A taste of 'shop top' living

CITY LIVING: Lismore Council’s senior fires safety officer Andrew Weir, shop owner Lynn Bassey and Mayor Jenny Dowell look out over Magellan Street.
CITY LIVING: Lismore Council’s senior fires safety officer Andrew Weir, shop owner Lynn Bassey and Mayor Jenny Dowell look out over Magellan Street.

SHOP owners Lynn and Darren Bassey believe there is a demand for inner city apartment living in the Lismore CBD and have renovated the space above their Magellan Street shop to meet that demand.

The building is thought to have been built in the 1920s and was a bank at some time, with an old bank vault door still a feature of the apartment. In the 1980s it was a camera shop with a photographic studio operating upstairs. From 1989 to 2007 it was a travel agent with the upstairs area being used for storage.

Lynn and Darren were planning to convert the downstairs shop front into a five-star restaurant, but those plans are on hold. Whilst trying to find a permanent tenant they have allowed Lismore's Art in the Heart project to host many exhibitions in the empty space in the past year.

Lynn said the application to convert the upstairs area into a three-bedroom apartment with a study has been nearly two years in the planning and about six months in actually doing the renovations. There is a large living room, a new kitchen and bathroom and a small back deck overlooking an alleyway.

"It was a mess before," she said.

"We just thought it (the apartment) was a good idea and would add value to the property. In other cities it's the done thing. I've lived on the North Shore (of Sydney) and there's lots of people doing it there."

The main obstacle to renting out Lismore's shop top spaces for residential living has been getting them to comply with fire safety regulations in the building code.

Lismore Council's senior fire safety officer, Andrew Weir, was at the inspection attended by The Echo last week and said considerable work had to be done to make it safe.

"We've established fire safety standards and methods of achieving them that we believe are cost effective for owners," he said.

"We're hoping to streamline the process. That's the directive we've got (from the council)."

Lismore's Housing Strategy identifies a distinct need for different types of one-bedroom and two-bedroom units, flats or apartment-style housing over the next 20 to 25 years.

Mayor Jenny Dowell said the apartment was "a stunning example of what we would love to see throughout our city centre."

"It's something you see in all modern cities.... and it ticks lots of boxes for lots of people who are looking for a highly urbanised lifestyle," she said. "You can walk from your home to the coffee shop, so you're not so car dependent."

Mayor Dowell said the council needed to increase housing availability and the types of housing available and thought shop top housing would appeal to a wide variety of people.

"I think it would appeal to young people or people whose children have left home and they want to experience city living while they can still negotiate the stairs... But it's not going to be for everyone. There are noise issues and other issues (to consider)."

There was a time when nearly all of the shops in Lismore had people living above them. But changes in lifestyle and business needs meant that many of the houses were converted to storage.

Andrew Weir said converting them to comply with fire safety regulations can be expensive, so many owners have opted to leave them vacant.

"But if you do nothing (with a property), you are losing value on it. You have to spend money to make money.

"What we (Lismore City Council) are trying to do is revitalise the CBD and looking at how we can bring residents back in and also ensure they are going to be safe."

Mayor Dowell said concerns about evacuating people during floods have decreased because of the levy and the early warning systems that are now in place.

"People who live in the CBD need to be flood aware and have a flood plan. Most places won't get affected by a 100-year flood, but access will be cut and they need to plan and have contingencies in place for leaving their homes."

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