An early Christmas present for local residents still has them fuming ahead of a public rally on February 24th.
The saga kicked off in mid-December when a ‘bulldozing’ bourbon redevelopment application was lodged with the City of Sydney. Yet the planned demolition and redevelopment of iconic buildings in Kings Cross only served to unite the local community.
Of course, change, renewal and development is no bad thing – in fact, it is almost always how things get better.
But it is the scale and impact of the plans that has locals and residents so worried. Dozens of objections are common when it comes to major development plans, but the City of Sydney has been trawling through literally hundreds upon hundreds of written objections to the proposed redevelopment since the January 24th deadline.
So what’s all the fuss about?
The developer, Iris Capital, state that their “vision for this site is to create a sophisticated food and entertainment offering activated through a series of laneways at ground level, with a luxury apartment complex above that will set a benchmark for inner city cosmopolitan living. The site will be a catalyst for the rejuvenation of this important city area which is undergoing significant change from what has been its traditional uses.”
In reality, the developer wants to bulldoze a series of old buildings on Sydney’s Darlinghurst Road. One of them is the iconic Bourbon & Beefsteak building that dates back to 1880, but also to be hit by the bulldozers are a pharmacy, a yoga school, and a medical practice through to the Empire Hotel.
Angry residents say the $48 million development will just kill more of the bohemian charm of this part of Sydney. The proposed bourbon redevelopment is for a block of 83 apartments standing nine storeys high, replete with underground parking and shops and bars on the ground level.
This sort of development is now very familiar in urban Sydney and actively encouraged by government, with apartment living on the rise and low interest rates. In other words, it’s not just about developers making money, it’s about renewing cities.
Alarm bells then rang with the timing – just before Christmas – of the development application, and a claim that the developer had been working closely with Council.
That claim was refuted by Council. The Council spokesperson said: ”The City gave initial preliminary feedback and expressed interest in discussing the project, but requested further detailed information to better inform future discussions.”
A change.org petition started by local health worker Rohan Glasgow has now swelled to over 12,000 signatures. Rohan stated: “Kings Cross has been rapidly gentrified over the last few years by greedy developers with no association or connection with this historic precinct.
It has long been Sydney’s bohemian area and a haven for creative people and/or anyone escaping the conformity and drudgery of suburban living. This latest development application, if it proceeds, will raze an entire historic block including the infamous Bourbon and the Empire hotel, the old Les Girls (venue) from the 60’s until the mid 90’s. In its place will rise a generic, architecturally unimaginative block of 83 ‘luxury’ apartments, over 100 car spaces and provision for 2 greatly reduced licensed premises.”
Andrew Woodhouse, organiser of the February 24 rally and Kings Cross Heritage and Residents‘ Society President, said: “My main objections are a loss of heritage, including the important remnants of the Bourbon; the height, which is nine stories compared to the restrictions of five; the loss of streetscape value; and the design itself, which I believe will have an adverse impact on local businesses and residents.”
Independent member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich, stated in his objection to Council: “The proposed design fails to exhibit design excellence. It is bland, has no unique characteristics, does not respond to its heritage context and looks like a building from any contemporary in-fill redevelopment anywhere. It does not comply with heritage controls and should be rejected.”
The opposition to this bourbon redevelopment is in stark contrast to the building of a luxurious apartment building on the site of the former Crest Hotel, only a stone’s throw away. Comprising 135 high-end luxury apartments within a single 19-storey tower, Omnia will offer sweeping Sydney CBD skyline views to the west and stunning harbour views over Elizabeth Bay, Watsons Bay and North and South Heads to the east. The sexy and sophisticated Omnia is scheduled to finish in late 2018.
But many locals think bulldozing the old Bourbon is a step too far, as it hacks away too deeply at the heart and soul and character and history of the Kings Cross area and Sydney more widely. Kings Cross may be in transition, but they say what is being proposed is bland and generic, replacing buildings like the one that housed the Les Girls cabaret show.
“Go back to your drawing board and give us something that respects the streetscape and something that we can be proud of,” a local businessman said.
Of course, there’s another side to every story, with the developers saying their plans are for a real “village atmosphere”, with a “boutique lifestyle” also promised.
And the council has made clear that the development won’t just be rubber-stamped. In mid January, over 220 people turned up to a residents meeting, demanding that the developers improve the quality, respect the heritage and modify their plans in line with locals’ expectations.
It was also thought the development would be among the first to go under the microscope of a new assessment process, where independent experts front a transparent panel. But eyebrows were raised with the $48 million costing of the project, as developments over $50 million face a much harder approval process.
Still the saga rolls on. One idea is that the development preserves the facade of the Bourbon & Beefsteak, with the architects arguing that Iris “could include these modifications without sacrificing the project’s viability”.
Local Facebook group, Potts Pointers, has united residents young and old. Commentary has been balanced and co-admin of the group, Warren Fahey, summarised: “Urban revitalisation is inevitable. Personally, I think the scale is out of proportion and the design unattractive. I understand the Bourbon building is not covered by a heritage order, however, I believe it is a substantial reminder of the strip’s former life and design elements should be retained.”
The next step for this group of dissenters is a rally on the 24th of February at the Rex Centre.
Will it be three or four years of noise and dust with a generic, architecturally unimaginative building at the finish line? Stay tuned!