Monday 19 September 2011

Approval for Dunne's Ballsbridge proposal

SIX YEARS since paying €379 million for the seven-acre site Seán Dunne has been granted planning permission to redevelop the former Jurys and Berkeley Court hotels in Ballsbridge.

But all talk of transforming Ballsbridge into the “new Knightsbridge” or creating a “Manhattan-like lifestyle” was gone yesterday as Mr Dunne said it would be at least five years before any work started.

He also thanked the banks and hotel customers for their support in “extremely difficult times for bankers, investors and the public”.

Mr Dunne’s more humble tone was reflected in the redesigned development.

Gone is the proposed 37-storey “diamond-cut” tower, embassy block and large-scale retail, to be replaced with a largely residential scheme with buildings no taller than 12-storeys.

While this is still considerably taller than the prevailing building height, it is a world apart from the “landmark” building, originally proposed by Mr Dunne to realise the value of the site bought in 2005 at more than €50 million an acre in one of the biggest property deals in the history of the Irish State.

A leading commercial property valuer yesterday said the entire site could now be worth €50 million, if indeed such a sale could be achieved. The permission granted by An Bord Pleanála includes the demolition of the old hotels, operating as D4Hotels, and the construction of 490 apartments in 11 blocks ranging in height from six to 12 storeys.

A 151-bedroom hotel, a restaurant, cafe, bars, creche and healthcare facility is also planned.

The 27,000sq m of retail space proposed in the original plans will now take up 2,000sq m of the new development and the office space which was intended to occupy 42,000sq m i s gone.

Perimeter trees and railings, which were set for removal last time around, will be retained.

Investors or house-hunters anxious to own a part of what was one of the most notorious development sagas of the property boom, will have to wait however.

The former Jurys and Berkeley Court hotels continue to operate as D4Hotels and the The Doyle Hotel Group has the right to lease or purchase the hotel until October 2017.

Mr Dunne’s Mountbrook Group confirmed “any development will not commence for at least five years”.

However, the group would not say whether the development as approved by the planning board would ultimately proceed.

“I would like to thank our customers of D4Hotels and our funders Ulster Bank, ACC Bank and Kaupthing Singer Friedlander who have been most supportive of the D4Hotels’ operation and planning process in extremely difficult times for bankers, investors and the public,” Mr Dunne said.

€379m deal: Troubled history from day one

EVEN AT a time when the property boom was at its boomiest, to paraphrase a former taoiseach, there were gasps at the telephone number-sized sum developer Seán Dunne paid for two hotels in Ballsbridge, Dublin 4.

In summer 2005 Mr Dunne bought Jurys Hotel for €53.7 million an acre, and then snapped up the Berkeley Court for €57.5 million an acre, which resulted in a total spend on the almost seven-acre site of €379,000,000.

In August 2007, two weeks after closing down the two hotels, Mr Dunne made his first application to Dublin City Council to redevelop the site. The €1.5 billion scheme included a plan for a 37-storey, 132m residential tower which would be “cut like a diamond”, as well as a multistorey embassy complex and office block, a 232-bedroom luxury hotel and an underground shopping mall.

In March 2008, two months after Mr Dunne reopened the hotels as D4Hotels, the council granted permission for most of the development, apart from the 37-storey building.

Mr Dunne appealed the decision to An Bord Pleanála. His appeal was one of 127 made to the board, an unprecedented number. Some 30 appeals were from those who wanted the scheme rejected, including politicians and local residents, among them financier Dermot Desmond who warned that the proposed 15-storey embassy block would be a “sitting duck” for terrorists.

However, there were a surprising number of submissions in favour of the project. Appellants in favour included Gate Theatre director Michael Colgan, cultural adviser for the project, public relations consultant Bill O’Herlihy and Shrewsbury Road resident Michael Maughan, founder of WHPR, as well as four solicitors firms, three builders and four estate agents/chartered surveyors.

Following a lengthy public hearing in late 2008 the board refused permission in January 2009 saying the plans represented a “gross overdevelopment” of the site and were in conflict with the council’s own Dublin City Development Plan.

The board agreed with its inspector, Tom Rabbette, who conducted the month-long hearing that the scheme was too tall, too intensive, would have a bad impact on the existing area and would contravene the development plan in bringing excessive retail and office development to the site.

However, the board went further than its inspector, who concentrated on the effect of the development on the surrounding area, and said it was not satisfied that the apartments would be a pleasant place to live.

In October 2009 Mr Dunne returned to the council with a significant scaled back proposal. The 37-storey tower, which had, Mr Dunne and his architects said been essential to the original scheme was gone, as were the embassy and retail buildings.

The new proposals were for a more modest a €300 million scheme with a 15-storey tower and a 135-bedroom hotel. The plans were approved by the council in August 2010, but were again appealed to An Bord Pleanála by 21 parties, who this time were largely opposed to the project.

Again the board’s inspector, this time Andrew Boyle, recommended rejection in similar terms to Mr Rabbette saying it amounted to a “gross overdevelopment and over intensification of use of this site”.

The board, however, yesterday granted permission, citing that it had sought changes following Mr Boyle’s report. Mr Dunne can proceed with a largely residential scheme involving a 12-storey tower. Perhaps not quite the “Manhattan-like” lifestyle he originally proposed, but maybe offering a future for the site.

Irish Times

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