Ian Stephenson, Planning Convenor. Bulletin 6/2021  August 2021

A development application (DA 21021/729) was lodged on 5 July 2021 for these two sites. The proposal involves demolishing two former warehouses at 7 Franklyn St and 49-51 Greek St and replacing them with 84 self-contained boarding rooms. Each room has its own bathroom and cooking facilities and is, essentially, a studio flat designed to accommodate up to two people. The building is on five levels.

Figure 1: Number 7 Franklyn St with 49-51 Greek St on the right (Photo: Ian Stephenson)

As it is a boarding house the State Environmental Planning Policy (Affordable Rental Housing) 2009 applies. This provides for bonus floor-to-space ratio (FSR) over what is allowed in the 2012 Local Environment Plan (LEP). However, ‘Provision 6A Character of local area’ requires the design to take account of its setting. It states that:

A consent authority must not consent to development to which this Division applies unless it has taken into consideration whether the design of the development is compatible with the character of the local area.

For planning purposes, the Sydney Local Government Area is divided into localities. Each locality has a future character statement that sets objectives for the area and establishes principles to be applied to help achieve those goals.

This development is in the Mountain St Locality whose objectives are that ‘the area will continue to provide a diverse and sustainable mix of uses in restored and adaptively re-used early warehouse buildings or in new buildings whose bulk and scale is appropriate to the large lots and existing urban form’.

The relevant principles are:

(a) Development must achieve and satisfy the outcomes expressed in the character statement and supporting principles

(c) Encourage simple forms where appropriate to recognise the predominant warehouse character.

(d) Maintain the prominent Federation warehouse character of the area by retaining warehouse and building facades and sympathetic adaptive re-use.

The former warehouse at 7 Franklyn St is of solid brick construction. Although a utilitarian building, its design is well considered. Its abstracted pilasters and lintel support a bold cornice decorated with dentils, and there is a well-defined parapet above. Its canted corner addresses the intersection of Franklyn St and Greek St in a pleasing way.

Corner sites are important for defining the architectural identity of an area, and 7 Franklyn St does this very effectively. Its demolition would diminish the character of the neighbourhood.

Principle (d) of the Mountain St Locality character statement encourages the retention of warehouse facades and their sympathetic adaptive re-use.

Figure 2: The warehouse facade should be retained and adapted as has been done at 25 Buckland St Chippendale (image: Google Street view)

In Ultimo and Chippendale, there are many excellent examples where architects have followed the principles of the Sydney DCP and incorporated warehouses into residential developments. Sometimes these adaptions involve the provision of additional height, which has been sensitively differentiated from the original warehouse façade by means of a setback; a good example can be seen at 25 Buckland St, Chippendale (Figure 2).

Number 7 Franklyn St is across the road from a terrace house, a pair of sandstone cottages and two townhouses that have been carefully designed to fit in with the character of Glebe (Figure 3). The proposed development is out of character with the neighbouring houses.

Other Issues

Potentially, with 84 double rooms, the boarding house could accommodate up to 168 people. The application exceeds the allowable height, and it does not comply with the requirements for on-site parking.

The DA argues that while ‘the proposal will provide zero car spaces in total for use by boarding house residents this non-compliance is considered acceptable because of site constraints which restrict the safe manoeuvring of vehicles where it is located at a narrow one-way street system’.

Figure 3: The proposal involves demolishing the warehouse shown on the right and its neighbour, not pictured, in Greek St (image: Ian Stephenson)

This is a perverse argument; surely the limitations of the road system are a good reason for reducing the number of rooms. It also notes that parking is not needed,

…as the majority of boarding rooms will be occupied by students and students do not normally own a car [this is news to me] and any visitors travelling by car will be able to park in the large adjacent public car park [the Broadway Shopping Centre car park]. Any occasional other parking need (e.g., service personnel, delivery) will be satisfied by the available on-street parking in the area or the public parking provided in the adjacent Broadway Shopping Centre.

There is no permissible on-street parking along the entire street frontage of the development and only about four spaces across the road on Franklyn St, so the service and delivery personnel will be lucky to get a park.

The applicant claims that ‘the proposal will not exhibit any significant environmental impacts and will not adversely impact on the amenity of any adjoining sites. Therefore, the proposed works are considered compatible with the site context’. The entrance on Franklyn St by which the residents and their visitors will arrive and leave is only eight metres from the terrace houses across the street. There is a communal space with large doors opening onto the footpath at ground floor level as well as a communal roof terrace.

The rooms of the boarding house are small, and less than 30% have balconies. It’s difficult to see how a building accommodating so many people, with a communal space spilling onto the footpath and communal space on the roof, cannot adversely impact the amenity of the adjoining sites, particularly the nearby houses. Perhaps, just as students, apparently, no longer have cars, they also don’t have parties, listen to music, stay up late and talk?

The recent decision by the Sydney Local Planning Panel in the DA for 43 Avona Ave, Glebe (DA: D/2020/1453) to delete a roof terrace should surely apply here? The decision was based on Council’s advice that

the large roof terrace is considered inappropriate in the context of apartment buildings and terraces in such a dense urban environment. The terrace allows for the congregation of large groups of people, creating adverse visual and acoustic privacy impacts to surrounding development, contrary to Section 4.1.8(b) of the Sydney DCP 2012’.

Section 4.1.8 (b) requires balconies, verandahs and decks ‘to respect the visual and acoustic privacy of neighbours’.

Affordable housing has a place in Glebe’s social and urban fabric, but it must, as the Affordable Housing SEPP indicates, be ‘compatible with the character of the local area’. The Sydney 2012 Development Control Plan (DCP) provides clear guidelines as to how this can, and should, be done through the adaptive re-use of warehouses. There are many good examples of how to do it, so it is not embarking into the unknown.

The design of boarding houses needs to provide communal areas which will not have unreasonable acoustic impacts on neighbouring houses. Special circumstances such as the difficulty of access and the compatibility of the design with the local area (the Clause 6A provision) need to be considered.

Glebe has sophisticated DCPs. They are well-considered in terms of nurturing the character of the different parts of this most extraordinary suburb, and their principles provide clear and practical guidance for development. However, with 7 Franklyn St, and in other cases such as 43 Avona Ave (see ‘Another Conservation Area at Risk’, Bulletin 4 of 2021), the design of new buildings is not being informed by them.

The Statement of Environmental Effects for 7 Franklyn St makes it clear how in this case, little regard was given to the DCPs when it states that:

The subject site is located in the Glebe Point Rd character area. The proposed new building and the proposed use of the premises for boarding house is considered to be in keeping with the unique character and design principles of the area.

It’s actually located in the Mountain St character area, which has a very different history, built form and controls.

Figure 4: The proposed building is not in accordance with the future character statement and principles of the Mountain St Locality (image: Mostaghim Architects for Denwol Home Pty Ltd)