Omnia building, also by Iris Capital, replaced the Crest Hotel.
While the developer and the City of Sydney are obviously happy with the outcome, there are many residents who are not, and will not be into the future when the impact of this oversized development takes hold.
Others, such as Dr Denny, are unhappy with the way the process took place with little advance warning, perceiving a lack of transparency and little regard for comment.
“I gave my talk for three minutes and you don’t get any other chance to speak and there were mainly Council people talking, and at the end of it I tried to ask some questions and Clover Moore said, ‘No Dr Denny, you cannot, we are going to mute you.’ And I was muted,” he said.
As to its long-term impact on the community, Andrew Woodhouse said: “This is a disaster for the local economy and local residents and just goes to show that development is not always an improvement.”
Now, it seems the fight is done and dusted – a large chunk of Kings Cross’ heritage is about the meet the wrecking ball. Amidst that is one small consolation: Peter Bainbridge’s ‘Don’t Kill the Cross’ poster has been added to the State Library of NSW collection of important posters about Sydney’s history.
John Moyle is the associate editor and special writer for the Sydney Sentinel.
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