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Lord Mayor joins fight for low-rise

10 Aug 2017

Lord Mayor joins fight for low-rise Image

By Sean Car

City of Melbourne councillors have unanimously called on Minister for Planning Richard Wynne to help protect Southbank’s arts and low-rise precincts from high-rise development.

Local architect turned developer Hayball’s contentious 18-storey proposal for the site of its current office at 135 Sturt St came before councillors for comment at the Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meeting on August 1.

Despite Hayball shaving off two levels from its last proposal and receiving the endorsement of council’s planning officers, Lord Mayor Robert Doyle moved an alternative motion objecting to the proposal.

Having first submitted its original proposal for a 42-storey tower in 2015, 135 Sturt St is now being assessed at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) on the basis of the Planning Minister’s failure to determine upon the application within the allocated time.

When the application last came before councillors for comment back in November 2016 as a 20-storey proposal, the Lord Mayor described it as an “absolute shocker.”

While planning officers determined that Hayball’s latest application adhered to all applicable statutory planning controls, the Lord Mayor said it was still too tall and out of character with the area.

“I want to be entirely consistent with my earlier statements because I believe they are still true,” he said. “This has to be a political decision rather than a statutory planning decision.”

“I hope the Minister for Planning will take this up. He does have the power to remove it from VCAT and make a decision as the minister and I think that is the best avenue for us to pursue.”

“I think we have a very good argument on height and I think we have a very good argument on the failure to relate to the significance of the arts precinct, which is a well understood document now prepared by State Government.”

“This does give us some grounds to argue in VCAT should the minister decline to take up our request. I stand by what I have said earlier about this development and that is displayed in the motion.”

Chair of planning Cr Nicholas Reece said council had to do everything it could to preserve the character of the Arts Precinct.

“It’s simply a matter of it being too high, too much and too close to Melbourne’s Arts Precinct,” he said. “We are very blessed to have the arts precinct that we do and we must do everything we can to protect it.”

Assistant chair of planning Cr Rohan Leppert said that while the application adhered to the density controls on the site, there was no reason why height couldn’t be reduced.

At 54.9 metres high, the building would tower over the neighbouring heritage-listed Malthouse Theatre, which measures at 14 metres, as well as low rise apartment complexes in Southbank Village.

It also measures at 14.9 metres above Sturt street’s 40-metre discretionary height limit, which the Lord Mayor has previously described as too high for the area.

Seven local residents spoke in strong opposition to the application on August 1; including Southbank Residents Association president Tony Penna and convener of the Save Dodds Street group Eileen Vamos.

Mr Penna said the application was “atrocious in every way,” while Eileen Vamos described it as “another unattractive glass tower.”

“The highly successful Hayball architects had the perfect opportunity to give back to the arts community and be acclaimed as innovative and sensitive designers who looked beyond 135 Sturt St and considered the aesthetics of the whole of this special character zone,” she said.

“A low-rise development that considered the charm of Southbank Village would have been admired for many years. There is nothing to admire about a high-rise towering over the theatres, galleries and apartment complexes.”

“Charming Southbank Village will be divided in half. Where in the world is there a village with a high-rise?”

Hayball architect Robert Stent registered to speak at the August 1 meeting, however he didn’t attend.

State Member for Albert Park Martin Foley said that he was well aware and supportive of the City of Melbourne’s position and that government would work with the city to act in a timely way.

He said it was important that any development within the Arts Precinct emphasised street activation and arts precinct activity.

“Both the Lord Mayor and I have had concerns about this development proposal’s impact on our world-class cultural arts precinct,” he said.

“I will continue to work with the City of Melbourne, our local Southbank community and the cultural organisations in the area to make sure our world-class arts precinct is made better.”

A spokesperson for Minister for Planning Richard Wynne said he had not yet made a decision as to whether or not he would pull the case out of VCAT.

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