The Presentation Brothers religious teaching order is looking at a €40m-plus property windfall after succeeding in a legal action to stop Dun Laoghaire council from zoning land belonging to one of its former schools for sports and recreational use.
The four-acre playing fields at Hudson Road in Glasthule are among the last major potential development sites left in the Dun Laoghaire area and among the last open spaces. Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council last year zoned it for sports and recreational use only.
However, the order challenged the decision and the council has now conceded that it cannot succeed against the legal challenge.
In a letter to councillors last Friday, County Manager Owen Keegan, conceded that the council did not have grounds to insist that the lands should remain for recreational use. It is now likely that they will be sold for apartment development. As it is one of the last sites of its size in the Dun Laoghaire/Sandycove area the four-acre site is expected to fetch at least €10m an acre, as similar development land has already been fetching.
Local Fine Gael councillor Mary Mitchell-O'Connor is headmistress of the Harold National School in Glasthule whose children have used the fields up to now. She said, "Open space is at a premium in Dun Laoghaire and especially round this area. There are 500 children in the Harold and there is very little open space for them.
"We should try and preserve as much green space as we have and I would like to see the County Manager and the Presentation Brothers coming together to discuss this as an issue. I personally hope that this will not be yet another high-rise, high-density development proposal. We have had too many of those in Dun Laoghaire."
There was no comment available from the Presentation Brothers yesterday.
In his letter to the councillors, Mr Keegan said: "As you are probably aware, following the adoption by the council of this Variation, the Trustees of the Presentation Brothers Religious Order initiated judicial review proceedings against the council. Within the last few weeks, the case was remitted to the Commercial Court for hearing. The hearing of the action has been fixed for April 15, 2008."
He said legal advice had been sought and this was: "that the planning ethos and intentions of the council, intended to be expressed in the documentation upon which the decision to vary the Development Plan was made, are not clearly borne out in that documentation; that the Presentation Brothers make a strong case that the procedures adopted by the council are, in the legal sense, infirm; that defending the proceedings would be costly and result in delay and; that the Court would be more likely to quash the decision to adopt the Variation arising from the difficulties, which have been identified".
Mr Keegan added: "In these circumstances and in light of the legal advice given to me, I consider that it is both appropriate and prudent not to defend the proceedings and to allow the council's decision to vary the Development Plan to be quashed."
Around 4,000 apartment and town-houses are currently under construction or in planning in the Dun Laoghaire area, including some 1,300 in the first phase of the Cosgrave Brothers development of Dun Laoghaire Golf Course. Developer Noel Smyth, who is seen locally as one of the likely bidders for the Presentation site, is also involved in proposals for around 400 apartments, including the proposal to build two apartment blocks in the grounds of St Michael's Hospital in Dun Laoghaire.
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