PLANS FOR a new "Northern Quarter" on the site of Arnotts department store in Dublin will have to go back to the drawing board following the rejection by An Bord Pleanála of several major elements of the development, including a 16-storey tower.
The board has told Arnotts that the plans could not proceed in their current form and has directed them to reduce the height of the tower by nine storeys and ensure that no other building in the development was higher than seven.
In its letter to Arnotts, the board said the development would be "unduly obtrusive on the skyline" and would "seriously detract from the balance and architectural coherence of these streets".
The wording of the board's letter is a powerful signal that it will not allow any high-rise buildings in the historic core of the city. While it is sure to come as a major blow to Arnotts who had its plans passed almost in full by Dublin City Council last year, it also sets a marker for future developments in the area, including the redevelopment of the Carlton site a short distance north of Arnotts.
The company is proposing a €750 million redevelopment of a 5.5 acre block bordered by Henry Street, Middle Abbey Street, Liffey Street and O'Connell Street, into a new shopping, entertainment and residential zone, called "Northern Quarter". The quarter would include 47 shops and 14 cafes, restaurants and bars, around 175 apartments and a 149-bedroom four-star hotel.
In addition to limiting the height of the development, the board has told Arnotts to significantly scale back its overall plans, ordering it to reduce the footprint of the buildings, half the number of parking spaces sought, restrict entrance to the car park and completely eliminate its plans for redesigning the facade of the Penney's building on O'Connell Street.
The board is particularly scathing in relation to the plans for Penney's.
Arnotts was seeking to introduce large projecting glass screens over the existing facades of the building on O'Connell Street. These would "seriously detract" from the design and character of these streets, but particularly the GPO building, the board said.
Most significantly for any future developments in the street, the board said the facade alteration would detract from the "architectural heritage value of this nationally important streetscape".
Arnotts had sought 683 car parking spaces and to have access to the car park from both O'Connell Street and Middle Abbey Street. The board has said this was excessive and has ordered Arnotts to keep car parking at its current level of 350 spaces and restrict access to Middle Abbey Street only. The board also said inadequate public outdoor space had been provided and directed that the footprint of two of the four blocks included in the scheme be set back by 10m.
The company paid €26 million in 2003 for Independent House, the former premises of Independent newspapers, and is understood to have paid in excess of €100 million to acquire all the property required within the 5.5-acre site. Arnotts has until June 5th next to submit all the amendments required, but it is unclear whether the project will still be economically viable.
The Arnotts situation is likely to be watched very closely by Dundrum shopping centre developer Joe O'Reilly, who owns the derelict Carlton site at the other end of O'Connell Street.
Mr O'Reilly is shortly expected to seek planning permission for a development which is to include about 6,503sq m (700,000sq ft) of retail premises with restaurants, bars and other leisure facilities, a 150-bedroom hotel and apartments. He has also signalled that he will be seeking tall buildings on the site.
As with Arnotts the Carlton development is likely to find favour with the council's planners. City manager John Tierney has repeatedly said that he wanted to see a far greater intensification of use of land in the city centre. However, given that most projects involving height and major redevelopment are appealed to An Bord Pleanála, it is the board that will have the final say.
The Irish Times