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Iffy on Liffey: proposed 9-storey hotel seems to breach height standards

The building on the corner of Liffey St and Abbey St would dominate the skyline from almost any direction

Solicitor and daily-communicating boomtown property developer, Noel Smyth, has submitted plans for a nine-storey hotel in Dublin city centre.

His company, Fitzwilliam Real Estate Properties, is seeking an overscaled development of a hotel and retail scheme on a site covering the intersections of Liffey Street Upper and Middle Abbey Street, Dublin 1. The plan is for 4,523sqm gross floor area and ta building of 9 storeys in height (33m, with some setbacks) accommodating a 365-bed budget hotel for the unpleasant sounding German Motel One group.

The position of a helium balloon shows the height of the proposed hotel.

The proposed development contemplates the demolition of 1-6 Liffey Street Upper and 111-114 Middle Abbey Street. All but two of the existing buildings on the site are currently trading and at least two of them are of some significance though none is a protected structure.

More significantly, the proposal would dominate the skyline from the River Liffey – in particular from the famous Ha’penny Bridge, and many other vantage points, including crucially the terrace of the Temple Bar apartment building of former Irish Times Environment Editor, Frank McDonald, who has written a stiff objection: “The essential pretence is that it would not be a nine-storey building, nor seen as such from any angle. But even the inadequate computer-generated photomontages of what it would look like from different points, north and south of the River Liffey, show that it would be a behemoth. Absent from those montages is any view from rooftops, perhaps for the obvious reason that the proposed budget hotel would appear colossal on the skyline, much as the nearby Jervis Centre multi-storey car park looms up in views north from our roof terrace in Temple Bar”. McDonald relies on the balloon erected above the site as indicating the severity of the scale problem.

Photomontage, looking north across the Ha’penny Bridge, towards the proposed building at the corner of Liffey and Abbey Streets.

In passing, I recall twenty years ago, when I was representing An Taisce and calling for balloons to be raised in the public interest to show the height of the proposed eleven-storey ‘Wooden Building’ in Temple Bar, Frank McDonald accused me of being concerned about views rom the top of my own house, though I was not.

McDonald notes that: “Independent House is the largest building on Middle Abbey Street, significantly exceeding the height of both surviving Georgian houses and buildings from the 1920s that replaced those destroyed during the 1916 Rising, all of which are no more than four storeys high. To retain the scale of the street, no permission should be granted for any new building that exceeds the height of Independent House, which is five storeys, not including its elaborate roof. Thus, the proposed hotel should have a parapet no higher than five storeys, with a single-storey penthouse level, suitably set back above it”.

Photomontage showing the proposed 9-storey budget hotel (extreme left) with the setback perhaps unrealistically visually minimised, looking north along Abbey Street towards Independent House (extreme right).

An Taisce submitted a short objection to the City Council, claiming: “the applicant has not sufficiently considered the planning history of the site which formed part of the Northern Quarter Plan from faraway 2006 – large-scale regeneration of the wider block between Middle Abbey Street and Henry Street and centred around Arnotts Department Store”.

Two of the shops to be demolished on Upper LIffey Street, which the application mischaracterises as a ‘brownfield site’.

An Taisce noted: “As initially proposed, a 12 /16 storey building would have been constructed at the subject corner location. While on appeal, An Bord Pleanála issued a Section 132 request in relation to the design and height of the proposed development, stating: “Having regard to the height and visual character of the existing buildings on the site and along adjoining streets the Board considers that the proposed development would be unduly obtrusive on the skyline and would seriously detract from the balance and architectural coherence of these streets”, and the proposal was revised accordingly to integrate better into the location.

Since the height and visual character of the existing buildings have not changed, it is possible that the planning authority will again accept that the obtrusion and detraction from architectural coherence is unacceptable.

Though the City Council is now officially – if unwisely – committed to heights of up to 28 metres on such citycentre sites, local resident David Watchorn has started a blog about the application and is channelling 500 signatures from opponents of the scheme to the City Council.

The last word to Frank McDonald:

“What this scheme demonstrates, in proposing an overall height of 27.7 metres from ground level, is the utter folly of Dublin City Council’s decision to permit buildings of up to 28 metres on any site in the inner city under the current city development plan. The juxtaposition of buildings of this scale with the general height of four-tofive storeys in the city centre and two to three storeys in much of the rest of the inner city, is nothing less than a recipe for visual chaos and urgently needs to be reconsidered. Otherwise, Dublin’s skyline will be lost, and the planners/city officials will only have themselves to blame”.