Council anger at move to fast track Park Street apartment project
Mirvac project has been valued at $147 million and would create more than 300 jobs
Saturday, April 30, 2022
MORELAND City Council has picked a fight with the state government and one of the nation’s largest property companies over moves to fast track approval of a controversial apartment development near Princes Park.
In what has been described as an undemocratic ploy, Mirvac has applied directly to Planning Minister Richard Wynne to approve the $147 million project at the corner of Park Street and Sydney Road, effectively sidelining the council from any decision making role.
The move has incensed the council, which this week resolved to oppose the planned amendment to the Moreland Planning Scheme which would clear the way for the 168 dwelling development to begin construction this year.
Mayor Mark Riley said allowing the Planning Minister to approve the project would reduce the council to the status of an objector when it should be the primary decision maker.
Developer Mirvac wants to build several apartment buildings between six and 10 storeys high, along with a row of four storey town houses, containing a total of 168 dwellings. The site would also have some commercial use, a café and underground parking for 223 cars and 210 bikes.
Seventeen of the apartments would be “affordable”, described as 35% of the market value.
Mirvac bought the 6496 square metre site, which also has frontage to Brunswick Road, for a reported $40 million last year.
In material accompanying its planning application, Mirvac says the project would have capital expenditure of just under $147 million and would create 335 short-term and ongoing jobs.
The site, which until late last year was still occupied by a motel, has a controversial history since a previous owner first applied to redevelop it for residential use six years ago.
That project began in 2016 with 255 apartments in buildings of up to 14 storeys and was met with 220 objections after a well-organised campaign by a local community group, Protect Park Street Precinct. After the council refused to grant a permit, the owner appealed to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
When VCAT issued its final determination in 2020, the building height had been reduced to 10 storeys but other design elements were still considered unacceptable.
This time, Mirvac has sought to bypass the council and VCAT by applying directly to the Planning Minister to amend the Moreland Planning Scheme through the Development Facilitation Program established to speed up the assessment and determination of identified priority projects that “deliver investment into the Victorian economy, keep people in jobs and provide a substantial public benefit”.
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Council officers earlier this year submitted to the government that the Park Street project was not suitable for the DFP and should go through a normal planning process overseen by the council.
A report to the council’s Planning and Related Matters Committee meeting on Wednesday night recommended that the planning scheme amendment not be opposed subject to changes being made to the development including an improved affordable housing offer and reduced shadowing onto Princes Park.
But an alternative resolution passed by eight out of nine councillors, with Deputy Mayor Lambros Tapinos abstaining, criticised Mr Wynne for “considering removing council decision-making capacity and local resident participation for the application under the guise of COVID-19 recovery”.
It also slammed the Development Facilitation Program as being in favour of developers “at the expense of due process and meaningful community consultation”, while a residents group says the fast track planning process is undemocratic.
‘Slap in the face’
Councillor James Conlan said the DFP process was flawed, and the council needed to send a strong message to Mr Wynne that “we’re not going to just roll over and support this particular development”.
“Mirvac is seeking to have this application decided through that streamlined application process which is a statewide program which is basically steamrolling all these major developments right across the state without any real community consultation and it’s a way for the minister to basically rubber stamp major developments,” he said.
“I think it’s a real slap in the face for thousands of community residents who have been fighting this development for many, many years.”
Cr Conlan also questioned the adequacy of the affordable housing target of just 17 out of the 168 dwellings in the complex – a point on which he was backed by Cr Angelica Panopoulos.
“It just doesn’t quite stack up as a justification to bypass us as democratically elected decision makers,” she said.
“I don’t think this is something we as councillors can support and I don’t think it will provide a net significant benefit to the vulnerable people in our community.”
The Protect Park Street Precinct group, which has 1700 members, has also criticised the move to take control of the planning process out of the hands of the council.
In a letter to the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning on April 23, the group’s president, Christine Christian, said the streamlined planning process would negate all previous efforts to ensure the development had minimal negative impacts.
“The proposed approach is undemocratic and can result in very adverse effects on the community,” she wrote.
The Park Street complex is the second of two controversial developments by Mirvac which are underway in Brunswick.
In March, the company was successful in VCAT to gain approval for an 11-storey development in Albert Street, alongside Clifton Park.