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Heritage cottages under threat from new hotel but no public consultation

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UPDATED: Three heritage row cottages on Wright Street could be partially demolished to make way for a 16-storey hotel – but State Government planning rules mean the public won’t be consulted before development approval is granted.

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Adelaide developer Future Urban Group lodged a development application earlier this month asking for approval to partially bulldoze two bluestone cottages on Wright Street in the city to build a $10.9 million “16-storey tourist accommodation with rooftop terrace”.

The row cottages at 134 and 136 Wright Street were constructed in 1880, with one listed on the Adelaide City Council’s local heritage register.

Planning changes implemented by former Planning Minister John Rau in the last term of government mean the proposal is automatically granted category one development status, meaning the public won’t be consulted on the plans before a decision is made.

A spokesperson for the Department for Planning, Transport and Infrastructure responded to InDaily after publication stating that information regarding the Wright Street development application would be made available via the State Commission Assessment Panel (SCAP) public register when it is scheduled to be considered.

“In accordance with the legislation, the planning authority is not required to publicly notify Category 1 developments and there are no third party appeal rights although the public can undertake a judicial review of the process,” the spokesperson said.

“This application is currently being assessed and no date is yet determined for the application to be considered by the SCAP.” 

Planning reforms also raised the accepted building height limit in the city’s predominately residential southwestern corner to 20 storeys.

A real estate advertisement published in 2016 when the cottages were last sold states that the zone in which the buildings are located “is highly flexible” for development.

“This quality property allows a buyer to lease out the existing units, redevelop the entire site or value add to the current buildings, subject to council consent,” the advertisement states.

“The capital city zone is highly flexible with one objective stating ‘a vibrant mix of commercial, retail, professional services, hospitality, entertainment, educational facilities and medium and high-density living’, making the site highly versatile now and for future development.”

A spokesperson from the SCAP confirmed to InDaily yesterday that Future Urban Group had lodged an application for the site.

It basically will mean the end of the southwest corner’s cottage, low-scale type of historic relevance

Developments in the Capital City Zone – which covers Wright Street – are automatically given category one status unless they are located on land adjacent to the City Living Zone or Adelaide Historic (Conservation) Zone.

InDaily contacted Future Urban Group for comment, but a spokesperson said the relevant planner in charge of the proposed Wright Street high-rise hotel was unavailable.

According to the state’s land register, two separate companies with the same Wayville address own 134 and 136 Wright Street.

Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Adelaide City councillor Anne Moran, who sits on the council’s assessment panel, said the proposed Wright Street development was “one of the first developments that really shows the flaw in the planning changes under the Rau regime”.

“This is what we feared would happen, that the very low-scale cottage-type area of the southwest would become just enormously damaged by the allowance of such height limits,” she said.

“We said if you just make it category one, up to 20 storeys – which a lot of these residential streets can now become – you make the land so valuable in one way because if you knock down the cottage you can sell the land to a developer for a 20-storey building.

“The land value goes up, the value of getting rid of your heritage house is enormously expanded and if you don’t you could have a 20-storey building right next to it anyway.

“It basically will mean the end of the southwest corner’s cottage, low-scale type of historic relevance.”

Moran said it was possible that developers would leave the front of the Wright Street cottages intact and demolish the back-end of the buildings as local heritage listings only applied to what could be seen from the street.

“I suspect they’re doing a tokenistic retaining of the front bit and down the side and whacking a great thing behind it,” she said.

“It sounds like they’re skirting the local heritage issue by doing that and the 16-storeys wouldn’t trigger anything because the height limits have been dramatically increased all over the city.”

Deputy Lord Mayor Alexander Hyde, whose ward covers Wright Street, said he “understood” Future Urban Group’s proposed hotel design was “attractive”, but he questioned the suitability of the location.

“It’s going to have a serious impact on the streetscape, there will be issues with shadowing at various times of the day, it will be obviously out of character with other neighbouring heritage places,” he said.

“As a city and a government we need to be encouraging taller buildings to be located in the central part of the city and not in the residential south.”

Hyde said it was a “complete failure of the system” that the public would not be consulted on the development proposal, adding that while the council would provide comment about the need to preserve the cottages’ front façades, its “hands were tied” as it does not have decision-making powers for developments over $10 million.

“What we really don’t want to see is like what happened with the Opus apartments on Hutt Street, when those two bluestone buildings were demolished for an apartment that never appeared,” he said.

“We could see a situation where there is a partial demolition of these cottages before the building is ready to begin.

“If that’s the case, it’s going to be very difficult to get those buildings usable again and it may be that a subsequent application could see the buildings totally demolished.”

Note: An earlier version of this story stated that all three cottages were local heritage-listed. The story has since been updated to state only one of the cottages is local heritage-listed.

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