News / Planning

Council, developer at loggerheads over Brosnan Centre project

Property developer Milieu wants a nine-storey building

An artist’s impression of the proposed development in Dawson Street.

Mark Phillips

PLANS to demolish the Brosnan Centre in Dawson Street and build a multi-level apartment building in its place will be decided by Victoria’s planning tribunal after Merri-bek Council indicated it would only support the development if it was reduced in size. 

At its Planning and Related Matters committee meeting on June 26, the council said its support for the project was contingent on a reduction of its building height, additional commercial space and minor design changes. 

But those changes have not been accepted by the site’s owner, property developer Milieu, setting the stage for a hearing in the Victorian Civil and Administrative in September. 

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Located on the corner of Dawson and Saxon streets adjacent to the Brunswick Baths, the site already has a development permit for an eight-storey building which was approved in 2020 after intervention from the Victorian Planning Minister. That permit is set to expire in July this year. 

The new plans are for an L-shaped nine-storey building with a roof terrace above a two-level basement. It would have a maximum height of 34.5 metres. 

The upper eight storeys would provide 80 apartments – 20% of them allocated for affordable housing – while a 423 square metre office tenancy and a 61 square metre food and drink premises would be located at street level. The development is valued at $26 million.

The site has been the location of the Brosnan Centre since 2000. 

Named after the former Catholic chaplain at Pentridge Prison, Father John Brosnan, the centre provides a range of social services to people who have been released from the prison system. Jesuit Social Services sold the site last year for an undisclosed amount.

The new owner has already begun marketing the project even though it is yet to receive planning approval. 

The application drew four objections about its height and overshadowing and overlooking, its impact on the local built environment, and lack of on-site parking. But it also had five letters of support, the PARM meeting was told. 

The Brosnan Centre has been in Dawson Street since 2000. Source: Google Maps

Addressing the council meeting on behalf of the owners, Simon Gilbertson from Contour Town Planning said the new proposal was superior  to that which had been approved in 2020 and “that’s evidenced by the reaction of the community”. 

“This is an application that has received more letters of support than objections,” he said. 

“We’re confident this passes the test about the community’s epxection about the quality of the development and the expected change for what is a key site here on Dawson Street.” 

Council staff expressed concern that the building would be “overly dominant” in the Brunswick civic precinct and recommended that approval should be contingent on the removal of one level of building height and slight changes to upper level setbacks. 

They also attached an extra condition that an additional 700 square metres of commercial or creative space should be provided on the first level. 

These changes would result in the number of apartments in the project being reduced by 15, or almost 20%. 

Councillor Mark Riley said the proposed building height was too tall for the heart of Brunswick’s cultural precinct. 

“This is part of our creative industry area and we want people to be able to move up and down that street without feeling like they’re in some kind of canyon,” he said. 

Riley said he may have been more open to approving a nine level building if the amount of apartments set aside for affordable housing was greater. 

But Gilbertson, speaking for the developers, said the changes that would be attached to the council’s support were not acceptable. 

He said the owner was willing to continue working with the council to reach an agreement. Council staff and the developers met again on June 27 at a compulsory conference in VCAT but there was no breakthrough so the proposal will be decided following a hearing in September. 

Jesuit Social Services did not respond to a request for comment.

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