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Friday, May 14, 2021
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YMCA’s Gungahlin childcare centre concerned by neighbouring high-rise

When the YMCA’s Gungahlin Childcare Centre opened on Swain Street in November 2014, they had no idea that in a few years’ time their single-level facility was to be built in by several high-rise apartment towers.

With a number of developments to the south-west of the YMCA’s facility already underway, Geocon’s The Establishment, yet to commence construction, will directly affect the centre in a number of ways.

A key concern held by YMCA ACT CEO Torrien Lau is around being forced to share a driveway with the apartment building’s 300-space carpark.

“They want us to share our easement with them so they can actually have a larger footprint, more tenancies, and more sales, and it’s not a very fair or equitable solution for both parties.”

“The number of traffic instances coming through a shared driveway with a property that has 300-car spots … and with children getting in and out of cars with that traffic flow, it’s a matter of when, not if, a child might run onto or walk in front of traffic,” Mr Lau said.

He holds other serious concerns around privacy, and the building’s shadow blocking much of their sunlight.

The shared driveway has been in the plans since the original DA submission in 2018, however an amended DA for the apartment block, which is open for public comment until 9 June, will see the total number of apartments increase by 20 units, from 270 to 290.

It also removes residential units on the ground floor, instead establishing commercial tenancies to the frontages along Swain and Gozzard streets.

According to a traffic report published in February 2020 filed as part of the DA amendment, Geocon estimates that 98 vehicles from the apartment building will use the 6.2-metre-wide driveway at peak hour every day.

Next door, 84 children attend the childcare centre, with most parents picking up and dropping off at the same time of day people are leaving or returning from work. Seven car parks off the shared driveway are reserved by the YMCA Childcare Centre for parents.

“If you have 100, 200, 300 cars coming through, your drop-off goes from two or three minutes to 10, 15 or 20 minutes as traffic banks up,” Mr Lau said.

Aside from the safety concerns he holds, Mr Lau also fears for the viability of the childcare centre long-term.

“The number one reason why parents pick a particular childcare centre is convenience … with the increased traffic flow and congestion it’s inevitable that this is going to become a site that’s hard to get in and out of.

“We’re fairly sure that over time as parents become more and more frustrated with how hard it is … that we will lose our bookings and over time the business will be unsustainable.”

The shared access easement is proposed to be managed by installation of 20km/h speed limit signage, convex mirrors and speed reduction/control devices including raised pavement and threshold treatments.

“Liaison with the representatives of YMCA have confirmed that they are satisfied with the proposed speed control and safety measures to be installed within the shared access easement,” the traffic report read.

Geocon's Establishment render, which will be next door to the YMCA
An amended DA for The Establishment, which is open for public comment until 9 June, will see the total number of apartments increase by 20 units, from 270 to 290. Image: Planning Directorate.

Mr Lau said he believes there are other options available for Geocon’s consideration that would still allow them to develop the site reasonably and reduce the risk to children.

“What I believe is the easiest solution for them is the creation of a parallel driveway, still access off the same street, but two driveways with bollards in the middle, creating a safety barrier,” Mr Lau said.

When it was suggested by YMCA ACT that Geocon consider buying their block of land in a recent meeting, they were not surprised when Geocon indicated it was “not feasible”.

Geocon CEO Nick Georgalis said they take the safety of their employees, workers on site, neighbours and pedestrians “very seriously”.

“We are always open to talk to our neighbours to help through the process of delivery and look forward to working closely with them to try and minimise the disruption to their operations.”

Community Council holds broader concerns

Gungahlin Community Council President Peter Elford told Canberra Weekly he opposes the development (The Establishment) on the grounds that it is “utterly inappropriate in size and scale for its location”.

“The YMCA will not be able to succeed as a business on that site during construction and once it’s in operation,” he said.

Mr Elford expressed displeasure with the development of that north-western corner of the town centre, which prior to a series of lease variations filed by the developers was zoned to become an office precinct.

He expressed concerns around overshadowing, impact on traffic, the lack of public space, and the loss of space for office blocks, and criticised planning authorities for the lack of a “big picture approach” being taken toward development in Gungahlin.

“A lot of these towers as they move slightly east (along Swain Street) are coming up toward a lot of houses or individual units one or two storeys in height,” Mr Elford said.

“The impact on an adjacent block is not really factored in … If someone said they were going to be building a 2,000-person suburb, there would be a broader conversation about its environmental impact, how it would affect traffic,” he said.

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