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Residents told: ‘rules are rules’

10 Dec 2015

Residents told: ‘rules are rules’ Image

By Sean Car

Residents of Southbank can’t feel too hard done by when a development is approved just metres from their windows … so long as it follows the “rules”.

That was the message 62 objectors received at last month’s Future Melbourne Committee meeting, as City of Melbourne councillors gave the green light to a 101-metre, short-stay apartment tower at 64-68 Clarendon St, Southbank.

The 412sqm site, which shares a boundary with the Tiara apartment complex on Haig St, is barely big enough to house the double-storey building that currently sits vacant in preparation for forthcoming demolition.

In its place, developer Hachto has been given the all clear to construct a slender 27-storey tower, comprising 171 serviced apartments and rising nearly two metres above the recommended height limit.

Tiara resident Jenny Fletcher made a heartfelt submission to councillors on behalf of 62 objectors, pleading for council to deny the developer a permit for the good of the neighbourhood.

“Our concerns are very real and very obvious,” she said. “We are fighting for our wonderful light-filled homes, our neighbourhood and our health.”

“This tall and very small residential hotel tower on an extremely small site will steal our sun, our light, our privacy and our ability to engage with our city.”

“This is our home, this is our neighbourhood and Haig St is our front door so please understand why we are angry, frightened and confused by how this application has got this far.”

Her pleas ultimately fell on deaf ears, with councillors given no choice but to approve the development based on planning controls set out through DDO60, which specify a minimum required setback between towers of 10 metres.

The application was assessed against old planning controls, as it was submitted prior to September 4 when Planning Minister Richard Wynne’s new planning controls (Planning Scheme Amendment C262) kicked in.

Compounding submitters’ frustrations, Cr Ken Ong told residents that they couldn’t feel too aggrieved by the prospect of more development on their doorsteps.

“The important thing I think is that, while the site is small, it is still a developable site,” he said.

“I acknowledge that neighbouring residents will always feel aggrieved when something new comes up next to them but it happens all of the time.”

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle echoed these same sentiments: “How much is far enough? Southbank is our most dense suburb and if you buy into Southbank you buy into density.”

Located in the immediate vicinity of Crown Casino, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre and a stone’s throw away from the CBD, there can be no doubting that more accommodation is required in the area.

“This is probably the most important tourism precinct in Melbourne and we keep hearing about the lack of capacity and the higher occupancy level,” Cr Stephen Mayne said.

However, while the development fills an accommodation gap, and does so within the rules, these justifications would have been hard for the 62 objectors to swallow.

With an imposing development approved under rules for which they had no say in making, even Cr Rohan Leppert suggested that the planning scheme had limited flexibility when it came to applying common sense.

“The weak controls in this general area are something that are of great concern to me,” he said. “10 metres between towers just isn’t enough.”

“It is a site that really shouldn’t be developed but the rules say it can be.”

The developer first submitted an application in February of this year, which proposed a 91-metre development with a setback of only 5.8 metres to Tiara apartments.

In an amended application, planning officers have instead gifted an extra 10 metres of height in return for increased setbacks based on that fact that it would  “achieve desired built form through DDO60.”

Council officers listed a range of conditions, including the removal of a giant “SOUTH MEL” sign off the side of the northern façade, which indicates the developer didn’t even know what suburb it was building in.

And while the conditions were listed on the amended application, Southbank Residents Association president Tony Penna made the point at the meeting that the amended plans were not even included in the final report for public evaluation.

In summarising, Cr Leppert said he sympathised with residents over what he considered to be a “pretty rough outcome”.

“It’s a stroke of luck that the objectors have stumbled upon the application,” he said. “I think it’s quite outrageous that you’ve had no right to be told about this application and hopefully one day we’ll fix that.”

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