Residents groups say the ACT government should compensate them for scrutinising development applications that fail to comply with the government's own legislation after a tribunal found numerous problems with a social housing proposal for vulnerable women.
ACT Planning in April approved YWCA Canberra's development application to build 10 supported accommodation units - for older women and women who had experienced domestic violence - on a community-facility zone at 11 Rutherford Crescent near Bill Pye Park, Ainslie.
This would have involved demolishing two of the three existing buildings and removing 15 trees to construct two single-storey buildings.
It would have also associated works and a variation of the Crown lease to permit supportive housing under the auspices of the YWCA limited to a maximum of 10 dwellings.
The permitted use of the site, prior to the application, is as a childcare centre and community activity centre.
However, a recent ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal decision ordered the approval decision to be reversed after three members of the Ainslie Residents' Association filed for a review.
The tribunal said the proposal did not meet various rules and criteria of the community and facility-zone development and multi-unit housing development codes.
These included not incorporating all essential elements of adaptable housing, not having adequate private open spaces and having limited sunlight.
The tribunal also stated that the front boundary setbacks were not consistent "with the desired character", which includes impact on the park, and not providing reasonable amenity for residents.
It found the planning directorate failed to refer the amended application to the Conservator of Flora and Fauna, which did not support the initial proposal, before approval.
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The tribunal's senior member Michael Orlov said the development would create a "change of a different order in its immediate and potential long-term negative effects on the landscape character of the park, flora and fauna habitats, streetscape and amenity for residents and other park users".
"The contrast with what is there now could not be more striking," he said.
Mr Orlov said they also found the block too small for a 10-unit supportive housing development.
"The YWCA believes that the development is not viable with less than 10 units. However, whether the belief is justified by the facts was not tested because the YWCA made a forensic decision not to provide evidence of those facts," Mr Orlov said.
The application received 151 submissions with 25 supportive and the rest opposing.
Following the decision, Ainslie Residents' Association president Ian Hubbard, one the three who filed for the tribunal's intervention, said other similar groups across Canberra "make the same complaint that the government is not providing sufficient resources to ensure compliance with their own policies and legislation".
"Government should adequately compensate community groups for undertaking this role," Mr Hubbard said.
"In most cases, residents would not have the time, emotional energy and resources to oppose non-complying developments and approvals."
He said the association supported social housing and was keen to help YWCA find a suitable site for its development.
"The group would like to meet with the YWCA to [also] discuss reactivating the site in line with its concessional lease purpose for childcare and a community activities centre," Mr Hubbard said.
YWCA's chief executive Frances Crimmins was disappointed in the decision as it would delay "these much-needed homes available to vulnerable women".
"The reasons for the decision are primarily based around architectural elements of our design, which we believe can be adjusted to meet the [planning] requirements," Ms Crimmins said.
"During the current lockdown period, our housing services have been inundated with requests, making the shortfall in supported housing supply in Canberra even more evident."
She said the organisation would persevere and work with the government to make the development a reality.
Joachim Zeil, chairman of the North Canberra Community Council, said the council "has seen many cases like this over the years and has pointed out repeatedly that there is a systematic failure in compliance management and development oversight by the ACT Planning agency".
An ACT Planning spokesperson said it was "reviewing the tribunal's reasons for the decision, including implications, if any, for planning and other government policies".
"It would not be appropriate to provide further comment at this stage," they said.
The directorate had also been asked about the oversight to exclude the conservator following the amended proposal, as well as about claims about its planning process and compliance.
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