The owners of Manuka's Capitol Cinema have applied to join several blocks they own which would allow for new plans at the site that was at the centre of a long-running planning stoush over a London plane tree.
In the first sign of progress after the tree was removed at the end of July, Liangis Developments Pty Ltd, the company run by Sotiria Liangis, has lodged a development application to consolidate five blocks on Franklin Street currently under two crown leases.
The application includes adding commercial accommodation use for blocks 3 and 4 and removing an electrical easement.
Hotel plans for blocks 3 and 4, the former post office site, have been approved, with a future stage intended to redevelop the cinema on blocks 1, 2 and 5.
Plans submitted as part of the application show a new substation on the Franklin Street side of the block, close to where the London plane tree was removed.
A report prepared by Canberra Town Planning for the proponents found consolidating the leases and allowing a commercial accommodation use were consistent with the ACT's Territory plan.
"The reason for the variation is to address the conditions of [the previously approved development application], which included the construction of a hotel development requiring the addition of commercial accommodation use to the Block 3 and 4," the report said.
"The extinguishment of the electrical easement is to facilitate the proposed development, as building over an easement is not permitted in commercial zones. Further, the easement is no longer requirement due to the relocation of the electrical substation on the site to service future development, as per the Evoenergy approval included with this submission."
A valuation found the site would be worth $8.7 million if the application was approved, up from its current value of $8.3 million.
TIMELINE OF THE 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.
- November 25, 2016: The ACT Administrative and Civil Tribunal rules Liangis Investments could not apply for a review of the Conservator's decision, highlighting "copy and paste" issues in the Tree Protection Act that did not allow merit reviews.
- August 24, 2017: Then Transport and City Services Minister Meeghan Fitzharris introduces changes to the Tree Protection Act in the Legislative Assembly to allow for merits reviews.
- June 2018: Owner Sotiria Liangis lodges a development application for an "iconic and prestigious" hotel on the cinema site.
- November 2018: ACT Chief Planner Ben Ponton approves the removal of the tree, pending a decision from Conservator Ian Walker on whether to allow it to be struck from the protection register.
- December 2018: The Canberra Times reports the ACT's planning authority ignored the advice of the National Capital Design Review Panel, which recommended against approving the hotel plans.
- January 2019: Inner-south residents raise concerns for the tree's health, after a central column of leaves starts turning brown.
- 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.
- March 2019: An investigation by the government's tree protection unit finds the drill hole but was unable to identify any poison in the hole.
- 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.
- June 2019: A local business group calls for the tree to go to make way for a "transformative" hotel development.
- July 9, 2019: The Griffith Narrabundah Community Association, which had opposed the removal of the tree and argued that it should be included in future development on the block, calls for greater government investment in Manuka to arrest the decline of the "decaying" precinct.
- July 26, 2019: The tree is cleared for removal after mediation at the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal leads to a compromise between Liangis Investments and the conservator.
- July 31, 2019: Work starts to remove the tree.