Plans for a four-level boutique hotel to be built with a 24-hour rooftop bar on a laneway behind a quiet residential street in Sydney’s Redfern has outraged the community.
Locals are now preparing a series of protests and have been lobbying council officers and tacking signs onto the trees that will be felled if the project is given the go-ahead.
“Their arguments that this hotel won’t be disruptive to the local community are utter rubbish,” said Alexa Wyatt, a screenwriter who’s lived in a house backing onto the laneway for the last 20 years.
“The hotel and its rooftop bar backs on to us, it will be noisy at night and will look straight into our houses. I’ll no longer be able to have a barbecue in my backyard without having a whole lot of partying strangers staring at me, so there’ll be a total loss of privacy. And a traffic report said that laneway wasn’t used much which is totally at odds to the experience of all of us who live here.
“That narrow laneway was only intended to be a dunny lane, yet it’s busy at the best of times and is constantly crowded, but with more traffic it’ll be dangerous and everything could come to a standstill. Development needs to be sympathetic, appropriate and in the style of the area – and this is definitely not!”
The development application is for a $10 million hotel with 63 rooms and 15 car parking spaces straddling Redfern’s Elizabeth Lane and Elizabeth Street on the site of a former car repair business. It is proposed to operate 24 hours a day, seven days
a week, with a café that will stay open until 10pm every evening.
It will be built on an 831-square-metre site at 589-591 Elizabeth Street next to the Sydney Maori Anglican Fellowship and heritage Church of Te Wairua Tapu, a cornerstone of the Maori community that has been providing ministry for more than 34 years. Three mature gum trees will also be cut down to make room for it.
Residents nearby, particularly in the two-level Victorian terraces on Great Buckingham Street that will be overlooked by the hotel, say they’ve been told the project will now be decided by a local planning panel, since the cost will be between $5 million and $30 million, and there will be little consultation with locals.
A spokesperson for the City of Sydney said: “We don’t comment on development applications while they’re under assessment.”
But deputy mayor Linda Scott said she had visited the area, and felt sympathetic to the locals. “The beautiful streets of Redfern form a central part of our important city heritage conservation areas,” she said.
“In the City of Sydney, seeking out the balance between private development and the public good is vital. I look forward to continuing to work with our inner-city communities to ensure our heritage areas are appropriately preserved for our communities of the future.”
The hotel has been designed by Turner architects for the developer, named as the trustee for Zhengde Unit Trust, and is being project-managed by EnHance Group Project.
EnHance said on its website that the four-star hotel was making up for a lack of tourist accommodation in Sydney generally and was perfectly located, being 10 minutes from Redfern station.
Project manager Leo Wang confirmed the hotel would have “rooftop bars and a small café as well”. But when pressed for further comment, he said, “We’re not interested in any publicity” and put down the phone.
There have been more than 40 letters to the City of Sydney protesting the hotel plan. Neighbour Robyn Tolhurst lives nearby and said she was alarmed by the proposed caveat in the DA that the developer could build something higher on the site at a later date. “That’s deeply concerning,” said Ms Tolhurst, who runs her own communications business. “That creates a whole new ballgame by creating a precedent elsewhere too.
“But this hotel would back onto a very quiet residential neighbourhood and there seems to be no understanding how a neighbourhood, a real creative hub like ours, operates. There are other corridors suitable for high-rise development, but this is a medium-density area and a little haven.”
Because the hotel would have so little parking, it has also proposed a 15-car stacker system, run by a valet service that would have to drive around the block and down the lane to reach the entrance.
“And that laneway is more like an arterial road where you often have to mount the footpath to squeeze past the traffic,” said another local, child-protection worker Penny Haskins. “We’re not being bloody-minded about development, but we just don’t want a rooftop bar full of people looking down on our backyards.”
Ms Haskins, like others in the area, is angry that the DA will be decided by an appointed panel rather than locally elected representatives. “It’s bizarre to me that a government run by consultants is not prepared to consult with the community – ratepayers and voters – about something that is going to have such an effect on our lives,” she said.
“The whole process is wrong, and we’re really angry and unhappy.”