VCAT knocks back tower at much-loved East Melbourne heritage site

Brendan Rees

A developer’s plan to build a nine-storey tower behind a heritage building in East Melbourne has been thwarted after opponents had a remarkable win at a state tribunal hearing.

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) handed down a decision on July 1 to uphold the City of Melbourne’s decision not to grant a permit at 204-208 Albert St.

Under the plans, Whitehaven Property Development Pty Ltd sought to partially demolish the building and construct a nine-storey addition to the rear of the retained heritage facade and front section of the building including side walls, roof and chimneys.

The original building dates back to 1859 and is recognised as a contributory place within a significant streetscape.

The property is also located to the rear of the National Trust-owned Clarendon Terrace at 208-212 Clarendon St, a row of three two-storey terraces built from 1856-57 and considered of “architecturally and aesthetically significant to the state of Victoria as one of Melbourne’s grandest terraces,” according to the National Trust of Australia (Victoria).

VCAT members Alison Glynn and Lorina Nervegna found the proposed development “out of step with the existing scale and character of adjoining buildings and the area”.

“We find the combined heritage and design directions for this site require a significantly lower building that can better respect the heritage streetscape of Albert St and its broader heritage and urban design context,” the VCAT members stated.

 

In general, we consider the issues of overlooking and overshadowing to these sites are acceptable. It is a question of visual bulk and scale that we find unreasonable more as a question of character.

 

At the hearing, the National Trust of Australia (Victoria), the East Melbourne Group Inc and other groups argued the development “grossly exceeded” the recommended sight line in the planning scheme, and didn’t “respect the existing scale and character of the precinct”.

East Melbourne Group planning convener Greg Bisinella said impacted residents were “absolutely delighted” with the outcome after the community fundraised about $45,000 over two years to cover legal costs “to ensure this inappropriate development did not proceed”.

“It caused a lot of grief of the immediate residents because they were really concerned about being confronted with a very high tower that would’ve overshadowed or blocked out completely their buildings,” he said, adding the building “contributes to everything that we love about East Melbourne”.

City of Melbourne Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece said East Melbourne was one of Melbourne’s earliest suburbs and had a “unique character and history that must be protected”.

“We’re pleased the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal has supported council’s position and refused the application,” he said.

“Any new developments in this special part of the city should respect the area’s heritage while also conforming with the existing scale and build of neighbouring developments.”

“We look forward to seeing a more appropriate design should the developer wish to submit a new proposal.”

Whitehaven Property Development could not be reached for comment before deadline. 

Caption: EMG planning convenor Greg Bisinella and wife Debbie.

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