Planning has been granted for an extension of Cork City centre’s historic Freemason’s lodge into part of Bishop Lucey Park after councillors approved a material contravention of the city development plan by just one vote.
it required 23 councillors to approve the move. They voted 24-7 in favour, clearing the way for a four-storey extension to the rear of the building at 27 Tuckey Street to accommodate a staircase and lift designed to improve fire safety and universal access in the landmark structure.
Reports to councillors said the proposal will result in the loss of a fraction of the park and will not significantly impact on the design or delivery of a new multi-million redesign of the park.
The house management committee of the Freemasons Hall, through JCA Architects, lodged a planning application earlier this year for the extension to the rear of the lodge which fronts onto the park.
The site is on lands zoned as ‘public open space’ and there is a presumption against developing land with such a zoning for alternative purposes.
Councillors were told last week that the council intended to consider granting planning but that given the zoning, it required a material contravention.
In a briefing last week, councillors were told that the proposed development will result in the loss of “a minor area” of public open space — around 44sq m.
Reports described the addition of a stairs and lift as “essential to maximise the use of the Freemasons Hall for cultural, heritage and community activities”.
They were told there has been ongoing engagement between the Bishop Lucey Park design team and the Freemasons Hall design team to ensure the proposed extension is “integrated in a sensitive manner” into the redeveloped park.
The extension requires the removal of 15 semi-mature birch trees, nine of which are in good condition, in an area of the park which houses a Chernobyl memorial but the report said it is proposed to plant 15 replacement birch trees immediately north of the extension, which on balance, was deemed “satisfactory”.
Councillors were also told that the proposed material contravention was advertised on April 6 and that no submissions or observations were received by the May 4 deadline.
During a special council meeting on Monday night called to discuss the material contravention, Green Party councillor Dan Boyle said there were “mixed feelings” amongst councillors about the loss of city centre green space.
Solidarity councillor Fiona Ryan described it as a “further chipping away” of such space and she requested details on whether the land required for the extension will be gifted or purchased.
Green Party councillor Oliver Moran said he has sympathy for the issues facing the applicants but he described the project as a “large intrusion” into the park and said he couldn’t see what return the city will get.
However, Independent councillor Kieran McCarthy described the issue as a conflict between green heritage and built heritage but said both can be protected.
Fine Gael’s Des Cahill suggested that a condition of planning be attached to ensure the building would be open to the public more often:
Fianna Fáil councillor Sean Martin said the benefits to the greater good far outweigh the loss of a small amount of green space but Labour councillor John Maher said the council is getting nothing for the public land.
The Masonic Lodge at 27 Tuckey St is included in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage with a regional rating of architectural and social interest.
The end-of-terrace seven-bay four-storey building, which dates from 1880, housed the First Lodge of Ireland. The building was restored in 1972, having been damaged in a fire the previous year.
This story first appeared on www.irishexaminer.com.