Plans approved despite “facadism” calls

By David Schout

City of Melbourne councillors have approved renovation plans for an Exhibition St restaurant, despite them being labelled “facadism” by a heritage group.

Owner The Lee Superannuation Fund has sought to renovate the 1858-built two-storey building at 165-167 Exhibition St, once the Shakespeare Hotel, after it had sat vacant in recent years.

The project would include partial demolition and other works, which the council said would “sit comfortably in the streetscape” and “would not unreasonably dominate the heritage place”.

However, in its submission to the council’s Future Melbourne Committee meeting on April 13, Melbourne Heritage Action (MHA) argued the proposed works were disappointing, and objected to the application. 

“It involves a version of facadism, where only three external walls are proposed to be retained, and new constriction projecting beyond the retained walls,” MHA vice president Rohan Storey wrote.

“Given it involves a heritage building rated ‘significant’, and the new City of Melbourne heritage guidelines, the extent of demolition is completely unsatisfactory.”

Mr Storey noted that the earliest mention of the building being called the “Shakespeare Hotel” was in 1869, something discovered on painted signage on one of the building’s walls. 

The chair of the council’s heritage portfolio Cr Rohan Leppert thanked MHA for their research, which he said had informed him of the building’s history.

However, he did not believe the works constituted “facadism”, which is when only the facade of a heritage building is preserved and the rest is demolished to make way for a new building. 

He disagreed with MHA’s interpretation of new heritage policies.

“I don’t think this is facadism. I think it’s unfortunate the extent of heritage fabric that is being lost, but because of the act of uses behind the fenestration this is actually a really good outcome,” Cr Leppert said. 

A number of other objectors to the application came from nearby residents of the Paramount building, particularly those whose apartments overlooked the proposed restaurant. 

Concerns centred on the roof terrace being turned into a rooftop bar, and the associated amenity impacts that could bring.

However, Lucas Paterno, director at town planners URPS and representing the site’s owner, said this was not among plans.

“Most of [the objections] refer to a rooftop bar which is not proposed,” he said.

“Not at this stage [is that being considered]. If I can I add, if it was the intention or that was the purpose, then another planning application would be required.”

Mr Paterno confirmed the site would be used as a restaurant.

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