The Inner West community has rallied together to save a historic Annandale property threatened by subdivision and redevelopment.
Annandale boasts some of Sydney’s oldest buildings, with wide roads revealing gothic-style architecture and WWII buildings.
When a historic home on Nelson Street featuring original wooden facades and a historic 10metre wide frontage was approved for a complying development certificate (CDC) in 2015, many residents were shocked, as Annandale’s centre had been a heritage conservation area for years.
However, the fringes of the suburb were not protected. One side of Nelson Street was exposed to gentrification potential, with houses set to be demolished.
The planning process
When the developer requested approval for two townhouses last year, the CDC had expired, while the Heritage Conservation Area had also been extended during this time, now protecting the house.
It was an application that Inner West Councillor Marghanita da Cruz took issue with.
“By law, it’s actually now a Heritage Conservation Area and that’s the issue with the demolition. That’s in black and white,” da Cruz told the Independent.
Yet COVID-19 loopholes to assist development applications were accepted by the Inner West Planning Panel, with da Cruz feeling that the Planning Panel put through the demolition approval without meaningful consultation.
“This has basically raised a number of issues with the planning process,” she said.
Developers suggest the subdivisions of Annandale properties are for the public’s benefit, with infrastructure projects increasing dwelling numbers and creating slightly cheaper properties.
Protecting Annandale’s heritage
Planning Panel Meeting Minutes from February this year stated the development would be “in public interest” as it is consistent with the objectives of Annandale, and does not ruin the facade.
“While gentrification and increased property prices and rents do have some disadvantages, particularly in regard to housing affordability, one benefit is that heritage listing may no longer be seen as financially detrimental to property value,” a Council spokesperson told the Independent.
“Gentrification can also lead to better amenity and infrastructure for the community.”
However, residents maintain the fight for Nelson Street’s original property isn’t about an individual house, but rather the principles of historic preservation in Annandale.
Local artist Lew Keilar has worked with his wife to prove their suburb needs existing properties, understanding that original houses increase livability and promote a rich history.
“I’ve always been struck by the architectural details in Annandale,” Keilar told the Independent.
“Annadale is a fantastic location. It’s such an amazing combination of large, ornate houses… and a sudden influx of workers’ cottages. [It’s] a fantastic mix of these small houses and these grand houses.”
Inner West Councillor Louise Steer also backed the economic and cultural benefits that historic houses provide.
“We know from lots and lots of planning research that the diverse suburbs are the most liveable suburbs. That’s diversity in terms of housing and in terms of the kind of people who live there,” Steer told the Independent.
“The kind of housing that is now being built… doesn’t really encourage that kind of diversity in the suburb and it doesn’t encourage building of the community either.”
Keilar’s campaign for Nelson Street’s conservation drew the attention of Member for Balmain Jamie Parker, who acknowledged the importance that Annandale’s heritage held within his constituents.
“There’s great scope for adaptive reuse of heritage buildings,” Parker told the Independent. “But wholesale demolitions should be justifiably opposed”.
Keilor maintains that heritage must remain a priority when protecting Annandale’s history.
“The double block [10m instead of 5m frontage] is a key marker to the historical places. A timber house on a double block should set off alarm bells for any heritage story, that there’s something really important going on with the issue if that’s what’s at stake… the 10m blocks were the first generations of the neighbourhood,” Keilar explained.
In late June, both the Inner West Council and the Department of Planning Environment and Infrastructure rejected demolitions of the property, saying it was not covered under COVID-19 development changes. Members of Council have also raised a need for changes in the Planning Panel.
Though it looks that the Nelson Street house will remain, a continued question faces Annandale: is property development ever a reason to demolish history?