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Think Local

Northern Beaches builder Peter Gurtner bought 1 Narrabeen Park Parade two years ago and wants to turn it into eight, two and three-bedroom residential apartments with three-to-four commercial spaces. The site, which is currently the home of the Narrabeen Modern Chinese Restaurant, sits on private land and fronts the former north sand-drift lagoon entrance.

In a detailed proposal, Mr Gurtner offered to fund an upgrade to part of the public reserve immediately south of the lot. This includes the removal of four of six mature Norfolk Island pines and replacing them with smaller native trees, shrubs and low-level planting consistent with the headland's fauna.

"No one uses the area in its current state. This is the gateway to Pittwater and an iconic site deserves an iconic development. I just want to make the space usable again for the community to enjoy and create a nice vibe," Mr Gurtner tells Peninsula Living. “The apartments would set a new benchmark."

He plans to knock down the dilapidated building and combine the site with 3 Narrabeen Park Parade - currently a residential property owned by another peninsula local.

The proposed new building would be approximately 1.5 metres higher than the existing residence at number 3, which still sits well below the height of all surrounding buildings, and would house a basement car park and potential businesses such as a deli and restaurant.

Mr Gurtner adds that the contemporary apartments would blend with the surroundings, plus he plans to landscape the area with paving, a covered awning, terrace, concrete seating area for people to sit or dine alfresco, and a grassy knoll.

"Building is my passion," he explains. "I've got clients I've had for more than 15 years and have been operating Unity Australia since 1998. I'm wanting to live in one of the apartments so of course I want it to be great," he explains.

"It's a public space - not ours," he adds, "and we're happy to maintain and contribute towards it, but we can't do anything while the four Norfolk Island pines are there. The branches drop everywhere.

"Plus, [at 1 Narrabeen Park Parade], you can see where the tiles have moved and broken because the tree roots are lifting it up. The garage slab and driveway are also cracking. This proposal would give the public space back to the public."

 However, a petition with 840 signatures protesting the development has been handed into the council, with one peninsula local calling Mr Gurtner "a cookie-cutter developer" and another, "greedy".

In addition, a 377-strong protest group, Friends of North Narra Pines - Hands Off Crown Land! - is fiercely protesting the development.

Retired surgeon, Dr Michael Morris, and wife Susie have lived next to the proposed development for 14 years. They are vehemently against it.

Mr Morris says it's the proposed tree removal that has got everyone riled up, and he recently applied to have the Norfolk Island pines heritage-listed.

"They're magnificent old trees and on Crown land," he simply states.

"Plus, the development is completely over the top. It's an iconic recreational area and the proposal is too big - there's not enough parking and there's too much density.

"To provide adequate parking, they'd need 32 parking spots, instead of the 18 proposed."

But Mr Gurtner insists the proposal complies with residential parking requirements and is consistent with retail parking facilities throughout the peninsula - but when it comes to the trees, he's adamant they're causing damage. 
"It's disappointing that people can't see the benefit. I'm not trying to make a fast buck and disappear," he adds. "It's currently dead space. If you look at the shop from the 1940s it shows that a lagoon sand dune went right up to the trees. 
"They were planted as ornamental trees and to stabilise the sand drift that was occurring right in front of it - not to be iconic in 80 years. They've obviously served their purpose but they're not going to be there forever. So why not take advantage of it now?"

A council meeting was held on June 27 to discuss the development, with Mr Gurtner's current plans being knocked back. It's now subject to a review.

Mr Gurtner is considering all options, explaining, "I still think it's something the local area needs and we're trying to build something we think the public would like. Obviously, there's an aged element to that public, who are insistent on maintaining the status quo, but I'm sure when it's finished, they'll come down to grab their coffees and pick up newspapers.

"Ever since my 20s, my motto has been that one from [the 1989 movie] Field of Dreams, 'If you build it they will come'.

"We want to work with the Northern Beaches Council and community - it's been our objective since the day we started. "If the community wants to keep those trees and maintain that unusable space, so be it - it's not my land, but we certainly won't be in a position to fund a public upgrade when the ongoing damage caused by the trees would render any investment a waste of money."

Some residents say they'd be placated if Mr Gurtner can reduce the height, density and keep the trees. Mr Morris says, "In an ideal world, he'd redevelop the shop, retain the trees and maybe build a few townhouses.

"The prospect of having a building site and development next to me doesn't fill me with joy but if it was a smaller development that's not four storeys - and the trees remain - it wouldn't be the end of the world, but I guess you can't stand in the way of progress."


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