The Christian Science Church in Darlinghurst that may go from God’s House to offices. Photo: John Moyle

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By Andrew Woodhouse

“Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war” is the nineteenth century hymn for those calling for divine intervention.

And it may be invoked by locals wanting to defeat a new $13 million mega-development application for the former First Church of Christ, Scientist, 262 Liverpool Street, Darlinghurst (DA/2018/1526).

The church is a well-known heritage-listed local landmark.

Squinched between dense inner-city living and the CBD, this church’s religion was founded by Ms Eddy in 1879, Boston, USA. She claimed to have been “healed” by simply reading the bible. There are no clergy in the services of this church, just individual readers.

The architecture of the church doesn’t follow traditional church styles but appears as a temple with monumental columns and imposing doors. Its auditorium is laid out theatre-style with an impressive pipe organ behind a grille.

This site remained undeveloped until the 1920s apart from being occupied by a large tent used by the Burlington picture show, and for political rallies.

“Bank style” church design

The original church, previously in nearby Riley Street, was vacated and a new church planned in 1923.

The architect, Samuel Thorpe, was believed to be a church member and founder of the leading firm Peddle, Thorp and Walker. He later designed Sydney’s first skyscraper, the 1962 AMP building at Circular Quay. He based his church design on the church’s own “bank style” used in the USA.

Its principal characteristics include large-scale classical motifs with impressive interior spaces. It has changed very little externally apart from lights purchased from the former Sun-Herald building in the late 1950s and a new entrance door in 1985 facing Forbes Street.

What are not seen are modern interiors, part of its adaptive re-use as an apartment.

The latest DA seeks Sydney Council approval for alterations and additions, including a two-storey glazed addition to the eastern wing, new 100 square metres of rooftop terraces and attic, basement car parking for nine spaces, a raised roof, solar panels and office works.

The owner / developer Mr Carnegie bought the building in 2010 for $8.75 million. It has been subject to previous controversial DAs and a NSW Land and Environment Court case decision.

His architect, Adam Haddow, from SJB architects, claims “the best thing is that the church would be opened up again so people will be able to go in and see it rather than it just being a private space … keeping it with one owner as a whole, it’s more likely that a heritage building will be better maintained.”

“Tell him he’s dreaming,” say locals.

Dr Tim Brooker, a professional transport planner and Secretary of RATL (Residents Adjacent to Thomson Lane), notes the site is zoned “residential”.

However, council’s zoning rules allowing exemptions are not met.

And they say an office is not a public space and therefore is irrelevant to the DA. It must be maintained according to NSW Heritage Office rules, whoever owns it.

The DA allows for 200 new office workstations and is unacceptable given the site’s residential zoning and urban context.

Independent transport study needed

The new DA re-zones the site and increases traffic density, a major problem.

Dr Brooker states, “there is a serious issue in terms of the long-term protection of this historic residential precinct. If council consents to new commercial uses then what is to stop other commercial uses occurring? This DA will give no night-time passive surveillance necessary to discourage undesirable night-time behaviour.”

Dr Brooker also wants “an independent transport study, including formal consultation with locals”.

Additionally, locals are concerned about noisy air-conditioning units near their bedrooms, particularly at night.

Council says: “The Mechanical Services documentation indicates a combination of internal … and external air-conditioning units within a lowered plant room immediately west of the roof terrace”.

Dr Brooker’s requests to council’s high priests of planning for a brief extension of the February 5 deadline until after February19 have been granted  – for himself – despite a lack of notice on the Forbes Street frontage and the need to submit a detailed  pedestrian study after local school pupils have returned from holidays.

Other locals will now need to lodge their own request, but need to hurry if they wish to object. A new state planning rule allows DAs to be dealt with less public scrutiny behind closed doors if less than 25 objections are received. So far, only 13 have been received.

And with 918 pages of DA documents to digest, this alone seems reason enough for an extension.

A three-dimensional model is available for viewing at Town Hall House, entrance via Druitt Street.