Opinion By Andrew Woodhouse
The former TAP Gallery site at 87 Palmer Street, Darlinghurst, is subject to a NSW Land and Environment Court case beginning 5 November 2019. At issue is the new owner’s development application (DA) for a multi-storey apartment block in this historic precinct.
The TAP Gallery was formed in 1989 and was reminiscent of an older, bohemian kind of Sydney. Boasting a year-round program of group shows and solo exhibitions, it had the community at its heart and a deep affection for honest art. The artist-run initiative favoured more inclusive and diverse programming, inviting artists to hang their work in their themed group shows.
Originally at 10 Taylor Street, Surry Hills, TAP Gallery was approved in 1993 by the then South Sydney Council as a “Community Arts Centre”.
Not happy, Council
Lesley Dimmick OAM, TAP Gallery Founder and Manager, remembers they changed the name to TAP to reflect its history; Taylor at Palmer [street]. She recalls the gallery was booted out of its Palmer Street site by Sydney Council and said she is “not happy” with the way they were treated by the new developers and council and the fact that the site has been left vacant for so long.
The TAP relocated to its present intimate space at 259 Riley Street, Surry Hills late last year, where it also curates plays and art classes as well as its previous program. See www.tapgallery.org.au
The first 2017 DA for the site was for part demolition and ten new apartments. The DA proposal backs onto Sherbrook Street with a four-storey façade faced with metal cladding in a two-storey streetscape. Judy Ingram, a neighbour, may only be just over five foot tall but she can roar like a lion. Over 30 objections have raised issues such as overshadowing, reduced privacy, height control excesses, loss of sunlight, excavation noise and structural instability, increased on-street car parking, and Airbnb letting for tiny apartments as small as 30 square metres. Ms Ingram says this is a “a shocking design” that is out of character with its Heritage Conservation Area and its quaint 1860s former Darlinghurst Gaol staff homes.
“The developers are real buggers,” she said, “and at no stage did they take the time to talk to residents. Everyone in the street knows each other and looks out for one another.”
The conciliation meeting called by Sydney Council in March 2019 failed to achieve anything. DA 2017/1332, estimated to cost about $2.8 million, was rejected by council’s Expert Design Panel. The DA was formally rejected on 7 November 2018. The issue has been dragging on ever since.
The developer has appealed the Planning Panel’s decision and lodged an amended design for nine apartments, but this does not satisfy objectors. Ms Ingram notes that four storeys is overbearing and out of keeping with the local area. The amended plans are substantially the same as those refused by the Local Planning Panel in November 2018.
The DA fails to address the real reasons why it was refused. Rather than maintaining the strong two-storey horizontal plane, the DA increases the proposed height by up to five metres in places, and this has an overbearing physical and visual effect. The plans also propose an “adaptable” apartment, although it’s not clear what this is. Other apartments include brutalist-style off-form concrete work and a bedroom with windows looking directly onto the footpath at eye level.
Council has previously been vigorous in maintaining the current height limits and recently rejected a DA for a dormer window facing Sherbrook Street. The newly amended DA would breach this planning principle and create a dangerous precedent. The proposed rear balcony with 100 square metres of glass and windows over three floors looks directly onto neighbours’ backyards and adds to adverse noise and amenity impacts.
“They are real pricks”, says a feisty Ms Ingram. “Council claims that loss of sunlight is not an issue as a large tree already does this.” However, the tree is deciduous and loses its leaves in winter, providing added winter warmth and vitamin D that is much needed by elderly residents living nearby.
Council’s argument is spurious.
So it’s not a DA but an EA; an exploitation application.
The developers paid $6 million for the site, hoping for a quick buck, but the market has slumped, putting financial pressure on them to maximise returns, and perhaps seeking to over-develop the small site.
Those still wishing to make submissions can ask for permission to lodge a late submission: go to email@example.com
Ms Ingram hopes council will not cave in at court and compromise local ratepayers’ liveability.