By ERWIN CHLANDA
The topic most people at this morning’s Melanka hearing wanted to talk about wasn’t on the agenda of the Development Consent Authority: The eight storeys.
Chairman Denis Burke made it clear that issue had already been dealt with, so far as public consultation is concerned, namely by the Planning Commission.
He said the commission had recommended the proposed building could go to eight storeys, and the town council was in agreement.
The council’s Manager of Developments, Dilip Nellikat, confirmed this to be “generally” the case, with “fruitful” conversation continuing on some issues. Height wasn’t one of them.
Nevertheless, some of the 20-odd public “submitters” – mostly opposed to the project – came up with fresh points and drew out some interesting answers.
Developer Dean Osborne, on behalf of the Ainsworth Family, of poker machines fame and fortune, which owns the land, fielded questions. He had given a marathon presentation to the council in November last year.
He painted an Orwellian picture of the security features.
A multitude of CCTV cameras are planned.
If you run into a gate with your car you’ll be caught.
The caretaker, supplied by the Osbornes on a 20 years plus 20 years basis, will keep an eye on the cafes’ and restaurants’ outdoor furniture at night.
The lighting outside one of the Osborne managed complexes in Darwin is three times the normal brightness.
It works, he said: There was just one graffiti in eight years, and not a single break-in into any of the 84 apartments.
Mr Osborne invited the public present at the meeting to speculate how many of 84 individual houses in Alice Springs would have been hit by burglars in that time.
He said there is interest from the – growing – staff of the hospital because “they can get to their cars without being mugged” – that obviously is if they decide to drive the 200-odd meters.
Former Independent MLA Loraine Braham worried about traffic densities around the $100m complex that will have 170 dwellings, an 85 room hotel, professional office space, restaurants, cafes – even a 110 place child care centre, requiring a total of around 560 car parks.
Mr Osborne assured the meeting that the three entrances – in Stott and Stuart Terraces and Hartley Street – would disperse vehicle movements.
A traffic management consultant, also used by the council, had been brought in and found no problems.
A land swap would ensure that the ratepayers aren’t short-changed. All the construction work of external car parking would be paid by the developer: “The council wouldn’t be paying for anything,” Mr Osborne said.
National Trust member Faye Alexander, after expressing irritation that the eight storeys issue was a no-go area, wanted to know if anything had been changed since the plans had gone on display for public comment.
Changes turned into quite an issue at the hearing.
Mr Osborne mentioned minor aspects: facilities for aged people and the disabled had been improved; there would be more photo voltaic cells, with tenants having their own patches on the roofs.
Randle Walker, company secretary of Centrefarm which has its office in an historic house in adjoining Hartley Street, described the planned structures as a “blight”.
He asked what guarantee there would be that the features, now touted by the developers as selling points for the complex, would not fall victim to the red pencil if the dollar numbers didn’t stack up.
Mr Burke said changes after approval did indeed happen: “It annoys the hell out of us.”
However, surprisingly for an independent chairman, he praised the Osbornes’ record in that respect, as demonstrated by their two major projects in Darwin.
And Mr Osborne said if buyers made their “final investment decision” on the presence of such amenities as gardens, pools, individual veggie patches, gymns and mini golf, “when sold on that pretence” then the developers would stick to providing them.
Mr Walker, tongue in cheek, asked if the new Melanka had to be eight storeys to be viable, would that not mean that all the existing buildings in the CBD, well short of that height, would have no chance?
There was no direct reply to that from Mr Osborne but he suggested that these days, the building game is hampered by rules and regulations, 6400 Australian Standards and growing, for example.
The old Melanka had to go because – in part, at least – it would have cost $1.5m to bring the fire protection up to the new requirements.
While Ms Alexander drew attention to the 20-odd empty shops in Todd Mall, Mr Osborne repeatedly claimed that “people attract people” and a success of Melanka would rub off on the neighborhood: “It’s a proven formula.”
Ms Alexander said the council’s support for the project was in complete conflict with its announced policy of developments needing to complement the environment.
Lynne Day questioned the Planning Commission’s motives holding a public hearing three weeks before Christmas, and considering an exceptional development permit when planning guidelines are under review.
The said the project would be a good one in a big city, but not here, in an “outback icon. How would it reflect this dessert community?”
The final word went to Greg Neck, of the local trading dynasty and connected to the Quest apartments in South Terrace.
The town needs an injection of investment and confidence, he said. It’s been marking time for 10 years. The Mall has just eight car parks.
He had been opposed to the eight storeys but has changed his mind. The town needs a stimulant. The building won’t “stick out” quite as much as most people are thinking.
By ERWIN CHLANDA