Business owners in Manuka have breathed a sigh of relief after a London plane tree standing in the way of a hotel development on one of Canberra's most controversial sites was cleared for removal last week.
Josh Kosteski, who owns the nearby Trecento restaurant, said once residents' groups who had opposed the tree's removal saw the benefit of the development, businesses could work together with the groups in a positive way.
"And we can go forward where both they're happy and we're happy," he said, joining other local business owners on Monday who welcomed Friday's decision.
"If you go back 10 years, you could not get a car spot anywhere within a kilometre of Manuka or a dinner reservation anywhere on the strip. ... That sort of tapered off and died down and that's what we want to get it back to," Mr Kosteski said.
John-Paul Romano, who runs the Inner-South Business Council, said common sense had prevailed in the outcome which would help rejuvenate the area.
"Trees are important to Manuka but so is business, so is good design, and I think that's what we've found here," he said.
The tree, which has been the subject of three different matters heard at the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal, has hampered Sotiria Liangis' plans to develop the site since 2015.
A local resident in 2010 nominated the tree for protection and it was added to the register in 2012.
In 2015, Liangis Investments bought the block on Flinders Way, next to the cinema building which the company bought in 1989.
The same year, the company applied to have the tree's registration cancelled, which was ultimately denied.
In 2016, the civil and administrative tribunal found drafting errors in the the ACT's tree protection laws that prevented a merit review of the conservator's decision.
In June 2018, Mrs Liangis lodged a development application to build a six-storey hotel on the prominent block, which was approved pending a fresh decision on the future of the tree.
The conservator of flora and fauna, Ian Walker, in May decided to keep the tree on the register, effectively blocking the hotel. That decision prompted new tribunal proceedings where Liangis Investments was represented by high-profile Canberra barrister Jack Pappas.
Mediation on Friday ended with an agreement to remove the tree from the register and include a green wall in the new hotel development.
The acting conservator of flora and fauna, Gene McGlynn, on Sunday told The Canberra Times "more detailed analysis and discussion" in the confidential mediation had led to a different outcome.
President of the Griffith Narrabundah Community Association Leo Dobes said it was a disappointing outcome and further highlighted the ACT government's willingness to alter legislation to benefit the "top end of town".
Dr Dobes said the National Capital Design Review Panel in March 2018 had said alternative designs for the site should be explored and there was no need for the tree to removed.
The Manuka block was the centre of of a 1980 controversy when the Capitol Theatre, built in 1927, was redeveloped into the Capitol Cinema. Liangis Investments bought the site in 1989.
The removal of the tree will make way for a new flurry of building activity, as Morris Property Group this month took plans to community consultation for the redevelopment of the Stuart Flats.
Construction is expected to start on the development's first stage in February 2020.
TIMELINE OF A TREE
1970-1975: Sometime in this period the tree is planted in an easement between the Capitol Theatre and the Manuka post office, according to an arborists' report prepared for the site's owners.
December 13, 2010: A local resident nominates the London plane tree for protection with an incomplete nomination form.
December 16, 2010: An initial assessment finds the tree "provides aesthetic and environmental benefits" but is "not located in an ideal position".
May 1, 2012: Then conservator of flora and fauna, Penny Farnsworth, includes the tree on the ACT Tree Protection Register.
2015: Liangis Investments buys the block of land next to the cinema building on the Flinders Way side of the site. The company first bought the Cinema in 1989 after it was redeveloped in 1980.
November 2, 2015: Liangis Investments applies to the Conservator of Flora and Fauna to cancel the registration of the tree at 15 Franklin Street.
March 31, 2016: The conservator decides not to grant the cancellation of the tree's registration.
August 22, 2016: Liangis Investments applies to the conservator for a reconsideration of the decision.
September 13, 2016: The conservator confirms the application has been refused.
October 6, 2016: Liangis Investments applies to ACAT for a review of the Conservator's decision.
February 2019: Mrs Liangis calls an arborist who finds a drill hole in the tree's trunk. Mrs Liangis reports the drill hole to police, she later tells The Canberra Times.
May 22, 2019: The conservator, Mr Walker, decides to keep the tree on the protection register, prompting Mrs Liangis' son, John Liangis, to lash out at unrepresentative residents' groups who had "weaponised" the process. Mr Walker's decision says there was no evidence of the tree's impact on services, despite large roots breaching a sewerage pipe.