Ronan disputes council view of height rules for Salesforce Tower

Company linked to developer makes application for judicial review of interpretation

A computer generated impression of Salesforce Tower – to the immediate left of the Central Bank’s docklands headquarters.

A computer generated impression of Salesforce Tower – to the immediate left of the Central Bank’s docklands headquarters.

 

Developer Johnny Ronan has been given leave to challenge Dublin City Council’s interpretation of new rules governing the height limit for his so-called Salesforce Tower in the Dublin Docklands.

A company linked to the developer made an application for judicial review to the High Court on Tuesday on an ex parte basis, meaning only one side was represented.

Lawyers for Mr Ronan’s company argued that advice given by the council on the particular planning law governing height restrictions in the North Lotts Special Development Zone (SDZ) was “incorrect as a matter of law”.

Spencer Place Development Company (SPDC) is arguing that relaxed building height restrictions announced by Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy last December should take precedence over the height restrictions in the development plan for the SDZ. The plan limits development in the zone to between six and eight storeys.

SPDC has submitted a revised planning application seeking to add two storeys on three of the buildings in the complex and three additional storeys on a fourth. The Spencer Place Development Company is a joint venture between Ronan Group Real Estate and US investment fund Colony Capital.

The company is already on site, with construction under way. It has said it must get a planning decision on the extra floors, which it says could accommodate an additional 1,000 workers at the Salesforce Tower, by the end of May otherwise development of the project will be too far advanced for the floors to be added.

There has been controversy over the project, with support being voiced by US tech company Salesforce – which will occupy the building – and IDA Ireland. The management company of a nearby luxury apartment block withdrew its objection to the project last month.

Mr Ronan’s legal team argued in court that specific parts of the legislation on building heights introduced by Mr Murphy last year give it precedence over existing development plans, meaning that the council could grant permission for the extra floors straight away.

However a briefing note compiled by the Dublin city planner, and circulated to councillors in March, stated that the overriding powers of the ministerial order “do not apply to an approved SDZ planning scheme”. It is this contention that SPDC has been given leave to challenge in a judicial review which is now slated for next Thursday.

Pressure mounts on politicians

In correspondence sent to Ronan Group Real Estate, the council said consideration of any additional building height can only be considered following a review of the SDZ, which is under way and will take about three months. If the review completes later than May 31st, it will effectively kill off any chance of the extra floors being added.

Legal papers filed as part of the ex parte application reveal the extent of the political pressure Mr Ronan has exerted on Ministers as part of his campaign to have the extra storeys added.

Earlier this month, he told Mr Murphy that failure to clarify the planning issue “would have serious negative consequences for everybody considering investing or locating to Ireland”.

In a letter to council chief executive Owen Keegan, lawyers for Mr Ronan argued that the additional floors would mean an extra €20 million flowing to CIÉ and, by extension, the State.

Mr Ronan has also written to Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe, Minister for Transport Shane Ross, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and IDA Ireland. The letter argues that the council’s interpretation of the planning guidelines is “legally incorrect, but which nonetheless has had the effect of significantly delaying the implementation of the ministerial guidelines to developments in Docklands at a time of exceptional development activity to meet the critical need for housing and offices in the area”.

The letter also criticises existing height limitations as “extremely restrictive and wasteful of urban resources”.

“In years to come, this fast-emerging scenario will be viewed as a major lost opportunity in terms of the historical development of our capital city”.