BY JOHN MOYLE
Rose Bay in Sydney’s eastern suburbs is bounded by the harbour and New Beach Road on one side and Old South Head Road on the other, as it passes through the suburb on its way to Watsons Bay.
The suburb is made up of single dwellings, duplexes and low-rise apartment blocks settled into tree-lined streets.
Rose Bay is accessible to the city by ferry, buses and the two main road exits of New South Head Road and Old South Head Road that also draw traffic from as far away as Watsons Bay and Dover Heights.
Sounds like an idyllic suburb, except Bruce Bland, vice-president, Rose Bay Residents Association, claims that Rose Bay “is an area under siege.”
The siege Mr Bland is referring to is not the old soldiers at the gate type, but development that appears to be unbridled and in danger of robbing the suburb of its community atmosphere, which the residents value highly.
“We now have clogged streets, there is a shortage of pre-schools, and we think that it is only going to get worse if more rezoning happens,” Mr. Bland said.
The 120-strong association has been in existence for 20 years and is used to a fight, but they are feeling fatigued, as the suburb is now ringed by new residential and commercial projects that the locals feel they have lost control of.
And one old controversy has reappeared.
The old controversy is the O’Neil family’s third attempt at placing a third arm on the Rose Bay Marina, despite strong opposition from residents, Woollahra Council, the Land and Environment Court, the Joint Regional Planning Panel and local MP Gabrielle Upton.
‘Residents have raised significant concerns with me about the proposal for a third arm at Rose Bay Marina,” said Ms Upton “I am against the expansion of Rose Bay Marina and will continue to fight on behalf of my local community.”
“We thought that battle was over,” Mr. Bland said, “but as soon as the developer Denis O’Neil built the two arm marina, he put in for the third arm.”
This battle has cost the Woollahra Council over $600,000 in court fees.
Along New South Head Road and not far from the marina, a new development is rising behind the Rose Bay Hotel that could see up to a hundred new car spaces being created to service the nearby shopping centre redevelopment.
“The council is doing this because there is no parking and what they are saying is that the only thing to do is to redevelop the existing car spaces, and in order to pay for it, they put units on top, which the developer then doubles, claiming that they need to make a profit,” Mr. Bland said.
A member of the non-aligned Residents First, Woollahra councillor Claudia Cullen sees a disparity between development and infrastructure.
“The Woollahra Council’s target for new development to the end of 2021 is set at 300 and it means that we are putting extra pressure on infrastructure,” Cr Cullen said, adding “without the delivery of infrastructure the Council and State Government can’t continue to approve further dwellings.”
Cr Cullen also pointed out that there is no public high school in the area “and the Waverley school only has 50 spaces left, while the public junior schools are already full.”
Moving across Rose Bay to the shopping centre precinct along Old South Head Road things are no better.
Where once Bunnings stood servicing the ‘Toolmen’ of the district, there is now a building zone that will change the streetscape irreparably.
“The site is now a unit block up to six storeys and the developers have an option and a DA for everything to the lights at Dover Road, a distance of about 150 metres,” Mr Bland said.
The Rose Bay Residents Association see this new unit block and commercial centre as stripping the area of its much valued community atmosphere.
“Our view is that the area has a great village atmosphere with all the amenities and shops at ground level, and this is what we are trying to preserve,” Mr Bland said.
The sale of the 100 year old Uniting Church on the corner of Dover Road and Old South Head Road has placed the area under even further pressure, as the much-used and much-loved church and hall has issued tenants with notices to quit in readiness for a possible demolition.
The church has not had an active congregation for some time, but for over 50 years it has acted as a community centre, housing the BoPeep Kindergarten, a ballet school and Zumba classes, with all being well attended.
Lisa ran the Zumba classes for around 150 students, but will now be moving out after 13 years.
She heard about the closure through gossip and could not get any further information from the agent or the Uniting Church.
“They told the ballet class and the kindy downstairs that it is closing at the end of the year,” Lisa said.
Adjoining the church is the two storey Wesley Hall with a meeting space for 350 people on its upper floor, also sold.
“From what I understand, the Uniting Church wanted to money do that it could go to other causes,” Maria Judd, committee member, Rose Bay Residents Association said.
The Uniting Church’s Sydney Presbytery, which is responsible for the sale of assets, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
While Woollahra Council need to step up to the plate and give some direction to the residents’ concerns, the makeup of the council might make that more like herding cats.
“What we’ve got is three councillors that agree with us, but three out of fifteen is not enough,” Mr. Bland says.
As of next year, any council decision on development applications will be even more difficult with the introduction of the Independent Hearing and Assessment Panel, that forces the decision making process away from Sydney and Wollongong councils to a panel of independent assessors under the Minister for Planning.
This move is meant to make DA approvals more transparent and accountable, but as every developer knows, where there’s a will there’s a way.
Woollahra mayor Peter Cavanagh was contacted for this article.