COMMENT BY PAUL PAECH
Part 2 of a 2-part article
Bondi Beach Post Office is facing closure.
Australia Post is still insisting that “we are committed to the local community,” but with the local community saying NO, that’s looking increasingly difficult to believe, even though Australia Post promises to retain all its product services in Bondi Beach.
“You’re not serving the community: you’re helping destroy it” was the clear message from last weekend’s rally outside the Bondi Beach Post Office.
The meeting was addressed by much-loved local resident Michael Caton. He played a key role in the Bondi Pavilion battle which saw local Liberals thrown out of power in last September’s elections.
At the rally, Mayor John Wakefield said that former mayor Sally Betts had stripped development decisions from Waverley councillors and provided a glowing example that the State government used to sell the compulsory change to other councils.
He said that the failed attempt by Baird/Berejiklian to abolish local councils was the Liberal’s thank-you gift to the state’s property developers, and that people have seen it and they’ve had enough!
The application assumes that the land around the building will be sold, but the Post Office building with its land is actually owned by the Australian Government, that is, by Australians. With the surrounding planters and open space being owned and so intensively used by the public, there’s an argument that the area functions as Bondi’s Public Square, and that it ought not be sold off as if it were just another bit of commercial land.
Hall Street’s footpaths widen out in this area and the result is a small but perfectly formed public plaza. With the modest Post Office elegantly echoing the classical architecture of the Pavilion, this is a local area that beautifully counter-balances the massive public open space of Bondi Beach. It’s far too good to lose.
Down on Campbell Parade height restrictions and heritage controls have meant that Bondi’s main strip has mostly avoided the blight of crass high-rise over-development that’s afflicted much of Australia’s East coast. But recent approval of a nasty glitzy block of (what else?) ultra luxury flats on the corner of Ramsgate Avenue looks like a planning blunder, and hopefully one of the last.
The developers (Elia Leis and Andrew Starr’s StarGate Property Group) are responsible for the elliptical tower at the top of Bondi Road and have been pushing the highly controversial West Oxford Street development.
The approved building on Campbell Parade will rise almost 16 metres above the controls of 12.5 metres, and block the sun that shines on those tanned torsos and rippling pecs of North Bondi’s legendary Muscle Beach gym.
Property development may not be entirely a zero-sum game, but all of Sydney’s inner suburbs are now so densely packed that pretty well every new development robs other residents of their sunlight, views, trees, etc.
In the Eastern Suburbs particularly, this is a very real everyday tale of winners and losers. The fact is that if you build and get a view, you’ll have taken that view from someone else.
Not that local Councils or their planning departments seem terribly interested. Stargate’s application for the Campbell Parade proposal scandalously argued that Waverley Council had effectively abandoned its own development controls in Bondi Beach, and that therefore this extra height was perfectly acceptable. It’s a measure of how much power Sydney’s development industry has taken from elected-and therefore accountable-officials.
It’s a small world, after all
Hall Street’s popular Fishmongers eatery in Hall Street has remained sadly closed ever since its exhaust flue went up in flames a couple months before Christmas. But now, Mongers has finally re-opened in the very same building that StarGate is proposing to develop. (Is that a new exhaust fan on the roof?)
The one bright point is that Hall Street neighbours are enjoying their first summer in ages without the greasy smell of fish & chips permeating their homes. Fears are though that the real-estate eagles are circling the original single-storied properties, and that the fire will bring on the sale and development of the empty chippery and its co-joined Thai massage twin.
Along with the proposal for Bondi’s totally cute Post Office, a couple stories’ extra height here would end the Hall Street delight of afternoon summer sun from public areas, and diminish the pleasure of what is the true town centre of Bondi Beach.
Where goes the neighbourhood?
Judging by the darkened windows in many new buildings, you have to ask whether anyone actually lives there. In Linz & Litver’s Pacific, the strata committee has had trouble chasing up owners many of whom fail to respond and don’t even live in the country.
No doubt new residential Gina Reinhardt will be keen to play a more active role in protecting her $15 million investment in one of the wind-tunnels on the roof, seductively marketed to unsuspecting rich-listers as “lighthouses.” Oooh, the folly of wealth. Ahhh, the value of local knowledge.
BY VANESSA LIM
The proposed 11-storey twin-tower building at West Bondi has been recommended to the NSW Department of Planning, despite public disapproval.
The Independent Planning Commission has advised the NSW Department of Planning to proceed to the finalisation of the Stargate Property Group’s luxury apartment development.
But this proposal has received backlash from locals such as Catharine Munro, who manages the Facebook page “Save West Bondi Junction”. Ms Munro said, “We have been fighting this for seven years and the response from the community has consistently been strong opposition to it”.
Proposal twice rejected
This plan is also rejected by Waverly’s Labor Mayor John Wakefield, who said, “Council has twice rejected this development proposal. We continue to lobby the State Government to reject it. During the week I have again written to the Minister on behalf of impacted residents to seek his refusal of the project”.
A major concern that locals have voiced is the impact it will have on Centennial Park. Munro said, “When you’re standing in the park with the beautiful tree skyline and no buildings you feel like you’re out in nature, but that’ll be destroyed as you’ll have the block of apartments in the skyline. There’s also overshadowing in the corner of the park”.
With the developer’s proposal, the current height limit of four storeys will increase by 2.4 times.
Munro said, “In cities there are plans that limit heights so that you don’t end up with really unpleasant urban landscapes”.
The four terrace heritage sites have also raised concern for locals. Mill Hill Bondi Junction committee member Ilana Cohen said, “Other issues are that they will take the heritage protection off the terraces, this could set a precedent, and a mass clearing of the terraces in the area could start.”
There is also worry that when a couple of high-rise buildings are developed, other landowners will soon follow suit.
Munro said, “If he does that just for his land, other landowners will come out and say ‘Well we want the height limits changed for our land too because he got it so why can’t we? That’s where people are concerned.”
Mill Hill Bondi Junction committee member Georgia Koutsandrea has experienced the effects of urbanisation in Bondi.
She said, “I have lived in Bondi Junction for the last eight years and experienced first-hand the gradual worsening of these issues as the high rises have gone up”.
This potential domino effect isn’t the only thing the community is worried about. Chris Matthews from the Bondi Resident Action Group said, “Insufficient data collected on traffic impacts to Oxford Street, especially in light of the recently approved community cycleway, will further narrow this already overly busy intersection (cnr of York Road, Oxford Street and Syd Einfeld Drive). This is the main exit/entrance to Waverley Bus Depot, (itself under threat)”.
But local council and community efforts opposing the proposal, due to its negative impacts, have been disregarded by the NSW Department of Planning.
Munro said, “When a bureaucrat as opposed to a politician gets told to assess a proposal, they have to have parameters for assessing it. Their guidelines are about putting lots of high rise close to public transport. So if that’s your main consideration for assessing this proposal it gets a big tick. But when you take into account environment, heritage, community needs and traffic impact, it’s a bigger picture that needs more consideration”.
Chris Matthews also voiced his concern about the approval process. He said, “Since the current State Government took the planning powers from local councils in August 2017, the rate of developments in Bondi Junction and all over Sydney has accelerated significantly.
“Although some change is inevitable with the growth of our populations, it should not be at the expense of the existing suburban population. The current government is driving change at such a rapid rate that there is a cost associated with this process, the degradation of our happiness and our homes.”
Munro said, “Power taken away from the local community, that is of major concern, but we also just need good analysis and assessment.”
She cited the questionable guidelines.
“What’s happened is that they’ve had narrow guidelines for considering it and perhaps guidelines that aren’t all that relevant. These are luxury apartments where everyone will own a car and probably not need public transport.”
The NSW Labor and Greens have both agreed to review the approval process but NSW Liberals have yet to take action.