Claims new 1,600 Drumcondra unit development proposals are a return to ‘absentee landlordism’

by Rose Barrett
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BY Rose Barrett

A Strategic Housing Development (SHD) submitted to An Bord Pleanála for the conversion of former church property in Drumcondra  proposes to build 1, 614 build-to-rent (BTR) apartments within 12 blocks and up to 18 storeys high.

Widespread local opposition has emerged against the proposals, with claims that this new development would see a case of “Build To Rent on steroids” with further claims that allowing such a development would herald a return to “absentee landlordism.”

However the developers have hit back at such criticisms that the Holy Cross scheme on Clonliffe Road is 100 per cen a BTR development.

The company stated: “There is no other sustainable funding model available to facilitate the construction of apartment developments of scale in Ireland currently. 

“Banks or other funders simply won’t provide the money for large built-to-sell (BTS) developments because it takes too long to deliver a financial return on such a major financial outlay.”  

It also refutes claims that apartments in the proposed development are below minimum size requirements for one beds, have poor light aspect and ventilation, and are lacking in balconies.

An Bord Pleanála is expected to publish its decision in the next few months.

Sinn Féin leader, Mary Lou McDonald is among growing opposition to a 1,614 ‘build-to-rent’ (BTR) apartment proposal submitted to An Bord Pleanála via the Strategic Housing Development (SHD) on former church grounds in Drumcondra.

The site, circa eight hectares was sold by the GAA to American developers Hines in 2019, and is located only a few hundred yards from Croke Park.

While the time to challenge or comment on the application to ABP has closed, circa 120 submissions have been made, with most opposing the build-to-rent aspect of the proposed development.

Deputy McDonald stated in no way does the proposed development meet local housing needs, but instead, high density developments such as Holy Cross help to shoot up the cost of zoned lands, and make the cost of new homes totally unaffordable to locals.

Local campaign groups Stop Holy Cross College and the Clonliffe & Croke Park Residents Association have vehemently opposed the development.

Rob Curley and Alfonso Bonilla are both architects and members of the Stop Holy Cross College group. They are vociferous in their criticism of the application on what they see as poor design.

Claiming the ratio of studios and one beds is totally inappropriate for the area, and totals 70.8% of the development, they further claim some of the apartment sizes do not meet minimum apartment standards.

“It’s set on eight hectares – that’s half the size of Trinity College main campus, and entirely rental!” said Rob Curley.

“It’s spread over a dozen blocks up to 18 storeys. Part of the issue with BTR is that it allows for unit mixes that disregards Dublin City Council Development Plan.  This means you can have up to 70% studio/one bed apartments and that’s exactly what is proposed in this instance.

“That has a very real effect on the internal layout, and the liveability and suitability of the homes within this scheme.”

The pair stated that at Hines open day hosted in April last, it was confirmed that the segregation of the Part V units into separate blocks was done intentionally to improve the marketability of the private BTR scheme to international funds.

“This is another example of how this scheme and wider Irish housing policy appears to be dictated by the whims of global finance without due consideration for local need, strategic housing delivery, and longterm cohesive development or social cohesion” they wrote in their submission to ABP.

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They further described the design layouts of some apartments as lacking in natural light, balconies and any outdoor space, and the size of same (37-38 sq mts) were less than DCC’s recommended 40 sq mts.

Describing them as having a hotel room layout, Rob Curley described the development plan as being “Build-to-rent on steroids”; one in five will meet the traditional BTR standards, the rest will meet the lower industry size standard.

Run by a foreign investor, they further stated developments of this kind will see a return to “absentee landlordism”.

Cllr Cat O’Driscoll (SD) concurred with many of the above concerns regards a poor mix of housing units, size, lack of natural light and individual outside space.

“At our July meeting of Dublin City Council, there was disappointment voiced that it was totally BTR, and also the unit sizes were small.

“While we do need one bed developments, we need a balance – DCC have long housing lists for single people and for families. From people who communicate with me, the need is there for say, a single parent with one or two children, and also units for multi-generational family, a grandparent, parent and child or children.

“So many planning proposals are coming through the system but far too few with ‘proper’ family homes. I’ve nothing against apartments but we need more two, three and four bed apartments!”

She continued: “I fear this development in its current design would end up as a student village. It’s on such a significant site, with DCU and Croke Park close by, and close to the River Tolka and the Grand Canal – a wonderful area to raise a family!”

She further stated there should be more natural light and also windows on two sides to allow a good flow of air – very important during Covid.

“A good example of regeneration is the council development proposed on Dorset Street, where St Mary’s flats offered a good standard with dual aspect lighting, and a good mix of apartment sizes.”

As with Stop Holy Cross College, Cllr O’Driscoll stated it was a shame that investment funds always went for the lowest denominator, smaller properties in disproportionate numbers.

“We got rid of bedsits in the ‘70s, but now the Co-Living/Shared Accommodation standards have allowed smaller living spaces – eating away at the minimum standards.

“The lovely historical building on the Clonliffe site will be swamped within this development with blocks up to 18 storeys high.

She concluded: “DCC are currently prepping the county development plan, with a lot of focus on housing recommendations, height, amenity – but the government just keep changing the ball park. This SHD application simply isn’t a good balance, a good mix of housing units for the area.”

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