Curtin business owners have been emotionally and financially devastated by the delayed redevelopment of the controversial Curtin shops building, they say.
A revised application for a five-storey mixed residential and commercial building at 41 Curtin Place was approved by the ACT government in December last year, and would see the 55-year-old shops demolished in its place.
But the Curtin Residents Association, which opposed an initial proposal for a six-storey building that was knocked back in 2017, is appealing for a review of the decision at the Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
Curtin Barber Shop and Ladies Hairdresser is right next to the fenced-off building.
"Before, we had everything here. It was just a friendly atmosphere where people would come, do their shopping, get a haircut, go to the chemist; it was normal, everyday business," its owner Iradj Darrish said.
"Now all the passing trade has gone. We don't have any of it ... and my business has gone down 50 to 60 per cent."
Mr Darrish, who is bound by a lease to a nearby building in Curtin square, had to let three staff members go about seven months ago due to financial strain, he said. He now runs the shop alone.
The shops at 44 Curtin Place had seven tenants - a takeaway fish shop, a milk bar, a green grocer, a Nepalese restaurant, a chemist, a bottle shop and a book store. They were shut down and fenced off in January last year.
"To be honest, if I could get out of here, I would go. I would just walk out of here today, right now," Mr Darrish said.
"But what would I say to the buyer? I have to be honest. When it's quiet for me, it's going to be quiet for everyone else. I don't want to rip them off."
A few shops up, the owner of Ivy Flowers and Gifts, Renee Coleman, has seen her business drop by 30 to 40 per cent. She can't afford to put staff on, so runs the shop by herself six days a week.
"I've worked here for about seven years, I've owned it for the last two and a half years, and I've never seen it like this. It's very depressing, it's very sad, and I'm just sick of it," Ms Coleman said.
"[The Curtin Residents Association] have never stepped into my shop to ask me how I feel about the development and I'm a big part of this community.
"Try working here 40 hours a week, trying to make a living, and feed a family. It's not easy and I just don't think they're taking it into consideration ... I don't know what my future holds and it's a little bit scary."
Managing director of Curtin Optical, Corey Nicholls, said the new building would breathe life into the area. Changes had been made to the initial proposal so that the structure would be one-storey high, rather than six, where it meets Curtin square's perimeter at the block's northern end.
"The issue is that if things get too quiet, what worries us all is that Coles [in the square] will look at their numbers and go, 'Well, we're getting less [customers] and we're going to scale back'," Mr Nicholls said.
"We're basically all going to be up the creek."
The Haridemos family is being represented at the tribunal by the development's project director Zelko Mandic, who joined proceedings last week after the case's first hearing on February 18.
ACT Chief Planner Ben Ponton had previously said the development was consistent with the Curtin master plan, which the residents association welcomed in November 2018.
But residents association president Chris Johnson said it did not honour all aspects of the plan as it did not fit in with the square's character. The association also had qualms with how the development approval process was carried out.
The Haridemos family was granted an extension to submit a revised development application some 18 months after their initial one was rejected. By then, the shops had already been closed for more than six months.
"We are very concerned that the businesses have been affected by the premature shutting down of the block well in advance of construction starting by any feasible means," Mr Johnson said.
"The delay seems to be coming [not only] from normal [government] processes but from very slow development applications."
The case's next hearing will be held on March 8.
Project director Zelko Mandic said previously that several concessions had been made to the building to reduce its impact on Curtin square. It now calls for 36 residential units, rather than the 50 initially proposed, and two basement car parks, rather than three.
It is very unfortunate from the point of view of the client, the business community and broader residents that this has taken as long as it has, Mr Mandic said.
We are very confident that right and due process has been followed, and that the right outcome will be achieved once we come out of the [tribunal] process.
Last October, about 30 Curtin businesses petitioned Minister for Planning and Land Management Mick Gentleman to approve a development on 44 Curtin Place as soon as possible.