The curious decision of 109-111 Little Lonsdale

By Shane Scanlan

Residents shouldn’t read too much into last month’s VCAT’s affirmation of the City of Melbourne’s decision to deny developer Tony Brady permission to build a tower at 109-111 Little Lonsdale St.

The council originally denied Brady Jones Pty Ltd a permit to construct a 30-storey tower saying it was too tall, too dense, too close to the boundaries and might create wind effects.

Curiously, the council also objected to the way it would adversely impact a permitted, but not built, tower on the adjoining block – also owned by Brady and designed by the same architect – Peddlethorp.

In reading the VCAT members’ decision, however, there was little support for the council’s original reasons for refusal.

It appears that the main problem that members Alison Glynn and Ann Keddie had with the proposal was its design.  Much of the written decision is devoted to criticism of the design and why they were justified in refusing the permit on design grounds.

While finding that the southern setback was, in fact, problematic, members Glenn and Keddie didn’t have a problem with the height, plot ratio or potential for wind effects.  It appears that the proposal had been reduced to 21-storeys by the time it got to VCAT on February 19 and March 1 and 2.

The VCAT members did not have much sympathy for the residents of nearby Regency Towers, who had been quite active in supporting the council’s VCAT defence.

The members noted: “While the Central City Zone does not allow for third party notice or review rights, a number of residents and owners of these adjoining dwellings made submissions to council, made written submissions to the tribunal before the hearing and were present as observers at the hearing.”

Of the residents’ claims of loss of amenity, the members said: “... we are satisfied that the proposal will not lead to an unacceptable loss of daylight to any particular apartment.”  And “…  we accept that the definable amenity impacts to the existing dwellings in the Regency Towers from the proposal are acceptable.”

Members Glenn and Keddie acknowledged that they were to determine the proposal based on rules that existed before Planning Minister Richard Wynne’s interim controls last September.

However, they said their consideration needed: “to be made in light of the community and its elected representatives’ increasing concern about the impact of building design on adjoining public and private spaces.”

Among comments within their decision are:

  • “The design of the proposal fails to integrate in any way with this adjoining building façade. Indeed it appears to compete rather than complement its neighbour, a building designed by the same architects for the same client.”
  • “ … we remain unconvinced that the plans depict a resolved design response.”
  • “ … we agree … that the lower recessed levels will result in sections of blank wall that do not provide an engaging experience between podium and pedestrian, where views should be engaging.”
  • “ … the plans are insufficiently resolved to be an acceptable design solution.”
  • “As presented to the tribunal, the proposal fails to achieve the high standard of architecture and design sought by the planning scheme.”
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