Sydney Water is pushing ahead with the sale of an old disused reservoir in Sydney’s inner west, amid community controversy about the future use of the site.
While the heritage-listed Drummoyne Reservoir is set to hit the market on May 21, the City of Canada Bay council has attracted some 350 signatures on a petition urging Sydney Water to hand the site to the council and to fund the restoration of the reservoir and tower.
“Sydney Water’s plan could lead to a number of undesirable consequences including the potential for the heritage reservoir to be demolished and in the worst case scenario, replaced by high-density residential development,” council’s mayor Angelo Tsirekas said in a statement.
But a Sydney Water spokesperson confirmed that the Drummoyne Reservoir was offered for sale at below market value to the City of Canada Bay Council, which did not respond to the offer. As a result Sydney Water then put the property up for sale on the open market.
A City of Canada Bay Council spokesperson confirmed that a staff member received a sale price for the site in 2017.
“However, the matter has never been discussed with councillors as the position of council has always been that the state government maintains the site in public hands.”
Sydney Water’s lead heritage adviser Philip Bennett said the reservoir and tower, on Rawson Avenue, could not be demolished because the site was listed on the state heritage register.
“It’s a state heritage item, so the (reservoir and tower) is going to be retained no matter what, because that’s the whole point of the heritage listing on it. (What happens to it) is really up to the council and the heritage council down the track,” Mr Bennett said.
Sydney Water portfolio manager Grant May said the site was being sold as it was “surplus land” that was no longer in use.
“Selling surplus property helps Sydney Water reduce operating costs and fund new infrastructure to provide services to our 5 million customers,” he said.
He added that the sale and adaptive reuse of the site “is the best solution to preserving its heritage character”.
Built in 1913, Drummoyne Reservoir was decommissioned in 1965 and has since been used as a reserve tank. It is the only reservoir with a surviving tower in NSW.
What to do with an 105-year-old reservoir
The 1802-square-metre site is expected to attract more interest from special users – such as religious groups – and heritage specialists than residential developers, CBRE selling agent Victor Sheu told Commercial Real Estate.
“Would residential developers look at this? 100 per cent. Are they going to be looking at this to make money on a feasible format? I really don’t think so, because of the complications that are involved in a project like this,” he said.
“It’s going to be a market setting exercise, where they (developers) can do something very special to put their name out there, or it could be a private user wanting to set up a little medical centre there.”
Mr Sheu, who is running an expressions-of-interest campaign with fellow CBRE agents Peter Vines and Robert Dowdy, said that the most likely outcome of the property would be to retain its existing format and convert it to either residential, commercial or community use, with a contemporary design.
“Someone’s not going to be able to come in and knock it down and build a skyscraper on it, that’s not going to be possible,” he said.
The site, zoned R2 for low-density residential use, has been identified for adaptive reuse under a State Conservation Management Plan, which means that some controls, including height, could theoretically be bypassed.
“(But) realistically speaking, even if there are grey areas in the controls in the CMP for a developer to do so (bypass height limits), no-one’s going to be looking at doing that because it’s not feasible, it’s not possible; the reservoir itself takes up more than 50 per cent of the actual land.
“The truth is because you can’t knock down the reservoir, how are you going to be able to dig a sufficient amount of basement to accompany a development to make it feasible to go up in a higher form?”
And according to the drone vision they recorded, there wasn’t much of a need to build higher either, Mr Sheu said.
“We sent a drone up to where the actual metal tank is, and the views are already unbelievable. It’s 360-degree views with 80 per cent water views, I don’t think anyone’s going to be doing something higher than its existing form anyway to actually take advantage of its geographical features.”
While the agent declined to put a price on the property, Mr Sheu stressed they were not “expecting big dollars at all on this property”.
“It’s more finding a suitable buyer; it is in Sydney Water’s best interests to make sure the end purchasers are going to be following the CMP.”