In Redevelopment by Karen Woods

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Iris Capital has entered the next stage of its controversial Kings Cross development, by withdrawing the DA widely condemned by local interest groups and enlisting input.

In January Sam Arnaout’s development company Piccadilly Freehold submitted plans for a $47 million project at a row of five sites in Kings Cross, including The Bourbon and Empire hotels.

The development would see demolition of almost all the existing structures and construction of a building up to nine storeys, with 83 apartments, retail and revised iterations of the two hotels.

Almost immediately, locals who fought vehemently to keep the lockouts and trade restrictions that brought so much change to the precinct, began objecting to the proposal and the demolition of The Bourbon’s historic architecture, claiming multiple design and heritage breaches in the DA.

The Bourbon’s arches in question are the sole surviving remnants of a 19th century hospital at the site, and are not representative of the rest of the building nor much substitution for the long-gone hospital. Ironically the area behind the arches is in limbo and unusable as part of the hotel due to Kings Cross’ licence freeze.

Iris has worked with Council since purchasing the sites, The Bourbon in early 2015, and Arnaout reports $1.5 million already spent on research and reports, including consultation with heritage experts, and compliance with all DCP and LEP controls.

While nothing on the site is listed as heritage, the seven-storey façade of the former Deluxe Backpackers building was labelled by Council as a ‘Contributing Item’, meaning it needed to be considered in context of a conservation area. It was the only thing kept for the new design.

Unfortunately, the local residents and protestors are more interested in preserving cultural memories attributed to The Bourbon and Empire, and had no love for the façade.

A campaign against the DA garnered 12,300 online signatures and 650 letters sent to City of Sydney Council. The Potts Point & Kings Cross Heritage & Residents Society has called Iris’ recent withdrawal of the DA a victory for the community – thanking those that recognised its purported “major defects” by signing the petition.

Arnaout says the withdrawal is recognition that the community has spoken and they have responded with action, also noting their requirement to work within parameters set by government.

The Iris CEO stated they will now seek to make sure all stakeholders are able to be part of what will be a landmark repositioning of the site. He has previously cited Iris’ agenda to “build community assets for the people”, which doesn’t sit with steamrollering an unpopular DA into a community.

The group would naturally seek to protect its considerable goodwill in the precinct resulting from Omnia, the former Mercure Hotel turned apartment building a few blocks down Darlinghurst Road, where Iris secured the DA to convert the former accommodation rooms into high-end residential before on-selling the project to Greenland Group mid-2015.

Council will most likely be responsible for setting up any structured community consultation, which will further strengthen its stake in the project.

Interestingly, the potential removal of the ‘contributing item’ protection will overcome a Council hurdle that the developer could not. This, along with local input, will inevitably help free the designers to create a new structure that is both aesthetically and politically pleasing to the pundits.

Ultimately whatever plan gets the green light will be something other than the mish-mash of yesteryear currently occupying the prime real estate, and the fact that the only certainty is change for the privately-held asset is something residents seeking museum status will gradually accept.