Planning for a productive Chapel Street activity centre

Planning for a productive Chapel Street activity centre
Urban EditorialNovember 13, 2015

Can vertical zoning save Chapel Street’s retail precinct? Stuart Marsland says no, but that’s okay.

Responding to a downturn in retail activity along Melbourne’s famous Chapel Street, Stonnington Council will enforce ‘vertical zoning’ in new developments. Vertical zoning will lock developers into having the first three floors of new developments vacant for commercial use, unless they apply for a residential permit.

While vertical zoning may appear to improve the commercial opportunities along Chapel Street, there are alternatives that will better support the area’s revitalisation.

At ROTHELOWMAN, we view the Chapel Street activity centre as a vibrant and varied district, and argue its planning laws should reflect this diversity. Vertical zoning does not take into account that some sites have a very different street context and are therefore inappropriate locations for commercial use.

Planning for a productive Chapel Street activity centre
Away from the promotional images, Chapel Street is not without its challenges

Looking around the world there are many good examples of regeneration that don't rely on vertical zoning, but on the creation of well-considered public spaces. Chapel Street has the potential to adopt this same model, focusing on publicly funded projects such as gathering spaces and new civic and communal buildings.

There are also effective methods to create new commercial spaces from a planning perspective that don’t require mandating their use. Financial incentives, decreased car parking requirements and increased allowance to build larger envelopes could all stimulate increased commercial development without vertical zoning.

The underlying message is that Chapel Street is changing, and vertical zoning alone cannot change this. Historically it has been shown that planning controls that seek to rigidly apply rules (rather than serving as a guide) are more problematic than beneficial, and can unintentionally stifle innovation.

Planning for a productive Chapel Street activity centre
ROTHELOWMAN's current South Yarra project, Essence.

Looking to the future, Chapel Street and its users must be willing to embrace change, encourage innovation and develop an urban fabric that enables residential, retail and commercial offices to co-exist.

If the market is calling for a variety of uses, and the incentives are in place, the development community will respond accordingly.

Stuart Marsland is Principal at ROTHELOWMAN's Melbourne office and has had extensive experience with projects within South Yarra.

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