Published: 12:51, 25 March 2020
| Updated: 12:54, 25 March 2020
Maidstone residents knew there was potential for Len House - perhaps better known to many as the Rootes building - in Mill Street to be converted into housing.
However, at that stage the council was talking of a potential for its conversion to 67 apartments.
What the new owners have come up with is an altogether more ambitious proposal.
Len House (Maidstone) Ltd, a subsidiary of the Classicus Estates, has submitted a formal planning application to the borough council - for a total of 159 apartments.
The company seeks to retain the large windows and high interior spaces of the existing building, with a commercial use, such as a restaurant, on the ground floor and a degree of residents' parking up a ramp inside the building.
But it also wants to add a two-storey extension on the roof of the building - taking it to five storeys in all.
In addition, on what is currently the car park to the rear of Len House in Palace Avenue, the firm seeks to erect three new buildings.
One closest to Mill Street would imitate the design of Len House with a similar facade - and look like an "extension." It would be four-storeys high and house 23 units.
Behind it would be a three-sides U-shaped block, of varying height from four to five storeys, that would house 50 units and have a degree of ground floor-level residents' parking underneath a "podium" that above would be planted out as a garden area.
The third building would be a separate three-story block to house six units.
The apartment would be a mixture of one, two and three bedroom flats.
The plans include the re-exposure of that part of the River Len that currently runs in a culvert under the car park.
Parking for customers of the commercial units would be in front of the Len House "extension", adjacent to Palace Avenue, with 24-spaces, and customers would be able to access the restaurant or shops by a board-walk to run alongside Len House, jutting out over the millpond.
In addition, the smaller car park to the front of Len House, facing Mill Street, would be converted to a garden square.
Historically, this forecourt housed a petrol pumping station, and a kiosk would be created to replicate that, which might be used as a coffee stand or food bar.
Len House was most recently used by Robins and Day, the Peugeot dealers. They have moved to new premises in Park Wood and the building is currently vacant.
The planning application was submitted on March 2. So far there has been only one letter of objection.
That has come from agents acting for the Stonegate Pub Company, which owns the Bierkeller in Bank Street. Its property at the rear extends down to the Len House site.
The company said the Bierkeller was a late night business which could legitimately stay open till 2am.
It argued that placing new residential accommodation so close would inevitably lead to complaints from tenants about noise.
Residential development was inappropriate in what was essentially a commercial part of town, it argued.
Planning application 20/501029 refers.
Len House is a Grade ll listed building, and so there is a separate application for listed building consent for the works: application 20/501030 refers
Quite when the application will be decided in unclear. Maidstone council has cancelled the planning committee meeting that was scheduled to take place tomorrow night because of coronavirus and it has not yet determined how it is going to hold meetings in the future while the crisis remains on.
Progress is still being made on other key development opportunities in Maidstone such as around Maidstone East Station and the Archbishops Palace.
A council spokesman said: "Maidstone Borough Council acquired the former Royal Mail Sorting Office site jointly with Kent County Council. It was always a medium-term proposition in terms of the redevelopment of the site, and the councils are continuing to develop their plans and strategies for this. For the short-term, there is an agreed holding strategy in place that includes the provision of a “pay and display” car park as well asthe letting of business space, and so these arrangements will remain in place at the current time.
"For the Archbishop's Palace, a feasibility report has identified possible future uses. A briefing meeting was held with councillors to discuss the feasibility report findings on February 20 February.
"They supported the overall approach to the project and recognised that there were a number of potential options.
"Additional work is now required to take forward a preferred and financially viable use and this will happen as quickly as possible given the coronavirus pandemic."