A stop work notice was placed on one of Canberra's iconic homes on Thursday, less than two weeks before a development application for the Manuka property was due to be considered.
The government's stop work notice for the property at 21 Furneaux Street frustrated the new owners, who said they had taken no action that required approval and were instead being disrupted by a "serial pest" neighbour.
Owner Peter Axiom, who paid $2.05 million for the prominent corner block facing Manuka Village shops in December, plans to extend the total floor area of the property by 50 per cent, adding a pool, double garage with studio and bathroom above it and a separate single garage once the DA is approved. The existing street facades of the two-storey building would be retained.
Nearby resident Anne Forrest said she, on her own behalf and also having been approached by some other residents, made a query to Access Canberra on Wednesday after noticing some trees, vegetation and a tin shed had been removed from the block. The National Trust of Australia's ACT branch wrote a letter in similar tone, querying whether work was proceeding, to Planning Minister Mick Gentleman mid-week, she said.
She said she was informed by the government's land enforcement regulation unit the next day a stop work notice would be put in place after inspectors found "work being done without approval".
"I don't think it's for me to accept or reject what they're proposing, but I do think I and others should have a right to put in submissions," she said.
"I'm not reassured by what I read in a document [in the DA], which says on one hand it's an iconic building, but doesn't mention the property was individually nominated, and therefore what guidelines for extending would come out of that."
The ACT Heritage Council considers the home to be one of Canberra's best examples of a Spanish Mission-style house, and it is one of seven blocks covered by the Blandfordia 5 precinct listing on the ACT Heritage Register. A nomination for its individual heritage listing has also been made, but not decided.
Mr Axiom acknowledged a small number of trees, vegetation and the tin shed had been removed, but said all work on the home itself had been internal.
He said an inspector had wrongly assumed it was extension work being carried out, and he was confident the stop work notice would be lifted within days, with no "specific or valid" reason for the notice given to he or his builder.
"Our plan is to restore the building to its original beauty," he said.
"The amount of residents that have come and congratulated us on what we're doing – it would be almost everyone who comes past."
The property, which sits two doors down from now ambassador to the United States Joe Hockey's for-sale home, was designed by architect Ken Oliphant and built in the late 1920s for Dr Rolland Fraser, initially including a dental surgery.
Advice from Philip Leeson Architects as part of the ACT Heritage Advisory Service said the owner's proposal was "generally consistent" with the Blandfordia 5 requirements.
"We note the intention to match existing detailing for items such as roof tiles, eaves, gable ends, wall finish and windows," the advice said.
An adjacent neighbour to the three-bedroom property, known as The Pines, has backed the owners, saying they had followed all the rules and wanted to retain the heritage values.
"They're going to make that an incredible house," she said.
"Nothing [done] has needed DA approval.
"These two owners are not going to sneeze on this house without approval. They know they have an iconic home."
Ms Forrest, a vice-chair of the Inner South Community Council, said she had every right as a citizen to make comments on a development application.
"We all have that right, and given the recent degradation of heritage in various precincts in Canberra, observing work on a property that has some unique heritage values prior to the submissions being closed rings alarm bells for people like me."