Docklands height increases likely, but too late for Salesforce tower

Johnny Ronan’s development company to appeal High Court ruling

Impression of Salesforce tower – to the immediate left of the Central Bank’s docklands headquarters.

Impression of Salesforce tower – to the immediate left of the Central Bank’s docklands headquarters.

 

Despite intensive lobbying in recent months, developer Johnny Ronan can expect his hopes of increasing the height of his so-called Salesforce tower and a second residential and hotel development in Dublin’s docklands to be, formally, dashed on Friday.

Mr Ronan’s Spencer Place Development Company on Thursday failed in a High Court challenge to Dublin City Council’s legal interpretation of building height guidelines.

The council will on Friday issue its decision on whether to grant permission for an increase in height sought to both developments; up to 11 storeys for the Salesforce office development and to a maximum of 13 storeys for the apartment/hotel development.

Although the developer was seeking to add just two extra floors above what had already been permitted, it is unlikely the application will be successful. It is the council’s position it has no authority to increase heights beyond what is permitted for the area.

This part of the docklands falls within the North Lotts and Grand Canal Strategic Development Zone (SDZ). This fast-track development zone was approved by An Bord Pleanála in 2014 and its effect is to allow owners of sites to secure construction permission from the council, which cannot be appealed to An Bord Pleanála.

The SDZ planning scheme sets a range of uses, and of heights, for different parts of the zone to ensure coherent development, ie that there is the mix of offices, retail and residential, and amenity/green space considered appropriate for the area.

While this restricts landowners in what they can do with their lands, it also affords them the security of knowing that, as long as they comply with the terms of the SDZ scheme, their application will secure permission.

Height restrictions

The SDZ allows heights up to 22 storeys, but not on the two sites in question. On these sites the maximum permitted heights are five to eight storeys for commercial development, and six to 10 storeys of residential with one possible setback floor.

Mr Ronan’s representatives argued that a decision last December by Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy that removed “blanket numerical limitations on height” should take precedence over the height restrictions in the SDZ, allowing the council to grant permission for the additional storeys.

However, it was the council’s contention that this did not apply in relation to the SDZ, rather that the Minister’s height guidelines required that the council “carry out a review” to ensure those guidelines were “reflected” in the SDZ scheme.

It is the council’s view that the SDZ does not provide for “blanket numerical limitations on height” as there is a range of heights designated for different areas. The council could, following the review of the SDZ, determine that no action is needed in relation to altering the scheme to reflect the height guidelines.

However, it is understood that the council has now completed its review, and will, on Friday coincidentally, submit that review to An Bord Pleanála, with proposed alterations to some heights in the zone.

The board could decide the SDZ required amendment, and could also decide that these proposed amendments need to be issued for public consultation before it makes any decision, a process which could take some considerable time.

This will not bring any comfort to Mr Ronan, who has stressed a decision is needed urgently in relation to the Salesforce tower, which is already under construction and will soon be too far advanced for the floors to be added.

A spokesman for Mr Ronan’s development company on Thursday night said it would be appealing the court’s decision.