As no other media were present at this meeting I have put on my reporter’s hat and endeavoured to present a balanced account of the meeting. I welcome contributions from anyone who was at the meeting – or wasn’t.
Developers proposing to to build five-storey units in Todd Street have amended their plans in the wake of 70 objections to the proposal – but the height remains the same.
At a public hearing the Development Consent Authority chairman Peter McQueen said the authority received a total of 93 submissions about the proposal.
The project contravenes current planning regulations and requires personal approval from the new Lands and Planning minister Gerry McCarthy to proceed.
The amendments included: dropping plans for a tavern, changing the placing of buildings to make sure trees on the site are not damaged, and changing proposed traffic flow to two-way from Stuart Terrace in the laneway behind the buildings to address traffic concerns.
But the height of the buildings would remain the same: five storeys or 18.5 metres, 4.5m above the present height limit.
A consultant commissioned by developer CJHA told the meeting Alice Springs had a projected growth of 18 percent over the next 20 years, and had a choice of either growing upwards or outwards.
He said the complex had to be 18.5m in order to offset the high proportion of open space on the site (40 percent). For the buildings to achieve the yield required to be “feasible” within the height limit, the developers would have to cover the whole site, boundary to boundary. As it was, only sixteen percent of the development was five storeys high.
The consultant said the proposal would be a “catalyst” for further development but rejected suggestions it would create a precedent for more such applications – cited by Mr McQueen as one of the most common concerns expressed in objections received.
“Alice Springs does have a rich character and sense of place, “ he conceded, identifying “natural elements” such as the sky, and views of the ranges and the rivers. But little character came from its built environment, he said.
To prove his point he showed a series of photos of some of the town’s most ordinary-looking buildings. This display prompted one objector Rod Cramer to reply that the reason Alice had so few buildings of architectural merit was that “developers had knocked them all down.”
Nevertheless, much of the discussion centred on buildings of merit – specifically those that comprise the neighbouring Hartley Street precinct – and the effect the development would have on the area.
Speaking as NT president of of the National Trust, Lorraine Braham said the Trust was particularly concerned at the impact on the precinct of the proposed carpark for the complex, which would be situated in Hartley Street.
She pointed out the Heritage Conservation Act required developers to discuss their proposal with the Heritage Advisory Board and specifically mentioned car parks as being inappropriate developments in a heritage precinct.
She said the Trust was concerned that the development would be “completely out of place”.
“Once heritage values are ignored, it’s very hard to get them back,” Mrs Braham said.
Heritage Architect Domenico Pecorari said the Heritage Precinct was the “jewel in the crown” of Alice’s heritage and the development would dwarf the houses in the precinct.
Mr Pecorari showed photos to illustrate examples of insensitive developments. One showed the Old Court house, with the Alice Plaza and its three-storey carpark jammed up against it on two sides. Another showed the old gaol in Parson’s Street, completely overshadowed by the Courts Building.
He said the Melanka site proposal showed that “we have learned nothing from our mistakes” – and stressed that the Minister was required to consider the impact of the proposal on the heritage precinct.
Ross Peterkin said approval of the proposal would “effectively gag” any debate about building heights within the community – debate which he said should should precede any applications which contravened the regulations.
Phil Walcott, who intends to stand as an independent in the next Territory election, spoke in favour of the development, comparing its height with the 47 metre-high lights at the Traeger park complex on Gap Road.
Mr Walcott spoke of the need for accomodation. He cited an example of teachers recruited by the Education department not being able to come to town because there was nowhere for them to live.
Real Estate Agent Doug Fraser was the only other supporter of the proposal to speak.
He said the Alice Springs community was “at the crossroads,” with “massive problems in relation to anti-social behaviour”. Bringing a lot of people into the CBD with the development would have a positive effect on the town centre, he said.
Mr Fraser said it was “depressing” to see the number of people who came into his workplace every day looking for rental accomodation.
Mr Fraser said the proposed AZRI development south of the town would provide relief, but forty percent of the sales in town were of units and the AZRI development would not satisfy that market.
He said the height regulations were from the 1970s and the town was “more than ready to move into the 21st century.”
He scoffed the notion the building was high-rise. High-rise, he said was “twenty, thirty or forty storeys”.
Mr Pecorari responded to Mr Fraser’s arguments by reminding the meeting the complex was a “gated community” which would exclude other people from enjoying its facilities, and was out of character with the kind of town Alice Springs aspired to be.
The meeting concluded wth a surprise announcement that Alderman Sandy Taylor had excluded herself from the authority’s deliberations after sending an email out which encourage people to send submissions about the proposal to the authority .