Six-storey building approved for East Melbourne despite opposition
The City of Melbourne has given the green light to a highly contentious $15 million six-storey office building proposed for East Melbourne despite strong community opposition.
The decision to allow development at 204-208 Albert St, which is surrounded by significant heritage buildings and adjacent to the Fitzroy Gardens, comes after the initial plans for a nine-storey building were rejected by the council and the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) in July 2021, which cited the proposal’s lack of suitability for the Albert St landscape.
But the plans now have the council’s blessing after the developer, Whitehaven Property Development Pty Ltd, resubmitted a revised application, which included lowering the height of the building to seven storeys (which was later amended to six storeys), removing a cantilever over heritage terraces and, according to council, addressing the tribunal’s findings.
The proposed development received 107 objections following strong opposition from residents and the East Melbourne Group (EMG), which argued the revised application failed to align with the character of the area and would block the sunlight to neighbouring homes.
Concerns raised included a failure to respond to the previous VCAT decision, amenity impacts including overshadowing, potential traffic increase, overdevelopment of the site, and the development being too high and out of character for the area, as well as insufficient setbacks.
“We have lived and breathed this application and iterations for the past five years, including the unacceptable initial planning application for the site that cost us financially and emotionally,” the president of the EMG Greg Bisinella told councillors at their October 24 Future Melbourne Committee meeting, during which the plans were unanimously endorsed.
“The application before you should be amended and conditioned, so it unequivocally meets the parameters set down in the planning scheme and its associated design and develop and heritage overlay, and the decision guidelines articulated in the VCAT decision.”
Under the plan, the proposal seeks to retain the three adjoining heritage terraces on Albert St and demolish a non-heritage two-storey rear addition, with the proposed development to be built in its place.
Deputy Lord Mayor and the council’s planning chair Nicholas Reece said he agreed with residents that East Melbourne was “a suburb that is unmatched in terms of its heritage, residential homes, and character” and acknowledged “that not everyone will be happy with this result”.
But he said councillors were ultimately “here to apply what we think is the how the planning controls and conditions apply” as well as considering the repeat appeals principle, which addresses the primary reasons of what VCAT found acceptable and unacceptable in the original application.
Contour Consultants director Patrick Brennan, who represented Whitehaven, also addressed the council meeting, saying the “proposal has been very carefully sort of set out to respond to the key recommendations and key findings in that VCAT decision”.
He also noted the site was within a commercial one zone with the purpose of creating a “vibrant, mixed use commercial centre for office, business and a range of other uses”.
“It [the proposed building] won’t have any adverse impact on Fitzroy Gardens in terms of visual impacts or overshadowing impacts … it’s our submission that the proposal has struck that appropriate balance between strong strategic attributes of the site along with the heritage and built form considerations.”
However, Clarendon St resident Neil Faulkner disagreed, saying the proposed building would overlook his terrace home.
“We fully appreciate that the owner has every right to develop the site despite the obvious inconvenience to us during any future building phase,” he said, but added the current proposal was “too high and too bulky”.
“I’m also surprised and somewhat concerned that someone is still wishing to build an office block in my backyard when the current Melbourne office vacancy rate is at its highest rate since 1996 at 15 per cent.”
Also addressing the meeting was the ACVP Residents Incorporated president Brad Marsh, whose group promotes the interests and protects the amenity of the owners and residents who live in the vicinity of Albert, Clarendon, Victoria, and Powlett streets in East Melbourne.
He said the consideration of the amended application “has been rushed … and does not properly apply the decision by VCAT” and implored councillors to make “a good planning decision”.
Mr Marsh, among others, also believed the 22-degree height angle from the south side of Albert St was “not an appropriate outcome” but a council report found “it has been accepted through previous VCAT decisions that this is not a mandatory control and non-compliance does not automatically lead to refusal of the application”.
The council’s heritage portfolio lead Cr Rohan Leppert said he had “fought over and carefully sweated the details of every concern that’s been raised,” but believed “that this is a fair and appropriate outcome for the site, notwithstanding that it’s going to still leave quite a few locals unhappy”.
“It is a lesson to government generally I think that there is importance in clarity and concision, conciseness, whatever the word is in planning controls, and this ain’t quite it, but for now, a permit should be issued.” •
Caption: Renders of the proposed building in Albert St, East Melbourne.