Lord Mayor Sally Capp suffered her first defeat in council last month when she and three other councillors attempted to support a development application which over-shadowed the Yarra River.
Council officers recommended support for a revised development at 7-23 Spencer St only on the condition that it resulted in no further over-shadowing of the river.
But planning chair Cr Nicholas Reece proposed an alternative motion, removing opposition to the over-shadowing.
The development is behind the old Crowne Plaza Hotel, which casts considerable shadow over the river and would not be allowed under today’s planning regime. The new proposal adds a relatively small amount of extra shadow.
The site has been subject to a number of applications since 2014, with the latest by new owner Century Group being “sweetened” by the inclusion of 20 affordable housing apartments for “key workers”.
Cr Reece, supported at the September 4 Future Melbourne Committee meeting by councillors Philip Le Liu, Kevin Louey and the Lord Mayor, argued that it was within the planning rules at the time of the original application to apply a “balanced” consideration of all the application’s features.
Cr Reece said: “There is a tremendous amount to like about this proposal.” He said the site was a “sad corner of the city” and he characterised the river over-shadowing a “minor non-compliance”.
Affordable housing advocate Robert Pradolin told the meeting that he advised the developer to include the affordable housing into the application as a trade off.
“The reality was that this overshadowing didn’t make any real difference to the public realm, but now contravened a current policy,” Mr Pradolin said.
Architect Craig Baudin said: “We hope the minor impact to the river would be balanced by improvement to the public realm.”
The Lord Mayor said the benefits of the application outweighed the negatives and pointed out that the extra shadowing didn’t prevent people from using the river.
Cr Le Liu said the inclusion of affordable housing would “set the tone for property development in Melbourne”.
“We can’t get everything we want but, if I had to choose between the two, I would choose the affordable housing any day,” he said.
But other councillors disagreed, led by Deputy Lord Mayor Arron Wood and deputy planning chair Rohan Leppert.
Cr Wood said: “It’s galling to hear that it’s a choice between over-shadowing and low-cost housing. And that’s the position we’ve been put in.”
He said, despite the attractiveness of the proposal, the real issue was to avoid another precedent that future developers would seek to exploit at the expense of the river.
“I think we’re better than this,” he said. “If it’s minor non-compliance, then I’d like to see this great team come back with minor adjustments that actually comply,” he said.
Cr Leppert said: “It’s not about the amount of overshadowing per se. It’s about the precedent.”
“The more you consider changes to the rules, or overlooking controls or policies, the more you’ll have someone coming up to us next month – and the month after – saying ‘well, you did it last time, why don’t you do it again?’”
PS: On September 25, Planning Minister Richard Wynne granted a planning permit, despite the overshadowing.
Cr Leppert said: “Let’s not create a mess for ourselves by creating precedents that we will come to regret.”
Cr Beverley Pinder said the offer of 20 affordable units was not enough. “It’s a trickle,” she said. “You’ve got to be able to do better than this.”
Cr Susan Riley said: “Why don’t you go back to the drawing board and fix the problem and then we’ll all be happy. No more overshadowing of the Yarra.”