District plans need more work

District plans need more work

By Meg Hill and Sean Car

The City of Melbourne has invited the developers of The District Docklands AsheMorgan to revise its proposal for a new mixed-use development after councillors unanimously objected to a number of aspects of the plans last month.

AsheMorgan is seeking approval from Minister for Planning Richard Wynne for an addendum to the Waterfront City East Development Plan 2003 (WFCDP), which would allow for a new mixed-use precinct at 50-94 Waterfront Way and 2-16 Little Docklands Drive.

The matter went before councillors at the Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meeting on September 15 where AsheMorgan development director Andrew Whiteside expressed his disappointment in the “narrative” of the recommendation by the council’s planning officers.

While some councillors shared Mr Whiteside’s frustration in the nature of the “outdated” development plans for Waterfront City East, all unanimously objected to the application, with chair of planning Cr Nicholas Reece describing it as “too fortress-like”.

In the council’s delegate report, officers acknowledged that the site’s layout was structured around the “constraint” of the retained multi-storey car park, which occupies more than a third of the site. However, they stated that the proposed layout with its undercroft vehicle access and raised pedestrianised public realm provided an “unacceptable outcome”.

The six-stage plans, which include a mix of retail, office and residential buildings ranging between 40 and 80 metres in height, would include a 5.4 metre raised deck over a new Waterfront Lane “through link”. The plans also include an elevated public communal space situated 23 metres above ground level on the rooftop of the existing car park.

Cr Reece said that while AsheMorgan had improved the built form and fabric of The District and activated the surrounding precinct in a “clever way”, there were too many issues with the application that needed to be resolved.

“There are some significant positive aspects to it,” he said.

“That said, there are some issues which have been raised in the officers’ report which I do think need to be addressed, in particular the ensuring of a safe well-used public realm by avoiding raised decks and undercroft.”

“The preference in this part [raised decks] would be the activation of the accessible ground level, especially given its proximity to the water. While using raised decks and rooftops is certainly something we can see in other parts of the city, it’s very much a second-best solution to activating the ground plane.”

“In short, there is too much about this proposal which does not allow this site to connect and speak to the outside world. It’s too fortress-like with 60-metre street walls. We want a fully open and permeable proposal.”

The council’s planning officers also expressed concerns that the proposed built form would create negative wind impacts and overshadowing of public space and the new Docklands Primary School site.

Officers also noted that the proposal did not include any commitment to affordable housing and argued that a provision of “at least five per cent” be incorporated as part of the project’s residential component.

AsheMorgan development director Andrew Whiteside said he was disappointed in the “late stage” of the council’s recommendations and complained that planning officers had approached the application as a planning permit rather than a development plan.

“The development plan overlay is nearly 20 years old now and it doesn’t reflect where we’re at and where we need to go next, so unlike the previous matters you’ve dealt with tonight, we’re not seeking a planning permit for this development,” he said.

“This is an important point because many of the comments by officers are concerned with the detail, normally dealt with in the planning permit stages, such as wind impacts, assessment of detailed design, signage, etc.”

The City of Melbourne’s director of planning and building Evan Counsel responded to Mr Whiteside’s claims, stating that the council had signalled “in principle support for intensification of development on the site” but outlined elements that needed to be resolved before the detailed planning permit stage.

“We think these are elements that need to be resolved before the addendum to the development plan can be approved,” he said.

While he agreed with the Development Plan for the precinct needed updating, deputy chair of planning Cr Rohan Leppert described the outcome of the council’s decision as a “good faith solution”.

“This is a really large and important strategic site in Docklands,” he said. “Whenever you have a development plan overlay (DPO), and I agree with the applicant that we need a new one, we need to come to an arrangement as to what that fine-grain plan looks like.”

“We have to accept in the Docklands those controls are far and few between. DPO mechanisms provide developers in Docklands with extraordinary flexibility.”

“We can still get to a conclusion but we need to keep pushing further. This is a good faith solution.”

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said while she was disappointed that an agreement couldn’t be arrived at yet, activation at the ground level and enhancing the waterfront in Docklands was “absolutely paramount”.

“Ashe Morgan really needs to be supported. It has been incredibly active and proactive. I know we have common goals and it’s how we go about achieving them,” the Lord Mayor said.

Cr Beverley Pinder echoed the Lord Mayor’s support of AsheMorgan.

“It doesn’t seem like we have given them [AsheMorgan] a very good planning experience at all,” she said.

“I urge officers to advance discussions. I hope Docklands can get past this.” •

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