VCAT knocks back controversial apartment building in East Melbourne

VCAT knocks back controversial apartment building in East Melbourne
Brendan Rees

East Melbourne residents are celebrating a huge win over a developer after the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) ruled in their favour over a contentious multi-storey apartment complex proposal.

The decision to refuse a permit for a nine-storey mixed-use building with apartments at 94-96 Wellington Pde was issued in an order on January 19.

It followed six days of hearings last November after the East Melbourne Group (EMG) raised concerns that the adjacent Victorian heritage-listed Elizabeth House (a two-storey Italianate style historic mansion) would be impacted if the development went ahead.

VCAT members Peter Gaschk and Stephen Axford remarked in their decision that the building proposed by the applicant 96 Wellington Pde Pty Ltd “has not provided an appropriate built form response to its heritage context”.

“It adjoins one of Victoria’s more important heritage buildings and in many respects, we find the applicant has overly focused on managing the impacts in the streetscape, and insufficiently focused on providing an appropriate and respectful design response to the heritage significance of its immediate neighbour,” they stated.

 

We find it will have a detrimental impact upon the heritage setting and significance of Elizabeth House.

 

The proposal had been rejected by the City of Melbourne after it expressed concerns of the design including the proposed height of 29.91 metres as it exceeded the maximum height requirement under local planning laws by 5.91 metres.

The EMG’s planning convenor Greg Bisinella said they were “really pleased with the outcome” after the VCAT hearings.

“It gives us what we see as some legal precedent that consideration must be given to not just the precinct but the adjoining properties,” he said.

“We’re not anti-development, that site is welcomed to be developed and it can be developed to the regulations … but what they were proposing was a bit overwhelming.”  

The VCAT members noted in their report that the applicant “does not dispute that consideration of impacts upon Elizabeth House is a relevant matter”.

“The applicant takes a different interpretation on how the impacts on adjacent properties should be viewed and considered,” Mr Gaschk and Mr Axford stated.

“It submits the additional height above the recommended height for the precinct is reasonable, particularly given the setbacks proposed at upper levels.”

The proposed development planned to feature a residential lobby and retail tenancy at ground level, while seven apartments would be on each floor above.

While Mr Gaschk and Mr Axford supported various aspects of the application, they stated they could “not imagine an outcome where Elizabeth House [located at 86-92 Wellington Parade] is catastrophically damaged to the point where demolition and redevelopment is the only possible design solution”.

“As a result, we agree with the council and the respondents that the design of any development on the subject site should make reasonable allowance for redevelopment on the adjoining site and should be able to demonstrate how this would be achieved in its application materials. This is a matter that should be considered as part of any new design proposal,” they stated.

The VCAT members also pointed to the applicant’s “failure” of producing a heritage impact statement – which Mr Bisinella said, “showed to us that they weren’t concerned about heritage, and I think that was a major mistake on their behalf”.

Mr Bisinella added, “We were certainly pleased that the council saw the importance of this application for the East Melbourne community and supported heritage and the planning regulations that apply to the site”. •

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