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In support of low-rise

Any hope for protection lies with C270

10 Nov 2016

Any hope for protection lies with C270 Image

Editorial comment by Sean Car

The final questioner hit the nail on the head at the community gathering at Boyd Community Hub last month to discuss developer Hayball’s 21-storey proposal for 135 Sturt St.

Organised by the Save Dodds St group, a full capacity Boyd Assembly Hall turned out on October 19 to quiz government representatives, council candidates, planning experts and local stakeholders.

And, unfortunately, for the best part of the meeting, the key issue that both experts and concerned local residents alike should have been focusing on was not given the attention that it deserved.  That is, until the final questioner raised it.

“It does look like it’s going to VCAT. Even if the council and the government rejects it, looks like it’s going to VCAT,” he said.

“Even if the mandatory restrictions comes into effect before it goes to VCAT, is it retrospective?”  

The answer is no. Planning is not retrospective.

And, while the panel, featuring shadow planning minister David Davis, RMIT planning professor Michael Buxton and Southbank Residents’ Association president Tony Penna, and others from council covered many important issues over the course of the event, this issue was not adequately addressed.  

Developer Hayball, which strangely enough is also the architect that operates its practice out of the building in question, has proposed a 67-metre tower in a 40-metre discretionary zone.

Unfortunately, the pessimistic view is that it will probably proceed. As the application has been submitted under current planning laws, a discretionary height control holds very little sway with VCAT.

Therefore, while the community can make submissions, council can object to the proposal and Minister for Planning Richard Wynne can deny a permit, it’s likely to be pushed through at VCAT.

If it doesn’t make it to VCAT, it will be because the planning minister managed to broker a compromised solution, whereby the proposal had one or two floors taken off it.

That is probably the most ideal outcome that we, as a community, can hope for.

And, that’s why the community, the City of Melbourne and the State Government must now look to the future.

As one resident on the night raised: “There is not much left to protect.” What he was referring to was the Sturt St boundary of Southbank’s low-rise precinct, which currently possesses the 40-metre discretionary height limit.

If the amenity of this neighbourhood is to be protected, as Prof Buxton rightly pointed out: “The only way that you and residents like you are ever going to win is to get clear mandatory controls.”

Enter planning scheme amendment 270. The State Government’s new planning laws, to be released in December, stipulate stricter rules around areas such as height, setback, plot-ratio and developer contributions.

However, what is most important from our community’s perspective is that C270 still identifies Southbank’s low-rise precinct as a special character area.

Therefore, if we as a community never wish to see another proposal like 135 Sturt St, it is imperative that C270 protects the entirety of what many know as Southbank Village with mandatory height controls.

When presenting to the State Government’s appointed C270 panel in August, Southbank Residents’ Association president Tony Penna made an important submission on this issue.

“It is imperative that this panel pays particular attention to the Sturt St spine and that greater certainty is provided with height controls. Without clarity, it is undermining the vision for the precinct,” he said.

Mr Penna’s submission might prove to be an important one.

Preserving what we have left along Sturt St is the most important thing we can fight for now.

Unfortunately, in the case of 135 Sturt St, we are in the mercy of the developer.

And until the rules change, this will continue to be the case.

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