If developers get their way a brass plaque will be all that remains of Bondi’s landmark post office. Photo: Sabin Bandana

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BY JOHN MOYLE

If developers get their way a brass plaque will be all that remains of Bondi’s landmark post office.

The Development Application (DA) 475/2017 lodged with Waverley Council in November calls for the demolition of the heritage-listed Hall Street site, along with the removal of trees and planter boxes at its front.
The DA applicant is listed as Australia Postal Corporation and the owner as Australia Post, the first of many contradictions surrounding this project, as Australia Post sold the building in 2015 for an estimated $15 million.

The building then quickly got flipped and the current owner of the 765sqm site is North Sydney-based construction company Taylor.

“What they have done I find extremely sneaky, in that the DA calls for partial demolition, but I say that is not true, they are going to knock down the whole thing,” Lenore Kulakauskas, convenor, Bondi Beach Precinct said.

The project proposes that the site be developed with two levels of basement parking for 24 cars, a ground floor retail front and residential lobby, a three-story addition comprising five two-bedroom apartments and five three-bedroom apartments, along with landscaping and the removal of two on-site trees.
The DA states that the development costs are estimated at $5.8 million.

“It is a really useful building and I don’t see why we need to get rid of it,” said Andrew Worssom, resident.
The overall tone of the DA is one that attempts to down grade the site while thickly laying spurious claims as to the benefits of the new development.

The applicant also claims that the development will lead to ‘retail activation’ on Hall Street and that the ‘integration of the existing heritage building and a contemporary addition will contribute positively to the level of architectural quality along Hall Street’.

The application then gets positively condescending when its states, ‘It is considered that the proposal will have several benefits to the local community and will not result in significant adverse impacts to the amenity of surrounding properties.’

Smart Design Studios in the Architectural Design Report refers to the post office as a ‘disjointed site’ that blocks ‘pedestrian movement’ and that the paperbark trees ‘are extremely close to the post office’, therefore they are given a death sentence.

How the loss of a heritage building, an essential service and the removal of a village meeting point could not be called ‘adverse’ is questionable and perhaps double-speak.

“What Bondi doesn’t need is another coffee shop,” Waverley Mayor Councillor John Wakefield said, adding, “There is certainly opposition to the demolition and I support the community as the post office forms a very important function in Bondi and the heritage building is a landmark in the area.”

While one part of the application talks up the retention of the site’s heritage values, the brass plaque option becomes clearer when reading Northrop’s geotechnical report .
In the report Northrop states that the ‘construction of the proposed new building will require demolition of the existing buildings and structures (including their footings) and of the pavements’.

With the removal of the roof, demolition of side walls, and the construction of a two-story basement car park it is hard to see just what can be retained that would have any historical value, let alone the suspension of the postal service.

A statement from Australia Post says, ‘there is a five-year lease with a five-year option in place’ but that is no assurance that the options would ever be triggered, and at best, only guarantees the service for another ten years.
“If there is no post office in Hall Street the only options are to go to Bondi Junction or the tiny little one on Bondi Road,” Lenore Kulakauskas said.

The Hall Street post office not only caters to the needs of the local community, it also acts as a focal point for people meeting away from the crass development and ubiquitous coffee shops of Campbell Parade.
“The post office is a community service and I also have friends who use the building as a meeting point and I regard it as the hub of community,” Marilyn Tanner, resident said.
Backpackers, who flock to Bondi year round, also rely heavily on the postal facilities.

The proposal also calls into account a school of architecture, known as Facadism, whereby significant architectural or heritage value is preserved and the rest of the building repurposed.
The architectural drawings depict the development as a bland structure lacking style or merit, with the present entrance to the post office being retained as the entrance to the apartments.

The peak international body of cultural heritage professionals, ICOMOS, states that ‘a monument is inseparable from the history to which it bears witness and from the setting in which occurs’.
“Who is to say what kind of property market and residential neighbourhood will be operating in the future, but 20 years is kind of the life cycle for contemporary buildings these days,” Waverley Councillor Dominic Wy Kanak said.

While objections to the proposal should be addressed to Waverley Council, Mayor John Wakefield explained to the City Hub that due a 2014 decision led by Cr Betts and her colleagues, all DA decisions have been taken away from councillors and will be decided either by council’s Planning Staff or by the Waverley Development Assessment Panel.

The DA is currently in suspension while Waverley Council gets more information on issues relating to heritage.