The ACT government is poised to unveil scaled back plans for the redevelopment of Lake Burley Griffin's west basin waterfront, with future apartments in the precinct to number in the "hundreds" - rather than the thousands as previously mooted.
The imminent release of the Acton Waterfront precinct plan comes as heritage advocates launch a fresh campaign against the landmark project. The Canberra Liberals have also raised concerns, saying they don't want to see the lake's edge turned into an "overcrowded and dense building zone".
Up to 2000 apartments had been slated as part of the long-planned transformation of the precinct, which would also feature a new public park and promenade.
But ahead of the latest plan's release, Chief Minister Andrew Barr has confirmed that the scale of development envisaged under the long-term plan for the site would be "substantially smaller" than what had previously been suggested.
Apartments or townhouses would number in the hundreds, rather than thousands, Mr Barr said, and be set back at least 55 metres from the lake's edge. Building heights of between eight and 25 metres are permitted in the precinct under Commonwealth planning rules rubber-stamped in 2016.
While housing is not on the cards for the site until 2024-25, the ACT government is facing community and political pressure as it pushes ahead with the first phase of the lakefront precinct's transformation.
The government is awaiting National Capital Authority approval to start work to "reclaim" a 2.8 hectare section of lake bed, where it plans to build a 500-metre-long boardwalk and public park. The mixed-used development, which could include shops, cafes, restaurants and community art spaces, would ultimately be constructed behind it on the city side.
The lake bed land was secured in a controversial and drawn out land deal which saw the authority seize control of Curtin's horse paddocks.
As the authority mulls over its decision, heritage group Lake Burley Griffin Guardians have circulated flyers which declare it is "crisis time for Lake Burley Griffin and its foreshore".
The flyer states there has been little or no public information about the 2000 apartments planned for Acton Waterfront - a scale of development which Mr Barr has now ruled out. The group claims that future apartment developments would block "heritage vistas", while the work required to redefine the lake's edge would destroy wildlife.
Some 120 trees planted along the existing waterfront are set to be axed as part of the first stage of works.
The group's acting covener, Mike Lawson, said the campaign was necessary because many Canberrans appeared to be unaware of what was proposed.
While the group had a "philosophical objection" to the construction of apartments in the precinct, Mr Lawson said it wasn't opposed to all development, suggesting a MONA-style museum would be better use of the land.
Mr Barr accused the group of misrepresenting the government's plan for the precinct, and what is permitted under its "strict" planning rules. He said there was strong community support for the waterfront development.
The Guardians' flyer includes a statement attributed to the Canberra Liberals, which outlined concerns about the project without declaring outright opposition.
"Given the declining state of Garema Place and City Walk, we need a consolidation of existing areas, not a further expansion of the city," the Liberals are quoted as saying.
"We don't wish to see the water's edge turned into an overcrowded and dense building zone. We would welcome improvements to landscaping, the path network and amenities, perhaps a cafe or two, but not another precinct."
The Liberals have confirmed the statement is accurate.
The Canberra Times sought further comment from Opposition Leader Alistair Coe. A party spokeswoman responded on his behalf, saying: "Lake Burley Griffin was created for Canberrans to enjoy and we believe that good public access and use of the surrounds should be maintained and be given significant weight in any decision making."
The spokeswoman said the Liberals were dismayed by the timing of the lake bed/horse paddock land deal.
"It would be easy to believe that the government is hoping to slide this through under the radar while everyone is focusing on the current COVID-19 crisis," she said.
Greens leader Shane Rattenbury said the project should only proceed if it included provisions for the same amount of open space as exists now. He has also demanded a continuous walking and cycling promenade through the precinct.
Mr Rattenbury has called for social and affordable housing to be included as part of the residential mix, saying Acton Waterfront should not be luxury precinct.