News / Planning

Cypriot club told to scale down building height

The community organisation may yet appeal to VCAT after Moreland Council enforced a height limit

Mark Phillips
Thursday, April 29, 2021

BRUNSWICK East residents have succeeded in reducing the height of a proposed apartment development on Lygon Street by two levels, but the fight may not be over.

Moreland Council’s Planning and Related Matters committee on Wednesday night approved the development, but only with a 35% reduction in height.

The Cyprus Community of Melbourne and Victoria, which is seeking to redevelop the two properties at 495–511 Lygon Street — including the historic Liberty Theatre building — into a mixed use community centre, retail and residential complex, had sought approval for a seven storey building.

It plans to use profits generated by apartment sales to build a new community and function centre on the same site as its current centre.

But after hearing impassioned pleas from more than 22 residents about the impact a building that height would have on the area, the committee unanimously approved amended plans for a five storey building instead, reducing its overall height from 26 metres to 17 metres.

The CCMV, which initially had sought to build a 10-storey apartment complex before scaling down the height following discussions with residents, may yet appeal to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. It has 60 days within in which to do so.

Dom Fitzgerald of the Save Lygon St North residents’ group welcomed the council’s decision.

“It was a good result, about as good as we could hope,” said Mr Fitzgerald, who spoke on behalf of 132 residents who took part in a survey about the proposal.

“Obviously it respected the fact that the club is trying to do something to refresh itself while at the same time trying not to let it impinge too much on the residents. It struck a balance.

“It now remains to be seen if the Cypriot club will respect the decision … in the past they’ve pretty wholeheartedly threatened to go to VCAT.”

Battle brews over Lygon Street heritage site

By the time the planning committee met on Wednesday night, the number of objections against the development had grown to 267, with the majority concerned about the height of the project, which was nine metres more than the recommended planning overlay for that part of Lygon Street.

Residents were concerned the new building would tower over the landmark 130-year-old Lyndhurst Hotel building, block out natural light and views, and was out of character with the local area.

Concerns were also raised at the council meeting about an increase in traffic at an already busy intersection of Albion and Lygon streets, and that it could indirectly force the closure of a nearby live music venue, Whole Lotta Love.

Kathleen Fallon, who has lived in Ashmore Street for 20 years, said it was an incredibly dangerous intersection “like dodgems from Hell”.

“I just can’t understand how it is even conceivable to put anything like five storeys, even three storeys in that spot. It’s just going to be mayhem. There’s going to be accidents, road rage, people knocked over … It’s a disaster waiting to happen.”

Both the owner of Whole Lotta Love, Sasha Janssen, and the chief executive of Music Victoria, Simone Schinkel, spoke of their fears that the development could create conflict between residents of the apartments and the music venue.

On Wednesday night, Cr Sue Bolton moved to amend a recommendation by council officers to approve a six storey development by reducing it even further.

She said she feared the building would result in a “soulless” precinct similar to the high rise apartments in Docklands and the council had to enforce the existing 17 metre height limit for the area.

The current application by the developer is way too high,” she said.

“It started with what I assume was an ambit claim of 10 storeys and then reduced to seven storeys but really needs to come down to the level we’ve been trying to maintain.”

Cr Oscar Yildiz questioned whether even five storeys was too high.

“As councillors, we need to put our hands on our hearts and think if we were living across the road would you want this next door to your place. I wouldn’t. I would sell up and leave.”

The CCMV says it needs to build the apartments to finance the redevelopment of its cultural centre in the old Liberty Theatre building.

It says the redevelopment has the backing of the Victorian government with $500,000 and would secure the future of the community centre that is the hub for Melbourne’s 50–60,000 people of Cypriot origin.

Jamie Govenlock of town planning consultants Urbis, who represented the developers at the council meeting, said all profits would go back into the community organisation.

But Cr James Conlon said the council and residents were being “held to ransom” by the promise of a community centre in what was really “a multi-million dollar commercial development.”

“I think that’s pretty disingenuous,” he said.

Mr Govenlock did not respond to a request for further comment nor indicate whether the CCMV would appeal to VCAT.

In an email to supporters on Thursday, the residents’ group warned that an appeal by the CCMV could create “bad blood” with its neighbours.

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