In Redevelopment by Clyde Mooney

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Iris’ proposed $47m development in Kings Cross is under attack before it begins, with a local interest group fighting to scare Council into blocking the proposal.

Kings Cross is back in the headlines, no longer for scandal or its infamous underbelly, but because the same residents that fought for the lockouts that demolished the late-night precinct want to preserve its bohemian aura.

Last Thursday a public meeting was held to protest the DA submitted by Iris’ Piccadilly Freehold, which would see four sites including the Empire Hotel and The Bourbon demolished to make way for a structure up to nine storeys in places, with 83 apartments, underground parking and revised iterations of the two hotels on street level.

The multi-storey façade of the former Deluxe Backpackers hotel will be retained and incorporated into the new structure, but the residents group is more interested in keeping aspects of the former Bourbon & Beefsteak Hotel, lamenting the potential loss of its arches and balcony.

These are in fact vestiges of a far larger and long-gone hospital on the site, and hardly worthy of broader heritage consideration. Ironically, the upper floors have also remained unusable as part of the Hotel since the pre-lockout licence freeze in the precinct, which rendered more than 80 per cent of the floorspace unlicensed when Chris Cheung gutted the derelict Hotel in 2013.

Beyond claims by the group that the redevelopment would lead to the area becoming “another dreary suburban area” devoid of culture, they offer that the proposal breaches multiple height, 15 design, three development, no less than 40 planning and eight heritage conditions.

None of the buildings in the proposal hold heritage protection, which somewhat undermines their credibility, but all present at the meeting – with reports ranging from 100 to 300 people – agreed to push Council to force Iris to revise the design.

A large-scale development such as this inevitably goes through some evolution of design, but little accord seems to have been given to the process to date, which has involved two heritage consultants, an urban designer, and Woods Bagot – an international award-winning architect.

“We stand for good quality design, and where heritage deserves it we retain it and work with it,” Iris Capital director Sam Arnaout has told PubTIC.

Iris has shown itself to be very sympathetic to heritage elements, as seen at the Hunters Hill Hotel and Clovelly Hotel, and more recently at Newcastle’s EastEnd project, where three restored heritage buildings are incorporated into the $700m multi-stage revamp of the Hunter Street mall, bringing 500 apartments, retail and landscaped laneways.

“Stage one has demonstrated that the developers have a commitment to both heritage considerations and architectural excellence, and the result strongly contributes to the preservation of Newcastle’s urban character,” said Newcastle Greens councillor and Joint Regional Planning Panel member John Mackenzie.

The Mercure Hotel complex, approved by Council to become luxury apartments before Iris on-sold the opportunity to Greenland Group in 2015, is currently under construction. Approval for this passed the necessary checks and balances at the time, without fuss.

The DCP (Development Control Plans) and LEP (Local Environmental Plans) systems are intended to assess proposals accurately and determine guidelines and restrictions, and are obviously more impartial than a room full of local stakeholders.

While the residents of Potts Point and Kings Cross may disapprove of Iris Capital transforming nearly an entire faded block of the glitter strip into high-end residences within walking distance of the CBD, the official business association of the precinct, the Potts Point Partnership, is generally in favour.

“We think it will add vibrancy to the streetscape and the business proposed is a smart one and will benefit the business community,” said PPP spokesperson Louise Shepherd.

However, as active members of that community the PPP does consider the resident group’s argument on local culture.

“It would be ideal if we could see a strategic plan for the area to align the stakeholders, and determine how we can create a sustainable business mix and housing for the future that respects the area’s past,” Shepherd told PubTIC.

But despite the business community’s support, long-term residents of the area, many now blessed with plenty of time on their hands and little left to complain about, are rallying support against the reinvention of The Bourbon and surrounds, before the public consultation period ends, Wednesday, 24 January.

Sam Arnaout told PubTIC he could not comment on the proposal or ongoing DA process at Kings Cross.