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What’s behind the lights?

Residents take Sturt St fight to VCAT

10 Jul 2018

Residents take Sturt St fight to VCAT Image

By Shane Scanlan

Arts Precinct residents are off to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) on July 16 to contest planning permission for the Rothe Lowman proposed tower at 153 Sturt St.

At the time of publication, one owners’ corporation and 12 individuals had contributed to the target of $10,000 for representation at VCAT.

Lawyer and local resident Kristoff Lajoie is leading the charge and was one of a number of speakers when the matter came before the City of Melbourne’s Future Melbourne Committee on July 3.

The committee specifically convened to form a view to take to the July 16 VCAT hearing, where the matter will be determined.

The developer took the City of Melbourne to VCAT in January for failing to make a decision within the required time but came back to the council in May seeking support for a more modest proposal.

But local residents are still vehemently opposed to the revised proposal citing height, bulk and resulting loss of natural light as their primary objections.

Despite a discretionary height of 40m in the planning scheme, Vaughan Connor of Contour Consultants argued that a benchmark height of 56m had been already set by a recent VCAT decision concerning 135 Sturt St, a case that the City of Melbourne vigorously opposed.

He spoke of the “emerging context” for the area and claimed that the development did not present any “unreasonable amenity consequences”.

On the question of overshadowing, Mr Connor said: “In a Capital City Zone context, you have to expect there is going to be a level of overshadowing in these sorts of situations.”

Resident Eva Hookey told the committee: “I would like to contest that the emerging context is for high-rises. According to Martin Foley, the Minister for the Arts, the emerging context for Sturt St is as a world-class arts precinct. That’s the emerging context.”

She warned of a situation where “precedent” was continually used to justify height of about 40m in Sturt St.

“This one, and the one next door, will undoubtedly be used as precedent for the next one and the one after and the one after that – until we are left with another concrete canyon. We should be aiming for a world-class arts precinct for everyone,” she said.

Cr Arron Wood shared her concerns, saying: “I am worried about how this development presents to Sturt St and I am worried about precedent being used as a reason to give us a wall of towers along Sturt St.”

Councillors, while sympathetic with residents, explained that there was not much they could do. They offered support for the application, if one story was removed (bringing it back to the height of the Hayball development at 135 Sturt St) as well as reduction in the height of side “buttresses” to achieve a floor area ratio of 10:1.

Planning chair Nicholas Reece said: “It should be said that there are some positive aspects to the project. Certainly, the new plans are a significant improvement. The height has been reduced quite considerably. There have been some significant improvements in the building mass. I think the design and the detail in the building is better and, in particular, I think the provision of arts spaces is something that is very warmly welcomed.”

Cr Rohan Leppert said he understood the frustration of residents but said support for the slightly amended plans was the best councillors could do.

“There’ll be a lot of frustration here but I think, in accordance with the scheme, this is the most sensible route that we can take. To fight it full-scale, we know that we won’t win and that would cause us to be wasting a lot of ratepayers’ funds,” he said.

He said set-backs were the only provision in the planning scheme to protect sunlight to private property. And, given that VCAT would be making the final determination, he said it would be “utterly futile” to argue for anything lower than the Hayball application.

“We are compelled to consider this planning application within the scheme as it is currently written,” he said. “This is the best outcome we can advocate for on behalf of residents.”

Cr Jackie Watts said: “I regret that you are experiencing this but I have no comfort to offer you.”

And Cr Susan Riley said: “I think the last thing we really want is another tower on Sturt St but the reality is that we are going to have another one.”

At the point of printing this edition of Southbank Local News, it was not known whether the developer would accept the slightly amended proposal supported by the council. Should that happen, residents would find themselves opposed to a position shared by both the developer and the council.

In this circumstances, the residents may prudently decide to save their money and not contest the matter.

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