Huge apartments will set ugly precedent

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The proposed nine-storey apartment complex on Gilles St/Merri St, Warrnambool, is at odds with the council’s recommendation for medium density housing of no more than five storeys in this area. Image: Tract Consultants.

ANALYSIS – Carol Altmann

[box]Update: a recommendation for a permit to be issued, subject to conditions, will go before the Warrnambool City Council on Tuesday, April 7. If you wish to have a say, contact the councillors directly.[/box]

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #DC943C;”] A [/dropcap] quick quiz: how tall is the Warrnambool War Memorial? And how many storeys is the Lady Bay Resort?

The answers will follow shortly, but you can rest assured that neither are as high as the monolithic, nine-storey apartment complex proposed for a small, prime piece of land on the corner of Merri and Gilles streets that takes in views right across Lake Pertobe, Lady Bay, and beyond.

The $20 million project by Baybern Developments, whose director is the founder of Midfield Meats, Colin McKenna, intends to squeeze 51 apartments – including three exclusive penthouses – into a complex that will tower almost 30m (28.6m) in to the air.

By way of contrast, the war memorial angel stands 10.9m, the townhouses opposite Cannon Hill are about 12m (three storeys) and the Lady Bay Resort, which some of us are still recovering from, is around 20m (five storeys).

This proposal, if approved, will leave them all in the shade.

And while Tract Consultants*, who are acting on behalf of Baybern, keep referring in their application to a seven-storey complex, it is quite clearly a total of nine-storeys (including two ‘basement’ levels), that will be hard to miss.

This is high-density housing on a scale never before seen in Warrnambool, let alone in an area that is a stone’s throw from the heritage precinct of the former court house, post office and police station. Even the house right next door to the development, Colern, has been recommended for heritage protection.

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The proposed development would transform the view approaching the war memorial angel, which stands at 10.3m compared to the 28.6m complex. Image: Tract Consultants.

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #DC943C;”] T [/dropcap]he Warrnambool City Council is acutely aware of the need to get city planning right, not just for the citizens of today, but to ensure we don’t screw it up for those who will call Warrnambool home in the future.

As such, it has invested a huge amount of time, energy and money (on consultants and in public consultation) on creating a roadmap known as the Warrnambool City Revitalisation Structure Plan 2012 which, in theory, sets out guidelines for how the city centre should develop over the next 20-25 years.

It is an inspiring document, full of wonderful images and packed with possibilities to again make the CBD the beating heart of our great, seaside city while also maintaining its unique character.

But the Warrnambool Apartments project, as it is known, is the first real test of whether this plan is worth the paper it is written on, and the signs are not encouraging.

Here are just a few examples:

Firstly, the plan recommends a limit of five storeys for this particular part of Merri St, provided it can also “suitably transition” with what is already in the area and doesn’t “prejudice the established scale and character”.

Despite this, the revised project recently submitted by Tract in response to feedback from council officers and objectors remains at nine-storeys, while also wrongly claiming that the nearby TAFE building is four storeys (it is three).

Second, the council plan lists as a key objective its support for “medium density” housing in the CBD. By its own admission, Tract describes the Warrnambool Apartments as high density.

And lastly, but no less importantly, the council plan highlights the beautiful Norfolk pines around our city centre, describing them as “iconic” and “unique”, yet the Warrnambool Apartments will involve ripping out two semi-mature Norfolk pine growing on and near the Gilles St/Merri corner. (In an Orwellian-twist, Tract promises one tree will be replaced with another Norfolk pine or a similar species.)

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The revised plans reveal a different colour scheme and more detailed landscaping among the minor changes. Image: Tract Consultants.

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #DC943C;”] W [/dropcap]e are not privy to the discussions between Tract and the council’s officers, but surely – if the council is serious about its strategic plan – it would have run a red line right through the initial proposal and sent Tract back to the drawing board.

But no. Not only did the nine-storey plan make it to first base, it has made it to second, with the revised plans showing very few, significant changes at all.

Yes, some balconies have been removed, and there has been a lightening of the colour scheme, but whether it is painted blue, grey or gold, it is still almost double the number of storeys of what should be there.

And let’s be clear: the reason it has remained this way is the penthouses.

Levels 5 and 6 are “sub penthouse” levels, each of five, no-doubt-spectacular, apartments.

Level 7 – the top floor – is the cream of the crop with just three, exclusive penthouses.

So the top three levels will provide 13 dwellings for the 13 couples or individuals who can afford them, while another 38 apartments will be clustered below.

It is enough to make any council salivate – the thought of having dozens of rateable properties where previously there was only one – but this is where good planning must prevail.

Nobody is arguing against more inner-city housing, but this monumental over-development – if approved – will set a dangerous precedent for Warrnambool that will destroy the very things the council’s plan is designed to protect.

*As an aside, “tract housing” – which has nothing to do with Tract Consultants – is a style of housing known for its cookie-cutter approach in which “multiple identical or nearly-identical homes are built to create a community”. It is particularly prevalent in parts of the US.

How the development appeared in its initial plan, since revised. Image: Tract Consultants.

 [box]Disclaimer: Mine is among the seven objections lodged for this proposal. References used for this piece include the planning application lodged by Tract (PP2014-0162) and the Warrnambool City Revitalisation Structure Plan 2012 which can be downloaded here. [/box]

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Your letters

11 thoughts on “Huge apartments will set ugly precedent”

  1. I am a member of Warrnambool Planning and Heritage Group Inc and we also put in an objection. This really is a test for our Council Officers and elected Councillors. The drawn out and extensive community consultations that led to the City Centre Revitalisation Plan mean NOTHING if this overdevelopment gets through. A building of this scale and bulk is a slap in the face for the principles and recommendations in that inspiring document.

    It would also be a resounding slap in the face of the significant number of people from our community who gave their time, energy, vision and good will in the community consultation process to develop the City Centre Revitalisation Plan. I can’t understand why we are wasting everyone’s time – the Planning Department of WCC should be saying you will not get through a building that is higher than 5 stories and you may not even get that if it doesn’t show more sympathy for the surrounding low-rise scale development which is a dominant and valued feature of our CBD.

  2. Tract Consultants’ speciality is gaining planning approval for Bunnings and Masters style (?) Developments in relatively new greenfield areas of Outer Melbourne and Geelong… Young Homebuyer territory.
    Hey, this is different.
    Tract, you will rue the day you thought you could ride into a city like Warrnambool with both guns blazing.
    Messrs Midfield et al : you’ve made your first mistake choosing them

  3. So a splash of bright sunny yellow is supposed to make it all better?!?! There’s absolutely nothing to like about this monstrosity.

  4. Who cares. We need progress and jobs. After all its only a building. Why all the fuss

    1. Thanks for your comment Robert, but I must say I am glad you are not a city planner if that is the only criteria – jobs and progress – for such major changes to the city’s landscape!

  5. I am not holding out for any hope of ever recovering from the horror of the Lady Bay Resort.
    The proposal of the Madden developement appears to be equally as horrible and unsympathetic to Warrnambool’s appearance. It may as well have a clear neon sign attached spelling out GREED.

  6. If you don’t like it you have to let them know before Tuesday –
    Call, text, email your councillors –
    I did, you can too!!!

    Dear Councilors,

    I want to register my extreme disapproval of the submitted plans at 1a Liebig St.

    Put simply – it’s just WAY too big!

    The three storey high TAFE building next door to this proposed development is in itself a dominating and unattractive building for the surrounding heritage based neighbourhood along Merri St – and is set down at street level.

    The proposed Liebig St apartment development will be 7 floors high, plus an extra two basement levels to be set up high on the Merri St hill, completely dominating the skyline along that area.

    One of the many wonderful things about Warrnambool that we are known and commented on is our fantastic coastal views.

    From the northern gateway into the city, the existing three story development on this ridge already starts to block views of the sea.

    The introduction of a seven storey building will compromise the views of local residents and the height of this development will dominate and detract from our beautiful landscape for all Warrnamboolians

    The Lady Bay monstrosity, universally acknowledged as one of Warrnambools great planning disasters overwhelms at ‘only’ 20m high and has proven to be an unfortunate and unsympathetically designed blight on our beautiful coastal landscape.

    At a whopping 28.6m high – nearly nine metres higher, the Leibig St Apartment development is
    going to be absolutely over the top and completely out of character and inappropriate for this neighbourhood and our landscape.

    The Warrnambool City Revitalisation Structure Plan 2012 recommends a limit of five storeys for this particular part of Merri St, provided it can also “suitably transition” with what is already in the area and doesn’t “prejudice the established scale and character”.

    The council plan also lists as a key objective its support for “medium density” housing in the CBD. By its own admission, Tract describes the Warrnambool Apartments as high density.

    I can’t see how you can suitably transition from a three storey building on one side to the proposed 9 level building up on the hill, then on to a 2 storey recommended heritage protected building on the other side within a heritage area so close to the CBD?

    Surely you can see that a development on this scale will COMPLETELY overwhelm and prejudice the existing scale and character of the area?

    As said in the objection that reflects the view of the Warrnambool Planning and Heritage Group

    “The proposed development at 28.6 metres is a blatant overreach of existing and recommended planning guidelines and limits”

    High density living in the CBD at this scale sets a dangerous precedent for sensitive and appropriate further planning for our fair city.

    I’m sure the Gold Coast was once a beautiful place before inappropriate development changed it irrevocably.
    If I wanted to live like that I would have moved there – not to our Wonderful Warrnambool!!

    I am not against progress and I’m not against development, but I am against INAPPROPRIATE development which this surely is.

    Again as said in the objection that reflects the view of the Warrnambool Planning and Heritage Group

    “if accepted, this new limit sets an incredibly dangerous precedent for a wall of overdevelopment along this ridge of our city”

    I ask that you please carefully consider the ramifications of passing this new development.

    I look forward to hearing your response on this matter

    Yours Sincerely
    Tonia Wilcox
    Warrnambool Planning and Heritage Group

  7. I walked into the council office today. I thought I could obtain a copy of the Council Agenda for tonight’s meeting. I was advised that as it is 526 pages long, I should go and read the copy in the library.
    I asked if there was a summary of the council recommendations. Only if I could advise which pages I needed!

  8. Very pleased to report that someone at council provided adequate summary copies of the agenda. A win for council communication.

  9. As a visitor to Warrnambool,this is one reason we love the place,low density,will turn in to another ugly Gold Coast city,absolutely destroying the ambience of the city. Employment is over once the building is finished, this argument does not hold water, ask the people of Mortlake, only a handful to run the now finished plant.

  10. Perhaps the Midfield people could whack a couple of floors of units and a penthouse on top of the proposed milk drying tower and freezer block in Merrivale. At around 10 or 11 stories high they would provide great potential for unsurpassed views. There might be a bit of a problem with noise, smells, vibration and milk powder dust tho’ but planning permission shouldn’t be a problem. It would just need clever marketing.

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