News

Getting Development Right for the Town Centre – The Gungahlin Residential Towers Story
GCC President - Sunday, November 27, 2016

Short summary:

• Many residential skyscrapers are being constructed or proposed in Gungahlin
• Planning rules are being circumvented
• The Gungahlin Town Centre is at risk of becoming a uncoordinated collection of individual projects without any cohesion

Most Gungahlin residents know about Infinity Towers because they have seen the construction underway at the corner of Gundaroo Drive and Anthony Rolfe Avenue. Many residents will also know that the first two of the three towers that make up the development, at 21 and 20 storeys, will be the tallest buildings in Gungahlin and some of the tallest constructions in Canberra. But …

Infinity Towers is not the only residential tower project approved, proposed or under construction in Gungahlin. In fact, an entire area planned for offices is likely to be transformed into a mass of high rise apartments.

The background to how Infinity Towers was approved is becoming increasingly important because it appears to be setting a precedent for further residential towers in this high visibility area of the Gungahlin Town Centre.

Infinity Towers is located on Blocks 2-4 Section 209 Gungahlin. The ACT territory plan indicates that this block is zoned "CZ2-Business", for which the purpose is (in part) to:

a) Provide for office and business sites that are accessible to public transport and convenience retailing and and services
b) Provide a diverse range of accommodation sizes and locations for offices close to the retail core


ACT Territory Plan (actmapi.act.gov.au accessed 19th November, 2016)

There is no mention of residential accommodation in the CZ2 Zone Objectives.

This site is also located within the Gungahlin Town Centre as defined by the Gungahlin Precinct Code, a document which "provides additional planning, design and environmental controls for specific areas or blocks", such as building forms, uses, heights, and much more. More specifically, the entire area bounded by Gundaroo Drive, Anthony Rolfe Avenue and Gribble Street, is defined as "Precinct 2b – Office Park".


Precinct areas within the Gungahlin Town Centre (Figure 12, Gungahlin Precinct Plan)

The key elements of the Office Park specified in the precinct code are limits on usage and height, ie.

 Element 17: Use
 
Rules Criteria
R44
A minimum of one (1) of the following uses is provided at the ground floor level abutting the street or main building entry for buildings of 2,000 (aq m) or greater:
a) Business agency
b) Drink establishment
c) Health facility
d) Public agency
e) Restaurant
f) SHOP
C44

Buildings abutting the street or main building entry incorporate uses that generate activity at the ground level in the public space.400

 

 Element 18: Height
 
Rule Criteria
R45
Maximum height of buildings is 23 metres above the datum ground level.

For leases granted before 30 November 2010, this provision will not apply until five (5) years from that date, being 30 November 2015.
C45
Maximum height of buildings comply with all of the following:
a) are compatible with adjacent development
b) are appropriate to scale and function of use
c) minimise detrimental impacts, including
overshadowing and excessive scale
d) contribute to the desired planning outcomes  

NOTE: A building floor is typically 2.7-2.8m high, so 23m is about 8 floors.

The company that acquired this site, Geocon, originally proposed, and had plans approved for, an office park which were presented to the GCC at a public meeting and were approved in July, 2012. However, they were unable to secure a tenant for the proposed offices, and in 2015 presented an alternative proposal for a series of residential towers, which later became refined into Infinity Towers. These were approved through the normal development application (DA) process in November, 2015 somewhat to the GCC's concern. There were effectively no height restrictions on this development because of the exemption in Rule R45, but certainly the lease use had to be changed to include residential. Concerns raised at the time included the impact on traffic, and whether sufficient allowance had been made for parking.


Geocon proposal for Business Park (from slides presented to GCC).

Subsequent to the approval of Infinity Towers, several other proposals and development applications have been received for other blocks within the "office park". These are summarised below based on artists impressions of the developments (more details in the table at the end of the article):

Clearly this will not create an office park. The development applications for the additional towers that have followed Infinity Towers, are not addressing the "rule" of the Precinct's Code's Element 18 (max height 23m), they are instead arguing that additional towers meet the "criteria" (eg. “compatible with adjacent development”, “appropriate to scale and function”). If this trend is allowed to continue, over 1,000 units with as many as 2,500 residents and 1,600 cars could be located in this area.

The issues are that:

  1. 1. This trend makes a mockery of the precinct code. Either the rules need to be followed, or the precinct code needs to be amended with strong community input immediately. In particular, care needs to be taken to transition the larger buildings into both the existing housing, and into the landform.
  2. Each development undertakes their own analysis on traffic impact and solar over-shadowing, which are evaluated on a development by development basis. This ignores the aggregate impact on traffic and overshadowing of all the developments which is likely to be very significant. The developments must be assessed as a complete precinct.
  3. 2. Because this was never intended to be a residential area, there has been no provision for open space to accommodate this density of residents. This is in part mitigated by the adjacent Yerrabi Park, but pedestrian and cycle access to this area is very poor and needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency, perhaps as part of the duplication of the remainder of Gundaroo Drive between Mirrabei Drive and Horse Park Drive. Minimally, an underpass or overpass to get across Gundaroo Drive is required, but the overall permeability of the location needs to also be considered.
  4. 3. Each development makes a point of highlighting their nearness to the Light Rail station, but the pedestrian and cycle access to the town centre needs to be much better planned in conjunction with the other developments in the main part of the town centre including the Light Rail, bus interchange and other commercial and residential projects.
  5. 4. Much has changed and continues to change in the Gungahlin Town Centre but there is no overall town centre plan or strategy. The GCC is seeking an immediate response from the ACT Government regarding a more cohesive approach to the development of the Gungahlin Town Centre.
  6. 5. In the GCC’s 2014 Have Your Say survey, in response to the question “What should be the maximum height of buildings in the Gungahlin Town Centre?”, more than 80% of residents indicated it should be 10 stories or less (1-4 stories 42.5%, 5-10 stories 38.1%). 

Further Details

 Project  Storeys  Status Units  Car Parks   Media GCC Presentation 
 Infinity Towers (Geocon)  21, 20, (14)*
APPROVED
Under
Construction
 426
(~550)*
 570
(~650)*
 Jan 1, 2016 Original Office Block
Residential Tower
 Mezzo (POD Projects)  12, 7
 APPROVED
Under
Construction
 126   Sep 16, 2015
April 8, 2016
No
 POD Projects  18, 14
 Development
Application
Lodged
 181  300   POD Proposal
 Lumi (KDN)  14, 7  Proposed  145  204  Oct 12, 2016  Lumi Proposal
 TBD (Empire Global)  26, 26, 8 Proposed  ~300  600  Nov 10, 2016  Empire Proposal

*Infinity Tower's third tower is approved, but not yet under construction; Data collected from public sources accessible on the Internet.