In what can only be described as a planning joke, residents of picturesque Ramsgate Beach are to be marooned with a six storey block of units on an already busy intersection directly across from a shopping centre that struggles with vehicular traffic on a daily basis. The 21.5 million dollar Helm Developments proposal at 158-162 Ramsgate Road has just been unanimously approved by the Joint Regional Planning Panel comprising three state government nominated professionals as well as two local council representatives.
The funny thing here is how a six storey block of units gets the green light so easily on this site. This has occurred after both Rockdale council and the NSW state government have admitted there was a ‘bungle’ on the revised height limits for the so-called ‘Ramsgate Beach small shopping village’ (which is not so small after this). After council upgraded the limit to 16 metres in December last year, somehow it was passed by the Planning Department at 20.5 metres, and apparently now is locked in, pending what Rockdale council terms ‘community consultation’ over maintaining the new, higher limit. Helm Developments saw their window of opportunity and quickly upgraded their development to take full advantage of the height increase. In the context of the area, this apartment block is clearly over sized and would dominate the beachfront dramatically. In fact where the building would sit is currently occupied by two single storey cottages and a double storey dwelling. So increasing that to 39 units plus six commercial shops over six stories totaling 20 metres would be, to say the least, a dramatic change.
The aesthetics of the area would be altered from a small beachside suburb to a high-rise high-density inner city style hub in one fowl swoop should this development proceed. The increased traffic, increased congestion during and after building completion, lack of public transport options (where is the nearest railway station?), the fact this is situated smack-bang on one of the main city-south motor carriageways, overshadowing, loss of views, destruction of the character of Ramsgate beach, precedent for further developments in and around Ramsgate and along the foreshores of historic Botany Bay – was any of this considered by the so-called expert panel and if so how did it pass?
The fact that the zoning height limits are basically on hold and only in place due to a planning error means that any development application should be put on hold until the zoning issues are resolved, and actually both council and the Planning Department should be investigated in a legal sense for breaching the trust of their ratepayers. New mayor Shane O’Brien on one hand claims to oppose the development while on the other wants to investigate retaining the 20.5 m limit because this Helm DA has already been lodged and the Rockdale council is still playing blame games with the Planning Department over the cause of the issue… I mean, C’mon Shane, this is not cricket. You are a newly elected Mayor, this is not a good first public impression for you. A bureaucratic bungle in zoning that we as residents are supposed to just sit back and cop sweet, and even now you want the error in zoning to stand? You must think your ratepayers are a bunch of small brained idiots. Let’s get this right, let’s go back to the drawing board and come up with something worthy of the area. This isn’t the inner city after all.
Title development image courtesy The Leader.
Rockdale Council area is being besieged by over-development at the moment, with little regard for heritage values or appropriate sizing. Just down the road from Ramsgate beach lies Dolls Point. After a recent development of units replaced a service station, a neighbouring house has just been sold as a development site, showing how one block of units leads to another, and the scourge spreads. See image below.
Five minutes the other way along the Grand Parade, Brighton Le Sands is undergoing massive highrise changes. Small seaside blocks of Art deco buildings don’t stand a chance, particularly with the O’Farrell government’s plans to allow developers to buy-out whole blocks of units with only 75 percent consent of owners compared with 100 percent previously. This gem below known as Romax Court is being sold as a development site.
In another part of the Rockdale council, at 1 Caledonian St Bexley stands a charming deceased estate Federation house on 1278 square metres of land. This home occupies a quiet area just around the corner from the heritage precinct of Dunmore Street, but that hasn’t stopped it being listed as a development site for 7 townhouses. “Developers came from everywhere” said Real estate agent Doug Turnbull but the house was passed in at $1.175M. It is only a short reprieve before another magnificent Federation is lost and replaced by ever more townhouses.
On Bay Street Rockdale new blocks of units are rising where single storey dwellings were. There is a seismic shift happening as seen below, where a couple of rather forlone looking cottages cling on to their small patch. Now they too are for sale by the ironically named Good View Property, seeing as the owners enjoyed the good view of development next door so much they just had to sell.
It has come to our attention recently by local historian Anne Field and our friend Leesha Payor from the Kogarah Residents Association that Griffith House (formerly called Weruna) on the grounds of Kogarah Public Hospital is to be bulldozed as part of the expansion redevelopment of the emergency department. The Victorian Italianate Villa has a proud heritage, being built in 1896 by former mayor and German immigrant Peter Herrmann, who served four terms with council and played a leading role in Kogarah civic affairs. He worked towards incorporation of Kogarah as a Municipality, and was a founder of Kogarah Fire Brigade, of which a stunning heritage listed fire house remains adjacent to the villa. The Hermann family were one of the early European settlers of Kogarah, and maintained the house until 1920. The area’s early development can be largely attributed to the enterprise of market gardeners including the Hermanns.
The villa was incorporated into the hospital in 1961 and was named Griffith House in honour of Mr Thomas Arthur Clark Griffith, the Chief Executive Officer of St George Hospital from 1946 to 1981. It later became the St George Area Health Services Promotion Unit, opened by the Honourable Barry Unsworth on 9 November 1987, and the Orthopaedic Early Discharge Unit from 1989 to 1993. But its heritage goes way back to the late 19th C, representing the southern expansion of Sydney as part of the Bowns park Estate, after the opening of the Illawarra Railway Line in 1885. Under the proposed $34 million expansion of the Emergency Ward, this proud locally significant building is to be lost. While most would agree the hospital needs expanding, it shouldn’t be at the cost of such an important Kogarah landmark.
In a statement of significance within the Heritage Impact Statement of June 2012:
‘Griffith House (formerly called Weruna) is a late Victorian building c1890’s of local cultural significance.
The building has been strongly associated with the development of Kogarah. It was first owned and occupied by Peter Herrmann, a local identity who was associated with local government and the development of community services including the fire brigade and the St George Hospital.
In 1961 the building‟s relationship with community services changed from one of proximity and association to one of usage when it was acquired by the St George Hospital and utilised first as a residence for senior hospital medical officers and their families and then for accommodation of Health Promotion and Orthopaedic Early Discharge Units.
The building plays a role in demonstrating the standard of living of local civic leaders around the turn of the century however has been subject to alterations and is in a poor physical condition.’
In addition, the villa has been assessed to fit several criteria for heritage significance according to the Heritage Council of NSW, which can be used to make decisions about the heritage value of a place or item. Namely,
- is associated with a significant activity or historical phase
- is associated with a significant event, person, or group of persons
- exemplifies a particular taste, style or technology
- is important to a community‟s sense of place
- has the principal characteristics of an important class or group of items
These characteristics as outlined in the Heritage Impact Statement should be enough to save the house from demolition and be retained as a significant item of local history.
The proposed demolition of this building has been kept under the radar by NSW Department of Health, and has yet to generate much interest publicly. After the story was published in the Leader today there may be some residents quite shocked to hear of it. Strangely, there is some debate on whether Griffith House is heritage listed or not. Cath Whitehurst, Director of Operations for St George and Sutherland Hospitals claims it isn’t. Yet Kogarah history librarian John Johnson says he knows it is on the heritage list, but when he looked recently found that it had been mysteriously pulled from the Heritage Office’s register.
If you are concerned about the fate of this significant and historic building, and you believe it can be part of the future of the St George Hospital expansion in one shape or form, then here is the forum to make your opinion heard. This building should be saved, it is part of our history and should become part of the future of the hospital, and the landscape of Kogarah. The DA is currently being assessed. Only with great support and many voices of the public can this be saved. Feel free to leave a comment…