With Few Powers to Shape What Gets Built, Councillors Wary of Rezoning Industrial Land

On Monday, Dublin city councillors decided to push back a decision on whether or not to rezone 20 industrial sites across the city, to allow for mainly residential or mixed developments, with some to be open space.

At their March monthly meeting at City Hall, they opted not to decide on the rezoning, but instead to call a special meeting for next Tuesday, and consider it then.

Some of the issues that councillors raised were site-specific – about the lack of a plan for amenities to support extra homes, say, or plans to address the risk of flooding.

Others were centred on the wider context, and fears that once the land is rezoned, councillors and Dublin City Council have only a weak say in what it gets used for – and whether blocks that may be built are affordable or good-quality.

How We Got Here

Four years ago, councillors agreed that the council should survey its industrial lands, to see what could be rezoned to respond to the need to reduce urban sprawl and addressing housing-supply issues, City Planner John O’Hara said at Monday’s meeting.

Since then, plans to rezone lands have edged along, with the council carving up different groups of sites, based on what should happen to them.

They decided that some should be kept as industrial, and some needed master plans or area plans to set out what should go on them, said O’Hara.

But some smaller sites – those well-serviced with transport and suitable for housing – could potentially be rezoned now, O’Hara said.

It’s those 20 sites, which add up to a total of 55 hectares, and have the potential for as many as 3,500 apartments or houses, that councillors were asked at Monday’s monthly meeting to rezone.

The council had received 283 submissions from a round of public consultation about the planned rezoning of those sites, said O’Hara.

From Santry to the Liberties

Sinn Féin Councillor Larry O’Toole raised concerns in particular about lands at Santry Avenue and Swords Road, north of the Omni Shopping Centre, and also at Shanowen Road.

He’d met with residents who are reasonable and recognise the need for housing. But “they feel that the wool is going to be pulled over their eyes”, said O’Toole.

Many of the submissions to the council about that rezoning had called for better consultation, and a local area plan, the council’s report says. Individuals raised issues about possible future overdevelopment, height, density, and the uptick in land value.

Others, such as area landowners MKN Investments and Caltrack Ltd, said they supported the rezoning.

Fianna Fáil Councillor Racheal Batten said councillors wanted a local area plan in Santry first, to make sure that there is “proper infrastructure put in place” if the lands are developed.

There are many big projects coming down the line for that part of the city, and local residents have been calling for a cohesive vision to make sure there are amenities and facilities in place for that.

Batten, at Monday’s meeting, said councillors didn’t want to be coming back to the chamber in 10 years because they got it wrong, and looking at spending millions to fix problems.

Like many other councillors, O’Toole said that the council had an example in what might happen after land is rezoned, in the case of the old Chivers Factory in Coolock.

Councillors rezoned that land in March 2018 after the landowner Platinum Land pitched plans for a development with roughly 350 homes, which would be affordable and sustainable, and community facilities.

But then the developer sought permission for the site for a markedly different vision – one that was denser and taller, among other changes, leaving councillors feel duped.

“The developer comes in and pays absolutely no heed whatsoever to previous promises,” said O’Toole.

Sinn Féin Councillor Críona Ní Dhálaigh said she would have serious issues with rezonings in the Liberties and around Cork Street.

“Because at the moment, what’s residential is unaffordable student accommodation, co-living,” she said. “That’s all that’s being built.”

A site at 109 to 114 Cork Street is one of those on the list of 20 sites to be rezoned. It’s currently home to “a number of different units and premises in various states of maintenance. A plant shop takes up a significant portion of the lands,” says the report.

The business Urban Plantlife is at 110-111 Cork Street.

At the meeting, O’Hara the planner said that rezoning land doesn’t take away the existing use rights that remain on the land.

In Harold’s Cross

Councillor Anne Feeney of Fine Gael said she fully appreciates the need for housing and greater density in the city, but it has to be done “in a holistic way”.

Where there’s a commitment to local area plans for some sites, those rezonings should be delayed until that happens, she said – pointing to proposals for rezoning in Harold’s Cross, where there are challenges around flood-alleviation that are yet to be resolved.

In its submission, the Harold’s Cross Village Community Council said that the site at Greenmount Industrial Estate in that neighbourhood, which the council is proposing to rezone, is already “heavily utilized as an employment zone”.

“We are concerned that rezoning … would create a pressure and an incentive for the sale of the land, and for the higher values use of housing to trump that of the other mixed uses,” the group’s submission said.

“The likelihood is that … [it] would have the consequence of forcing out the lower value uses, of leisure, arts and SMEs. These uses are not only employment providers, but provide considerable leisure and other resources to the local community,” it said.

Weak Powers

When the plan to rezone swathes of land has come before councillors in the past, they have consistently raised the same concerns and questions – asking how they can direct development, or benefit from the uptick in land value that owners get from rezoning lands.

Catherine Stocker, the Social Democrats councillor, said that the wider context had changed since the council decided to press ahead with looking at land rezoning, four years ago.

Back then, the government’s Strategic Housing Developments scheme wasn’t in place, whereby large schemes can now skip council planners and go straight to the national planning body, An Bord Pleanála for permission.

Also, there weren’t the same height guidelines brought in by Minister Eoghan Murphy to override those set by councillors in the city’s development plan.

“All of those contexts have changed,” said Stocker. Which is why the Social Democrats are against the plan to rezone the 20 packages of industrial land, she said.

“Because we have absolutely no guarantee that the residential development that will happen on that land will be appropriate to surroundings,” she said.

“We have absolutely no guarantee that the residential development that will happen on that land will not be co-housing, will not be student housing out of the budget of any student I’ve ever met. We have no oversight whatsoever on what we would be giving the green light to,” she says.

Stocker said that, as she saw it, the best way forward was to see if a new government and new minister for housing would roll back those moves and return planning powers to the city government.

Pat Dunne, an Independents 4 Change councillor, who said he was against the variations as they had been put to the councillors, said that if the council is serious about wanting proper development on those sites, they should do it differently.

“Let’s do so on a case-by-case basis, looking at a particular proposal for a particular site,” he said.

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Author:

Lois Kapila: Lois Kapila is Dublin Inquirer's editor and general assignment reporter. She covers housing and land, too. Want to share a comment or a tip? You can reach her at [email protected]

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