Monday, 26 March 2018

Too Bulky, Wrong Facade and in Bad Faith - Racecourse Rd Development Threatens Flemington Heritage Character

So, pending our building a proper home, The Bloodied Wombat will play host for a while to the activities of the newly established Moonee Valley Heritage Action (join us on Facebook HERE), who are agitating in defence of all the heritage within the remit of Moonee Valley City Council in Melbourne's North-West.

The Valley is home to a wide range of highly significant buildings traversing most major periods of Melbourne's development history, and indeed most major typologies. It has, in particular, remit over a number of significant late Victorian shopping strips, a typology which in its two storey form Melbourne could lay credible claim to being the world's finest large scale exemplar of.

Heritage Overlay HO25 covers the majority part of Racecourse Rd's heritage shopping strip, extending along Pin Oak Crescent, an unusual (for Melbourne) stretch of interwar "off high street" retail, of which the likes of Maling Road, Canterbury and perhaps Greville Street would be the larger scale exemplars. HO25 is easily one of the largest and most significant heritage precinct overlays under Moonee Valley City Council’s ambit.

MVCC Heritage Overlay 25, with the subject site in pink

The citation for HO25 describes the strip as "comprising buildings that predominantly date from c.1880 to c.1935”, concluding; “aesthetically, it is significant as a fine collection of single and double-storey shops characterised by masonry construction embellished with rendered ornamentation.”

324-340 Racecourse Rd, Flemington

an unusually in tact row of two storey Victorian shop buildings,
showing the proposed development, which is appropriately set back from the
heritage structures at this, its Western end

The citation for HO25 finds, amongst other reasons, that the area is significant for

  • The intactness to the key periods of development
  • The integrity of the contributory buildings, particularly above ground floor level, and the surviving early or original shopfronts to some buildings
  • The consistency of scale and siting of buildings

Accordingly, the character and nature of this important strip is one of MVHA's key watchovers. And so, we have this afternoon submitted a six page objection to the proposed development at 320-322 Racecourse Rd, which is in fact mostly a proposal to redevelop the space behind the address that is presently a carpark and a few severely rundown single storey industrial buildings with a truly massive seven storey serviced apartment complex.

It's important that we state from the outset that we are not saying this site is not developable, nor are we objecting to any of the demolition that the project will necessitate. Despite the fact all these buildings are technically protected under the letter of the law, they are of no architectural nor historic value, and their demolition is of no consequence. We are saying, however that the proposal will need some significant changes in order to avoid negatively impacting this significant heritage neighbourhood.

The subject site, showing the rear of 326-340 Racecourse Rd

Our core objections are twofold, firstly that the mass and scale of the proposed development, most particularly its eastern aspect is significantly out of keeping with the otherwise predominantly 1-2 storey heritage neighbourhood, and secondly that the proposed design makes little to no effort to either acknowledge or respond to the otherwise contiguous streetscape of Victorian shopfronts, of which this strip is recognised as being a significant example.

We would also like to bring it to Councillors’ attention that the proposal as submitted is quite clearly an attempt to disguise the very obvious objectionable impacts of the proposal. To whit, the submission contains several renders that have obviously been framed to disguise the bulk and scale of the development via laughably ham fisted means.

No longer are the shameful parts of our edifices covered with fig leaves. For today’s developers, any sort of leaf will do fine. The following image would of course not look so benign if taken a mere 10m east or westwards.  Or in winter. The vast bulk of the development is LITERALLY concealed behind the tree.

Render of proposed development, viewed from Norwood Street
(single storey residential heritage neighbourhood)

In the following image, not only is the bulk of the development unnecessarily obscured by the strange choice of vantage point (ie choosing to depict the proposal from a specific vantage where part of the proposal is obscured where a mere two meters up the road would have provided a full representation), but we see that a VINE has magically grown up to cover seemingly the entirety of the bottom four floors of the development and is also encroaching on significant components of the glazed section with none of the residents minding at all.

The proposal's objectionable Eastern aspect.
You would only take this vantage point if you KNEW your development was awful.

We question a) why we are being shown a render of the development from the year 2025, given the advanced state of the greenery, b) where in the submission is the commitment to actually plant this vine, and what measures are to be undertaken to ensure its health given it is so critical to mitigating the sheer concrete wall that the developers are so plainly aware will otherwise dominate the eastern aspect of this important heritage strip.

We believe it is imperative that when examining these renders, Councillors should imagine all the trees BARE in winter, and that the ham-fisted deception should be considered reflective of the bad faith in which this proposal is submitted.

To further underline our point, the above picture of the development's Western end, is quite laughably the ONLY render that "depicts" its facade to Racecourse Road. The facade is ENTIRELY hidden behind the tree. ENTIRELY.

The proposed development, as viewed from Racecourse Rd (Southern aspect)
Note the bulk at the Eastern (right hand) end and lack of setback

Racecourse Road as a Designated Activity Centre
The proposal places significant weight on the area’s status within State Government policy as a designated activity center. This objection acknowledges that status, AND the policy imperative for greater residential density in such transport-enabled locations. However, the entire area thus described sits entirely within designated and significant heritage overlay, so there is an immediate and obvious conflict of policy interests at work.

The proposal also correctly states that there is an absence of any design or development overlay for this entire area. This needs urgently to be flagged for Councillors as requiring remedy, as we believe most ratepayers would agree that the community’s expectation is that Council should very specifically be looking to mandate design quality and height limits in ANY areas within its remit that are designated activity centers, and which are therefore highly prone to development pressure.

Moonee Valley City Council - it is time to act NOW, because there will be more of these proposals, and your decision here sets a precedent by which you will bind yourself in future. If this is a designated activity zone, it urgently needs some proper planning to accompany that.

Demolition of the Existing Structure
As already stated, given the non-contiguous nature of the current shop building with regard to the rest of the streetscape and its negligible architectural value, we do not oppose the complete demolition of the existing building.

Furthermore we agree with the suggestion that the proposed construction of a glazed shopfront is essentially in keeping with the nature of the heritage retail strip.

Begone! 320-322 Racecourse Rd at sale.
Note our ability to photograph the site without arborial interference

Treatment of the Existing Streetscape
We object entirely, however to the design of the proposal above street/ground level. Here that we depart entirely from heritage advisor Bryce Raworth’s (strangely this man keeps popping up as the developer's heritage expert of choice) assessment of the proposal’s impact. The two storey Victorian shopfront is a very specific architectural form, and the above depicted row abutting the development is highly remarkable for both its in tactness above ground level, and the uniformity of form.

We wonder what about this very specific form inspired in the architect/designer a response that conjured up tiny tessellated multicoloured rectangles as a means of complementing the heritage streetscape? The response actually appears to be doing as much deliberate violence to the existing form as is architecturally possible. The entire proposal appears to be either in complete contempt or ignorance of the notion that architectural history didn’t begin with the invention of aluminium cladding.

The design, we submit, pays absolutely no heed to the heritage streetscape whatsoever, and given the acknowledged significance of the precinct, should on this basis alone be rejected.

It would be the simplest thing in the world to craft a proposal which even at the current scale removed this objection altogether. One need only look literally across the road to see an excellent example of postmodern infill within a heritage precinct done well (Flemington Library).

Flemington Library at 304 Racecourse Rd

A similar design which responded by creating a horizontally contiguous (by which we mean acknowledging the exiting storey heights, consistent and uniform in colour and with an either brickwork or rendered solid fa├žade around central windows, accompanied with some form of pediment) counterpart to the Victorian two storey shopfront form would be adequate to remove any objection to this aspect of the development.

We submit that the ideal here looks far more like the following image than the present proposal.

Modified depiction of the proposed development, with our suggested form highlighted in pink.
The sheer bulk of the development's full 7 storeys is evident.

Mass and Scale of the Proposal
It is clear from the above illustration, however that the scale and bulk overall represents a very significant change to the nature of the heritage strip, presenting around three times the scale of the present streetscape. This will not only be appreciable from Racecourse Rd, as the above image illustrates, but also from the highly contiguous and largely single storey residential Norwood St, where the scale is approximately six times that of the present form.

Northern aspect, as viewed from Norwood St, although really this is effectively taken by
someone standing in one of the back gardens of the single storey cottages.
Again the scale at this aspect is oppressive, but it is mitigated somewhat by effective setbacks.

We acknowledge that significant effort has been made to set the development back from most heritage buildings at its western end, and for this reason we believe that a revision of this proposal is possible that would meet our concerns, but any such proposal would require a similar sort of mitigation at the development’s eastern end also.

Eastern aspect, showing some attempted attenuation of the sheer concrete wall that is not in evidence in the other renders, and the sort of thing that rarely actually presents as detailed or designerly in life as it does on paper
The significantly less oppressive Western aspect, including meaningful setbacks, and with light wells
attenuating the bulkiest portion

The section of shops immediately to the east of the development are all single storey, so once again the scale of the eastern end of the proposal is around 1:6 to the existing heritage streetscape.

HO25 extends unusually on BOTH sides of Racecourse Rd beyond Wellington Street and as far east as the McDonald’s site. And it is clear from the supplied renders (with a tiny bit of imagination) that the bulk of the eastern end would present as several storeys of sheer acontextual and out of scale concrete looming over the eastern end of the heritage strip.

Accordingly we submit that a proposal either significantly lower in total scale, or one far more significantly stepped back at its eastern boundary is required in order to satisfy the obligations imposed by HO25. On this basis, coupled with the above concerns about the design, we object to the present proposal.

TAKE ACTION: In order to bring this matter before Council, at least ten objections must be lodged with Moonee Valley Council's planning team. It only takes 5 minutes, and we've done most of the hard bits for you already.

Step 1: CLICK HERE to download an objection form as pdf. We have filled in all of the relevant technical bits for you.
Step 2: State your objection clearly and politely. Objections do not get extra points for length, nor for vitriol.
Step 3: Return your form by post or by email to asap, and ideally before the end of March 2018.

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