Down on the corner: The seven-year saga over a vacant block of land
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Down on the corner: The seven-year saga over a vacant block of land

A leading Canberra architect says Yarralumla residents got what they deserved when work was halted seven years ago on a prime block near the suburb's shops, after a stoush over two heritage cottages ended in a stalemate.

The block's former owner and developer, Ric Butt, said a "pathetic bunch of do-gooders" stopped development on the block, which has remained dormant since April 2012 when the two cottages were nominated for heritage listing after the first development application had been approved.

The abandoned development on the corner of Bentham Street and Hutchins Street in Yarralumla.

The abandoned development on the corner of Bentham Street and Hutchins Street in Yarralumla.Credit:Sitthixay Ditthavong

The ACT Planning and Land Authority issued a stop-work notice on the site that year after the partial demolition of the two 1920s cottages, despite Mr Butt insisting then and now that he had approval for the demolition.

The Westbourne of Yarralumla development, which was set to incorporate the facades of the two cottages in a building of seven units, has not been completed and the site on the corner of Hutchins Street and Bentham Street remains abandoned.

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Mr Butt said the plans for the development were updated to incorporate the facades of the cottages to satisfy heritage provisions placed on the site, but the structures were unstable and needed reconstruction.

From left: David Harvey, Chris Windsor, and Graeme Windsor from the Yarralumla Residents Association outside the abandoned Yarralumla development.

From left: David Harvey, Chris Windsor, and Graeme Windsor from the Yarralumla Residents Association outside the abandoned Yarralumla development.Credit:Sitthixay Ditthavong

One facade had been rebuilt to modern standards as required in the originally approved plans, but the other facade had been left to decay, he said.

Mr Butt sold the block in 2013 after work was stopped and the development application expired.

The block is now owned by companies connected to the Pastrello family, which operates the Eagle Hawk Hotel and Eaglehawk Holiday Park on the Federal Highway. The family could not be reached for comment.

One of the cottage facades that had to be retained as part of the development.

One of the cottage facades that had to be retained as part of the development.Credit:Sitthixay Ditthavong

The Yarralumla Residents Association has been lobbying the ACT government for several years for action to be taken against the new owner for leaving the site vacant for six years.

A spokeswoman for Access Canberra said the matter was being investigated and no decision had been made about action that could be taken.

The residents association says one of its members had been told the government had started to take action against the block's owner and had issued an ultimatum that could see the lease terminated.

But an Access Canberra inspector told The Canberra Times that was incorrect and the residents association was "speculating wildly". He was unable to comment on the "legal process", he said.

Mr Butt, a former national president of the Royal Institute of Architects, said the experience had put him off working in Canberra due to the "narrow-mindedness" of its residents and the groups who were "anti-anything".

Local residents had sought to characterise the development as an ugly block of "flats" near the Yarralumla shops, he said.

I had to walk away. It was worse than a divorce.

Architect and former site owner Ric Butt

The architect told The Canberra Times in 2012 he had been trying to develop the site since 1995 but it was subject to two cases in the ACT Administrative Appeals Tribunal, which eventually found he was able to proceed.

He said last week the experience with the Yarralumla project had taken a huge personal toll on him and had hurt his business.

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"I had to walk away. It was worse than a divorce," he said.

Yarralumla Residents Association spokesman David Harvey said there was community interest in incorporating public car parking for the shops into the block.

He said the Yarralumla community had fought against the proposed development in 2007, led by neighbours of the block who didn't want to see it redeveloped.

The community was never really happy with the outcome regarding the development approvals but there was now interest in seeing the land benefit the local community, he said.

"Ideally, what we would like is some public car park put in there, that could go underground and then put buildings on top and somehow rebuild the heritage buildings," Mr Harvey said.

Jasper is a reporter for The Canberra Times.

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