A prominent developer is seeking permission to build a large storage facility near the Red Hill nature reserve, a proposal that local residents and environmentalists have blasted as "abhorrent" and out of keeping with the nature of the site.
A block of land near the reserve could become the site of a 20,000 square metre storage facility under plans submitted by Hindmarsh development company.
Red Hill Regenerators conservation officer Dr Michael Mulvaney said the scale of the proposal was "abhorrent".
"A proposal that will impact Red Hill reserve, build on areas in which waste has been dumped and which is immediately downslope of large toxic, unstable and permeable legacy rubbish dumps, and is at a scale that is abhorrent to the local community," he said.
"Hindmarsh are treating both the Legislative Assembly and the local community with contempt."
Last year Hindmarsh outlined a proposal to build a major residential development on the land, drawing criticisms from residents concerned about ecological impacts.
Now Hindmarsh has put forward an alternative plan, seeking government approval to use the land as the site for a self-storage facility.
Hindmarsh ACT development manager Greg Smith said the self-storage proposal did not mean plans to build housing on the block had been scotched.
Instead, it kept options open while the company waited to hear whether the ACT government would re-zone the land for residential use, Mr Smith said.
The site, Section 66, is classified by the ACT government as a service zone. A self-storage facility would avoid the need to rezone.
Hindmarsh would, however, need the government to approve a lease variation increasing the maximum building footprint from the currently specified 500 square metres to the proposed 20,500 square metres.
It is typically easier to be granted a lease variation than it is to get a territory plan variation.
“COX architecture has developed a concept outlining a possible multi-storey self-storage facility on the site totalling 20,500 square metres,” plans lodged with the government read.
“The concept demonstrates that a self-storage facility can be accommodated on the site with adequate car parking, access, circulation and with minimal impacts to the surrounding area.”
The Red Hill Regenerators community group has previously highlighted concerns about building on the potentially-contaminated Hindmarsh site.
“I’m concerned particularly if you have families living there, and kids you might be up on the block making cubby houses or digging in the soil and we don’t know what they could be exposed to,” Dr Mulvaney said last year.
Dr Mulvaney said the group did not necessarily oppose storage on the site, but was concerned about the massive size of the facility.
He pointed to Hindmarsh’s application to increase the development footprint from the currently-allowed 500 square metres to 20,500 square metres.
“The scale of the proposal is totally out of keeping with the nature of the site, the aesthetics of the surrounding open space and nature reserve, and the high conservation values that exist on parts of the site and surrounding land,” he said.
ACT Greens planning spokeswoman Caroline Le Couteur said she was extremely sceptical of the self-storage proposal, and wondered whether Red Hill residents would welcome it.
It could be a manouvre to force residents to choose between a massive storage building, or a residential development with a comparitively smaller visual impact on the landscape, she said.
In February, Purdon Planning wrote to the ACT government on behalf of Hindmarsh to outline the storage proposal.
In this letter, Purdon stressed that a self-storage building would have minimal visual and ecological impacts.
“Increasing the gross floor area to allow development of the site for ‘store’ will improve the visual amenity of the sites and will not have any negative impact on adjacent residents,” the proposal read.
“… There are no endangered ecological communities on the site and removal of vegetation is negligible due to the disturbed nature of the site at present.”
However, Dr Mulvaney said the land was home to bats and sugar gliders, and was an important habitat for gang-gang cockatoos.
“We recently saw gang-gang cockatoos successfully raise young on the site. There are only a handful of those sites across the ACT,” he said.
Hindmarsh’s Greg Smith said the company would continue consulting with residents in the area as the plans progressed.
Public consultation on the proposed lease variation closes on May 18.