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What's that hole at St John's on Oxford Street about?

The St John's site is a long and sad story...  in 2001 the Land & Environment Court approved a Development Application (DA) for the site, then owned by the Uniting Church, for conversion of:

1.  the Church (the 1859 main building) into shops and a restaurant,  
2.  the Old Manse (the original 1845 Church to the west) into shops, and a cafe kiosk for 50 people at outdooor tables in the  forecourt,
3.  while the New Manse (1904 brick building to the  east of the main Church) was proposed to be retained as a residence.  
4.  In addition, approval was given to build 7  new apartments in a 3-storey + attic building with 1 level of carpark under,  along Renny Lane, to the south of the Church.

Residents and the Paddington Society objected to the development on several grounds, which were little heeded by the Court, though the Society was happy to see the heritage buildings restored from their run-down state.  

The site was then sold to Woollahra Corporation Pty Ltd, who submitted a revised DA which was also approved by the Court (because there were many objections) in 2005. These revisions were  - enlarging some apartments, adding a new entry door & ramp to the Church. The plans were developed to show an outdoor restaurant seating area with a store and bar to the north of the Old Manse onto Oxford St.  Drawings showed the Church with a restaurant in the east-west transept on the ground floor and a mezzanine level, and a new excavated level for a Kitchen below. The main Church Hall is also shown to have a mezzanine level, for retail.  There is also an excavated level below the cafe forecourt  to the Old Manse onto Oxford St, for a Kitchen, storage and plant. The Court ruled that the Old Manse was to only be used for retail, not for a restaurant. Drawings also showed the proposed apartment building is, in effect , 2 storeys below the Oxford St level, & 1 storey below the lowest point of the site in Renny Lane.

The hours of operation were set by the Court as 11am to midnight Monday to Saturday & 11am to 10pm Sunday for the Church restaurant, with the seating limited to max 80. The restaurant/cafe in the Old Manse forecourt had operating hours from 8am to 9pm seven days a week.

In October 2008 the DA was further revised to include more excavation to the Old Manse forecourt, and under the Old Manse itself for a larger kitchen, a lift and toilets for what appears to be a restaurant in the Old Manse, in lieu of the restaurant & excavated level under the Church transept.  This application also states that the Church transept is to be modified for use as apartment s instead of the restaurant. There is also a larger bar in the Old Manse forecourt. At the same t "> // --> ime, Woo llahra Corporation applied to the Liquor Licensing Court for 2 restaurant licences, one for 80 people in the Church, and one for 100 in the Old Manse and forecourt, with extended trading hours.

The Paddington Society objected to the proposal to install a restaurant in the Old Manse and to any extension of trading hours, as an intensification of use. The Land and Environment Court agreed and refused this part of the application in its approval on January 28 this year.

Construction started on the site on 8 October 2008, and it looks like the excavation works are almost complete, except for excavation under the heritage buildings (Church or Old Manse) - see photos attached taken 21 February from Oxford St and from Renny Lane.  (See excavation photo at the bottom of this story)

So, the short answer to peoples questions about the hole in the ground and what is happening:
1. shops & restaurant in the Church
2. shops in the Old Manse
3. cafe seating & kiosk in the Old Manse forecourt
4. a residence & an apartment in the New Manse
5. 7 new apartments in rear off Renny Lane

There are concerns from the Society & neighbours regarding the extent of excavation & the final use & hours of the heritage buildings.  The complexity of the project, the many DAs & the liquor licensing application, make it very hard to assess what is actually going on. The new owner appears to want to increase the use of the site radically for commercial purposes.

Uploaded : March 1, 2009

by Linda Gosling

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