Darlinghurst Road is crying out for protection. Photo: John Moyle

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BY JOHN MOYLE

 

Responding to a Development Application (DA) lodged late last year by developer Iris Capital to demolish almost an entire block of Darlinghurst Road and build an imposing wall of blandness, the City of Sydney has quickly responded with a draft Development Control Plan (DCP) for the area.

After a response not seen since the 1970s Victoria Street Green Bans, the community fired back with more than 500 objections to the proposed development, which would have turned most of the Bourbon and Empire Hotel sites into apartments.

A rally and12,500 change.org signatures later, Iris Capital withdrew the DA, with the promise the group would reconsider and resubmit.

“Our changes will make sure any new development in the area respects the edgy, historic and iconic characteristics of Kings Cross,” Lord Mayor Clover Moore, City of Sydney said. The 573 page Development Control Plan was released last week and residents have until 23rd October to respond, but to date there is little awareness of the document’s existence. “I don’t think that there is enough time for community engagement on this and it needs more time,” said Sue Hanley of community group Concerned Citizens. “There is no engagement on Potts Pointers (a local Facebook site with over 3,500 members), and I don’t think people understand it and there needs to be a lot more work on raising awareness of what it is about.”

Local heritage expert Andrew Woodhouse said that though the draft DCP has problems with its consistency and clarity “we have to get all these new rules in place and regulations up front and stamped before the next DA is lodged”. Peter Annan, an urban designer with 50 years’ experience working in Woolloomooloo, the CBD, Pyrmont and other urban centres, sees it as a “guideline for the developer in this area”.

“Its intent is to regulate and control the development of the block and what it sets out is very prescriptive and a detailed set of conditions that will make it very difficult for the developer.”

A City of Sydney spokesperson said that the City’s Design Advisory Panel recommended that “a heritage study was needed to provide a better understanding of the heritage values of the Bourbon development site and more specific guidance to inform the preparation of proposed planning controls”.

The Lord Mayor said, “We will be recommending any new development set aside 50 per cent of its floor space for non-residential uses and we’ll be pursuing heritage listings for Kingsley Hall and the facade of the Bourbon, as well as asking that future development of the Empire Hotel recognises its social history as the home of the infamous 1960s nightclub, Les Girls”.

“It is unclear to what extent the Bourbon will be saved as Council says various things such as ‘there will be a stepped 8m set back behind the exisiting wall,’ and then the proposed DCP…for the Bourbon…encouraged a minimum set back…of 6m,” Andrew Woodhouse said. As for the Empire Hotel site the proposal allows the building to be redeveloped provided any new development takes into account the site’s history and social connections.

Does this mean that a bustier cast in bronze and exhibited in one of its bars will suffice? Kingsley Hall is a 1931 Emil Sodersten apartment building built in 1931 and is one of the finest examples of art deco architecture in the area.

It is at the corner of the development site, and the building and its inhabitants would be severely impacted by any demolition and building works. “I’ve got to give recommendation to the Council for the work that they have done and it’s good to see Kingsley Hall get a heritage listing as it is a very important building,” Kingsley Hall resident Dr Martin Denny said.

“But they keep saying that they are going to increase the height of the chemist shop next door to seven floors which means that views and the light of people living here will disappear.” “The illustrations show a massive cantilevered four-storey building above the site with the same footprint as the current building which increase from three to seven stories with the click of a mouse,” Andrew Woodhouse said.

Given none of the community members who made submissions to the DA, the 76 who attended the City of Sydney meeting nor any of 252 who took part in the survey were notified that the draft DCP was released, the feeling among locals is that the City of Sydney is easing the way for another DA. “What the Council is saying that the development can go ahead but with a certain number of restrictions,” Dr Denny said.

If anything the draft DCP will polarise the community with those who will be satisfied that a couple of white arches will be preserved on the Bourbon site at one end, and those who believe any development on the site will wreck the entire neighbourhood, at the other.

“I don’t think people want the development, they want improvements and we have to accept the fact that these are not developers, they are not seeking to improve the public domain, they are only seeking to improve their hip pocket,” Andrew Woodhouse said.

The draft DCP can be found at the City of Sydney website.