Sisters of Charity claim lands targeted by city council

 

THE IMPOSITION of more restrictive conditions on development of certain lands in the new development plan for Dublin appears “targeted” at lands owned by religious institutions, the Sisters of Charity have claimed before the Commercial Court.

Dublin City Council has failed to give any rational reason why the restrictive Z15 zoning designation was imposed on property totalling 108 acres owned by the order and not on certain other lands, the order’s counsel, Brian Murray SC, argued.

The order claims the Z15 designation means future uses such as housing development are not open for planning consideration with consequent adverse implications for their property rights and ability to sell land to fund their activities.

Mr Murray said his client wanted to know why the council believed the lands zoned Z15 – including open space lands adjoining the order’s convent and schools in Sandymount – should be zoned in a restrictive way compared with other open space lands.

The council contended the Z15 zoning, entitled “Community and Institutional Resource Lands (Education, Recreation, Community, Green Infrastructure and Health)” was in the common good and for the benefit of the community and neighbourhood but this did not meet the requirement to provide “clear categorisation”, justification and “clear rational evidence” before subjecting lands to such a restrictive zoning, he argued.

He was opening the Sisters of Charity’s action against the council before Mr Justice Frank Clarke, which is expected to run for several days. The order claims the Z15 designation treats privately owned land as resource land to be used for the benefit of the community and alleges the council has applied that zoning designation to lands “almost exclusively owned by religious institutions”.

It claims the council, in sanctioning the zoning under the new Dublin City Development Plan 2011-2017, is effectively diverting private property into public ownership and “sterilising” the order’s lands without compensation.

The Z15 zoning requires a greater proportion of open space and social affordable housing than applies in any other zoning under the development plan, it claims.

All of the order’s 108 acres of lands in 18 separate parcels have been zoned Z15 in the new plan. A separate challenge to the Z15 zoning has been taken by RTÉ in relation to lands at its Montrose complex at Donnybrook.

The order claims the development plan is substantively illegal on grounds it applies a restrictive zoning to an arbitrary selection of lands including St Vincent’s private hospital; St Mary’s day care centre, Donnybrook; the Our Lady’s Hospice at Harold’s Cross in Dublin and a number of school sites in the north and south city.

The organisation wants orders quashing the adoption of the zoning on its lands and is also claiming damages for alleged breaches of its private property and religious freedom rights under the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights.

In opposing the proceedings, the council claims the Z15 zoning promotes the continuing use of lands as a long-term resource for the city of Dublin and this is essential to creating sustainable vibrant neighbourhoods and a sustainable city in the future. It claims it has adopted an “evidence-based” approach to the need for Z15 zoning and the Z15 designation of the order’s lands is consistent with guidelines issued by the Department of the Environment and/or national and Government policy.

It also denies that it is the policy of the development plan that all community needs are to be exclusively provided from Z15 lands.

The council rejects the claims the Z15 zoning has a significant impact on the order’s property interests or is markedly more restrictive than almost any other zoning imposed by it. It also pleads the order’s lands are capable of being developed in a reasonably beneficial manner pursuant to planning permission and, therefore, its claim that the development of its lands has been unreasonably restricted is premature.

The council also claims there has been a long-established policy emphasis on the protection and retention of institutional lands as a valuable asset for Dublin city.