A generational divide has emerged in the battle over increasing density in Canberra's leafy and prestige inner south.
A group of mostly young people have written an open letter to call on the ACT politicians to support a planning change that would allow a so-called manor house in Blaxland Crescent, Griffith as part of the ACT government's demonstration housing project.
The project has been bitterly opposed by local residents' groups, which are generally made up of older homeowners.
But the new open letter says the project - which would replace a single-dwelling home in an RZ1 area with a two-up two-down development - is an "overdue examination of opportunities for the densification of the inner south".
Opponents to the project have said the draft amendment to the territory plan would undermine current planning controls. The groups say the project is the thin edge of the wedge, which would see more units in areas that have been zoned for single-residential homes.
The open letter says: "Clinging to exclusionary zoning laws such as this to appease a loud minority of landholders is not in the interest of the territory."
The letter, which has so far attracted about 80 signatories, calls on members of the Legislative Assembly to support the territory plan draft variation, which would allow the project to proceed.
"As young people without property and their allies these matters are central to our future and our children's future. This opposition to density and development sacrifices that future to placate misplaced fears and traps Canberra in an unsustainable vision of the past," the letter says.
The letter's lead author, Howard Maclean, 26, said suburbs like Griffith would be made richer, not poorer, by increasing density and creating opportunities for young families to move in.
"I definitely recognise that when people buy houses they're also buying a place, and I'm not going to say that those concerns [about increasing density] are completely illegitimate," Mr Maclean said.
"But I am going to say those concerns need to be balanced against the needs of future Canberrans."
Mr Maclean, a public servant who lives in Kingston, said the open letters' co-authors had not been aware of the original consultation process, but wanted to present an alternative view.
"Planning is incredibly important and we make the point in the letter, and I think it's very well put, that planning decisions affect every part of every Canberrans' life," he said.
"It determines access to schools, it determines access to economic opportunity, it determines how much of our lives we sacrifice to commuting every day.
"So of course planning should be better publicised, and that's difficult because it's difficult to tell people that planning is important."
Draft variation 375, which was notified in February, would allow Griffith Section 31 Block 6, which is opposite St Edmund's College, to be redeveloped into a manor house. The variation would not have any wider effect.
More than 530 submissions to the draft variation were received with the overwhelming majority opposed to the variation. But of the submissions, more than 470 were a form letter.
Public comment on the draft variation closed in mid-April. Comments are being considered internally, which will inform a brief for the Planning Minister, Mick Gentleman.
The variation will also be referred to a Legislative Assembly standing committee, before being tabled in the assembly, where it can be disallowed.
The ACT's demonstration housing project, which began in 2017, accepts pitches from developers who want to try out forms of housing which are not presently permitted in territory planning rules.
Architect Rob Henry told The Canberra Times in 2019, when the manor house project was first proposed, that the project was designed to fit with Griffith.
"It has more of a suburban character to it. From the outside it looks like a house," Mr Henry said.
The ACT government, on its demonstration housing project website, says the manor house typifies an option to increase the number of dwellings in a suburb in the same footprint as an ordinary house.
"A manor house is a low rise medium density housing option. It is commonly known as a 'two up - two down'. It looks like a single house from the street, has the same plot ratio and height as a house, but is actually more than one dwelling," the government says.
The ACT's 2018 planning strategy, says the territory would increase density in appropriate places.
"Care will be taken to retain the features of the city that people value, including the bush capital setting and access to green space," the strategy said.
The Griffith/Narrabundah Community Association said in a submission to the territory plan variation the only beneficiaries of the change appeared to be the lessees of the block.
The association also distributed a letter earlier this year expressing their opposition to the project.
"The largest investment for most families is the purchase of a home. It is crucial they know what could be built next to them. Families need certainty and trust in the planning system. They do not want the surprise of a four-unit two-storey, apartment-style dwelling with nine car parks built next door and impacting on their privacy and amenity," the letter said.
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The association's letter said any rezoning of a single block should wait until a review of the territory plan is completed.
"Many residents in the inner south, are concerned that changing the rules to allow for the construction of units will reduce the value of existing houses and increase the noise and local traffic in the streets," the letter said.
Mr Maclean said the proponents of the new open letter supported increasing density as a means to reduce the reliance on cars.
"We think that actually when you increase the density of a suburb, you increase the number of services and goods and employment opportunities that can be reached by walking or using a bike, or using a scooter. That is a non-car solution," he said.
"Effectively, by even increasing to medium density, you decrease the number of reasons you need to get in a car and generate traffic."
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