Sometimes the answer to a vexed question is obvious. In the case of the building on the corner of Victoria Ave and Merton St Albert Park, the proposed development – No. 1 Victoria Ave – was simply incongruous with its surrounds, the elegant Victorian Terraces of the late 19th Century and the Heritage overlay for the Albert Park precinct. Port Phillip Council has argued this in originally rejecting the proposed development before its promoters, the Saade Group appealed to VCAT.
1 Victoria Ave Albert Park was the home and studios of renowned Australian Filmmaker Paul Cox. As can be seen from the early photo compared to the current state of the building, it has lost some of its lustre. But as was led in evidence at VCAT, the building is structurally sound, with only some minor cracking.
The Port Phillip Council, the National Trust, and more importantly the people of Albert Park considered it worth saving and acted to ensure the glass monstrosity proposed to replace it would not proceed. It was an entirely inappropriate development.
The original blog on the subject dated Feb 12th 2019 gives a well rounded picture of what was proposed and the objections raised. The result in VCAT vindicates the community’s position.
From The Age, June 12th.
Albert Park residents thrilled as VCAT rules in their favour on former home of Paul Cox
In scenes worthy of celebrated filmmaker Paul Cox’s own classic masterpiece Lust and Revenge, Albert Park residents are celebrating their own payback on the developer who wanted to demolish Mr Cox’s much-loved studios.
After raising $35,000 through crowd-funding, and collecting more than 1000 signatures protesting against a plan to replace the landmark 1880s two-storey corner building with much bigger “glass monstrosity”, they have managed to defeat the developer’s appeal to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
They’re now also hailing the verdict as giving hope to others all around Melbourne who want to halt redevelopment unsympathetic to heritage streetscapes.
“This decision is of great benefit to residents who, within heritage precincts, are fighting to prevent unsympathetic redevelopments of significant heritage buildings,” said local lawyer Peter Kenny, who’s been involved in the campaign to halt the proposal by The Saade Group to knock down the late Mr Cox’s home and offices in Victoria Avenue.
“Too often, planning decisions have been made without regard to any redevelopment being sympathetic to the surrounding streetscape. A streetscape of two-storey Victorian terraces should not have an ugly, modernistic four-storey building imposed within it.
“This decision will give great comfort to all residents within heritage precincts who wish to have their heritage streetscapes respected and preserved, and all architects and town planners need to take note.”
The Saade Group wanted to demolish the existing standalone building on the prominent island site in the heritage precinct, which had been remodelled in the 1920s and 1930s and owned by Mr Cox. It applied to put in its place a four-storey block containing seven apartments, a 100-seat restaurant, two shops and a basement car park.
“We are not satisfied that the replacement building displays the necessary level of design excellence to justify demolition of the existing building,” VCAT members John Bennett and Juliette Halliday ruled this week. “For this reason, we would not issue a permit for the demolition of the building.”
The receptionist at the offices of The Saade Group, which bought the 500-square-metre site for $5.67 million, said no one was available to comment.
But in Albert Park, the judgment is being celebrated.
“It’s absolutely wonderful, we’re still so shocked that we’ve won,” said one local, Brigid Niall.
“It’s the most incredible outcome and we want to thank everyone who put in their own money to save the building. When the council turned down the development application and then the developer appealed to VCAT, we hired our own lawyers and expert witnesses to fight them, as well as the council’s case. It’s a great win.”
Port Phillip council rejected the application after engineering consultants Irwin Consult found only some minor cracking within the building.
The National Trust of Australia (Victoria) also objected to the planned demolition, saying it was important to protect and conserve all significant and contributory heritage places within the area’s heritage overlay – mostly consisting of rows of double-storey Victorian residential shops, single-storey Victorian shops, terraces and Edwardian and inter-war shops.
Several tenants of the building were given notice by the developer, leaving only a handful operating from the premises.
The developer could now submit alternative plans for a replacement building but, to stand any chance of success, it would need to be smaller, with possibly fewer levels, and be more in keeping with its neighbours.
“But with a different size and design, I can’t see it would be financially viable,” said another of the Don’t Destroy Albert Park campaign organisers, Amber Moore. “We now know that the only way it can be demolished is if another design that’s put up that’s of ‘architectural excellence’.
“But for now we’re all in a little bit of shock and disbelief that the decision has been made in our favour. We’ve spent so much time looking at the building, wondering what was going to happen, and hoping that glass monstrosity wouldn’t be put there. We’re absolutely thrilled to bits.”
With hindsight, this conflict gives an interesting focus on redeveloping heritage buildings or indeed any developments proposed in Heritage overlay areas. Far more thought and consideration must be given as to how such iconic buildings can be redeveloped or modernised. In this case the developers didn’t even offer the pretence of a façade of the original building.
When developers purchase a property in such areas, they are aware of the constraints such listings present. It requires a far more incisive and intelligent planning phase that looks to provide a built to purpose facility with a significant return on investment over an extended future period.
A built to purpose renovation could provide good returns without resorting to inappropriate and expansive quick return development.
As the article states, this result provides a precedent that should be firmly understood by all Developers in Heritage listed areas. Heritage is valued. Don’t trifle with it. People value their history, their environment and the places they choose to live and work.
Heritage will be, must be preserved. Congratulations to the Albert Park community, we thank you.