Strange things can happen when local Council's have no coherent height structure plans to deal with Melbourne's burgeoning apartment building boom. Yarra City Council's website states "Council has deferred consideration of the Swan Street Structure Plan to allow further detailed work to be undertaken on it." The initial consultation began during 2010 and carries on with no end in sight.
During this period a local developer lodged plans for a remarkable (in both location and scale) 33 level apartment building at 381 Punt Road in Richmond, which was to hold 326 apartments. Following Council refusal, 2011 saw the arrival of a smaller proposed tower at 12 levels seen below. Yarra City Council resolved to reject the 12 level complex, partly due to the 89 objections that were received but also due to concerns over height, bulk and maintaining neighbourhood character.
Again project architect A Genser & Associates returned with a revised scheme, this time an eight level complex consisting of 490sqm office space and 91 units & townhouses with space for 118 bicycles and 119 vehicles through the basement. The proposal maintained a 55m frontage to both Punt Road & Huckerby Street.
The above scheme was taken to VCAT during 2012 and ultimately gained approval albeit at 6 levels due to concerns over bulk and height. Recently, property development firm Austpac have added the 6 level complex to their website, which reads as follows "Currently in development, this proposed apartment style hotel is situated on the edge of Melbourne’s premier sporting arenas; this new development will become the ideal base for those looking for a little luxury. Austpac Hotels and Resorts are the consultants to the developer and owner of this property on design, operation and forecasts."
Further Yarra City Council's website also shows two additional towers immediately surrounding Richmond Station as recently being refused. 63-65 Swan Street (below left) by CK Designworks was to be a 13 level tower containing a cafe and 43 serviced apartments while 9-13 Stewart Street by Plus Architecture (below right) was to contain 80 apartments also over 13 levels.
Good policy and common sense suggests it would be in Yarra City Council's interest to expedite its Swan Street Structure Plan, given they have a track record of rejecting ambitious proposals around the area. If nothing else I'm sure local rate payers would appreciate their Council rates not being subsumed by VCAT, for if a binding Structure Plan (read height limit) were in place developers would have a clear understanding of what could be expected.
Would this not be beneficial for both Council and developers by minimising the cost and tedium of repeated planning applications for the same site?
Further to this Yarra City Council now has the added concern of the impending Richmond Station redevelopment, loosely based around GHD Engineering's Zero Concept and expected to yield towers of 20 levels. Council having successfully opposed the Stewart Street proposal principally on height at VCAT now faces the prospect of towers nearly twice its size only meters away.
Some time after the announcement of Richmond Station's redevelopment by Matthew Guy, then Yarra Major Geoff Barbour expressed his disappointment at his Council being left out of negotiations. Understandably so one would think, but if Council cannot produce a coherent, clear, all-encompassing Swan Street Structure Plan after three years, why should the State Government afford them a seat at the discussion table?
In terms of its handling of the Swan Street Structure Plan, I can't help but equate Yarra City Council to the oldfangled hand-car shown above, ever so slowly making its way into Richmond Station.
Problem is a fast train by the name of Matthew Guy is quickly approaching from behind; this seemingly will end very poorly for one of the two.