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Planning Minister Gives Green Light to Controversial High-density Downer Housing

Planning Minister Gives Green Light to Controversial High-density Downer Housing

29 May 2015 Kirsten Lawson

A controversial high-density housing development in Downer has been given the green light with 300 townhouses and apartments to be built on the site of the former primary school.

The development is opposed by local residents, worried about traffic, house values and the development being out of keeping with the neighbourhood.

The block is earmarked for affordable housing and will be developed by CHC Affordable Housing. It adjoins the Downer oval and is bounded by Bradfield, Frencham and Melba streets. CHC did not respond to inquiries on Tuesday.

Announcing his approval on Tuesday, ACT Planning Minister Mick Gentleman said the site was "well-proportioned and of sufficient size" for higher density residential redevelopment. It was well separated from the surrounding low density residential areas by a band of heritage registered trees, he said.

The development would improve the viability of the Downer shopping centre which had lain dormant for some time, he said. It would increase housing choice, with housing better matched to people's needs and easier to maintain.  It was in line with the government's commitment to greater density around shopping centres.

Despite vocal opposition from residents, Mr Gentleman said overall, submissions on the plan appeared to show "general support" for the development. 

Most of the 21 submissions were from residents, including one couple worried about the height of buildings - at up to four storeys and the location of an underground carpark directly opposite their home, and another resident who said large high-density residential blocks often progressed to slums. Resident and former Greens Assembly Member Caroline Le Couteur is also opposed, saying it will increase the number of homes in Downer by 20 per cent.

In its response to submissions, the planning directorate said the development would increase housing choice in the area, including for people on lower incomes, and help create "a more compact city". It was separated from the lowest-density areas of Downer by the shops and playing fields, with trees helping to soften the impact. Heights would be limited to two and four storeys. 

Mr Gentleman said the school closed in 1988 and was used as office accommodation until it was demolished in 2014. The community had been consulted on its future since 2011.

Ms Le Couteur said she was disappointed that Mr Gentleman hadn't sent the proposal to the planning committee for more public input. She questioned allowing RZ5 zoning "in the middle of Downer", and said the best place for high density was near the planned tram stops, much of which was still zoned RZ1.