Friday, 6 April 2018

Pace/Urbis Proposes Demolition of Listed Mt Alexander Rd 1880s Heritage Shops

Another threat has emerged to Moonee Valley's heritage fabric this week, with newly advertised plans by Pace developments, apparently in tandem with Urbis proposing to demolish the two double storey heritage shopfronts shown in white below.

Under threat - 347 (left) & 357 (middle) plus 359 (right, not part of subject site) Mt Alexander Rd, Ascot Vale

What's the Threat?

The proposal seeks to demolish both these protected buildings based on the fact that the heritage overlay which protects them does not individually cite their addresses, and indeed the way the overlay has been mapped, it appears to apply to a number of non-heritage structures including the adjacent carpark and garden centre.

Moonee Valley Heritage Action's response is, essentially "STIFF CHEDDAR". There IS a heritage overlay on these buildings, it has been formally adopted within the Melbourne Planning Scheme, and permission is required to demolish ANY structures within that overlay.

The very purpose of having these overlays mapped into the Planning Scheme is to provide certainty to both the community and developers around what is protected and what is not.

Developers MUST be forced to comply with the letter of the law, which does not rely on a building's individual nomination within the schedule. This is NOT a precinct overlay, and therefore the significant buildings are not required to be individually listed. The entire overlay is protected in law.

HO363, as formally gazetted in to the Melbourne Planning Scheme

There has very obviously been some administrative confusion in the creation of this particular overlay, but the intent of the overlay is clear - to protect the entire row of contemporaneous two storey Victorian shopfronts along Mt Alexander Rd.

Moonee Valley City Council has already sent this proposal back to the developer, Urbis, once, suggesting they needed to retain the heritage buildings, and this was clearly ordained in law. Disappointingly, the developer and the developer's heritage consultant of choice, Bryce "knock it down" Raworth have responded with some facile and frankly unconscionable arguments suggesting they wish to press ahead with their plans for demolition.

The proposal for the entirety of 327-357 Mt Alexander Rd, Ascot Vale, currently, a garden centre, "Cheaper Buy Miles" and ... a few listed heritage buildings ...

What's the History?

The citation for the heritage overlay gives us quite a bit of detail about No. 161. It began its life in 1869-70 as Twinem & Sons Beehive Stores. John Twinem opened his first store on Flemington Hill by 1858, and moved to this site shortly after 1865. It is a two-storey, face-brick building (overpainted) with a slate-clad, hipped roof with very narrow eaves. The shopfront dates from the interwar era, and is sympathetic in its design.

Once was a Beehive - 361 Mt Alexander Rd

The history section of the citation notes that the pair of shops at 357-359 Mt Alexander Road were constructed in 1886 as an addition to the Beehive Stores.

In 1887, new owner J. J. Downing was proud enough of these additions to promote his apparently thriving Beehive Stores in the North Melbourne Advertiser as purveyors of "Groceries, Indian and China Tea, Builder's and Furnishing Ironmongery, Galvanised Iron, Spouting and Ridging, Crockery and Earthenware, Drain Pipes, Tiles and Garden Edging, Oils, Paints and Colours, Lime and Cement &c, at Melbourne Prices." No wonder he needed the extra space!

North Melbourne Advertiser, February 11, 1887, p.2

So, let's be clear, the rightmost of the two buildings for demolition dates to the 1880s. Whether is either in tact or a particularly fine examples of the period, the community's expectation is that really all our surviving 19th century structures ought these days to be protected.

The Mt Alexander Rd was originally Melbourne's goldfields route, and although the lustre of goldfields had somewhat tarnished by the 1880s, for some time after their construction these buildings would have watched over a steady stream of expectant prospectors.

The building at 347 has a slightly murkier provenance, it is apparently early 20th century in origin, but has very clearly, with regard to its pediment, scale, form and with its recessed entryway, been constructed to stylistically match the existing buildings.

So to have a heritage "professional" - namely Bryce Raworth (whom readers may remember we have already encountered when he gave the thumbs up to seven storeys of sheer concrete being erected adjacent to Raccourse Rd's streetscape of Victorian shops) give the thumbs up to demolition of a listed structures dating to the 1880s, and its simultaneously protected matching counterpart is frankly galling, and evidence of an appallingly careless attitude to the strictures of the profession. The man appears to have an active hatred of 19th century shops in particular.

The proposal is well stepped back to the North St heritage streetscape (RIGHT), but does rather tend to overwhelm the remaining heritage buildings from its Moonee Street aspect (LEFT)

Bryce's Blarney

Mr Raworth argues that "these late nineteenth century shops are not particularly fine or notable examples of their type, and their intactness has been compromised." Which while to some extent true, this is a typology that the community now expects to be preserved from an historical, much more than an architectural viewpoint, and the fact is that once they have a heritage overlay on them, none of these factors are any longer relevant.

The assertion that "the demolition of these structures will not have an adverse impact on the significance of HO363" is in no way supported. The buildings were constructed in a matching style, formed part of a single retail complex, and its the combined massing of Victorian era double storey shopfront forms that very specifically sets in place the character of the overlay from its most significant aspect - Mt Alexander Rd.

Looming over the remnant heritage

The fact that they were built a few years later than the original building is of no consequence, the subject buildings are not significantly less in tact than no. 361, and were built in the same period in the same style. They all feature relatively unique recessed shopfronts and most likely all featured the very elegant cream dado tiling that 361 still sports today.

359 has likely lost its dado titling, and 357 lacks the arched first floor windows, but 361 has possibly also lost its parapet. It is clear that attempting to play historical favourites with any of these structures is illogical, and will do nothing but have the effect of reducing the significance of whichever structure you chose to retain.

But Bryce still manages to spin this into "the building abutting the northern boundary of the subject site at 359 Mt Alexander Road has a somewhat taller, parapeted two storey form", which in plain English is an attempt to say the buildings are "different heights and therefore not contiguous."

This disingenuously ignores the fact that it is the larger two storey Victorian and interwar shopfronts that create the contiguous heritage style which is quite clearly what the overlay was created to preserve. Saying "the most historic building is out of scale" could only be accepted here if it were an argument to demolish the 1860s building, and that argument is absent.

What's the Solution?

Put simply, the developers need to return to the drawing board and re-submit a proposal for the site that retains a significant portion of all the listed structures. We would support some extent of demolition to the rear of the buildings, provided any demolition left the facades untouched or otherwise restored and effected enough retention to retain contextual internal space behind the facade.

Any development would also need appropriately set back from the retained structures, and allow the buildings to retain their heritage context. Hopefully the following five minute Photoshop job gives readers some idea just how simple this would be.

See how easy it is NOT to vandalise?
Our dodgy photoshop job shows that provided those apartments were set back a little more,
retaining the heritage buildings would be neither difficult, nor much reduce the footprint
of this no doubt potentially highly profitable development.

And let's end on a positive note. MVHA acknowledges the otherwise positive extent to which the proposal responds to its surrounding heritage neighbourhoods. In fact, developer's assertion that the proposal's Mt Alexander Rd frontage is an effective contextual response to the two storey Victorian heritage shopfront form IS supported by MVHA. Were this not proposing any demolition, we would otherwise suggest the design quality of the proposal is exemplary.

However, in making that statement, it is also very clear just how easily the heritage structures could be retained. Should they fail to return to the table with an appropriate proposal, Urbis will join our ever expanding list of Heritage Criminal Developers. But our good books remain open and we so much prefer doing things this way. Retain the heritage structures, and we would otherwise encourage the community to support the development, pending compliance with the Design and Development Overlay (which would be a whole other distracting essay.

What Can I Do to Help?

  • 1. If you want to look at the plans in detail, you can find them advertised HERE as MV/925/2017 325-347 Mt Alexander Rd Ascot Vale (probably now on page two - the records are a little hard to search)
  • 2. If you want to help by object on heritage or any other grounds please download this form and return it to Council by post or by email to asap, and ideally before April 13. Objections are the only formal way of letting Council know your feelings, and volume DOES matter. Please be polite and to the point.
  • 3. Join Moonee Valley Heritage Action on Facebook to stay up with all the latest development news

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

BETRAYAL, or ABROGATION? Melbourne City Councillors Sell Out Community, Listed Heritage

Crs Rohan Leppert and Cathy Oke (Melbourne Greens) and Cr Nic Frances Gilley (Indpependent) last night voted to demolish the C graded heritage structures on Thierry Street.

As predicted, Melbourne City Council last night voted to approve its own development on the Munro site adjacent to the Queen Victoria Market, and within the Queen Victoria Market overlay. CLICK HERE for the full background.

Cr Rohan Leppert, who has made considerable mileage out of his past efforts in support of heritage, and with some real rationale to that claim, appears astonishingly to have commenced his Mayoral bid by voting to demolish all the C grade listed heritage along Thierry Street.

He did move a curious motion of his own, suggesting that the plans that he had just voted to re-affirm would need to be brought back to Council in future, but his opportunity to listen to the community and stop these plans - which are completely unsupported by his constituency - was last night.

And so, we hereby withdraw our previous suggestion that we would endorse his Mayoral bid if he were to revisit the market proposal overall. Nor will we endorse any Councillor who voted for this in any future Council ballot.

Once again, we would like to ask which of these 9 Councillors is going to be willing to front up at VCAT and oppose the developer who wants to demolish any other "unprepossessing" C graded heritage from the City North Review, or indeed any other C graded heritage anywhere?

The precedent Councillors have willingly and knowingly created here is dangerous in the extreme, and for any of these Councillors to make any claim in future that they represent the interest of our city's heritage will now be wholly invalid.

Guilty as predicted - Team Doyle, including sitting councillors Kevin Louie, Beverley Pinder, Aaron Wood (acting Mayor) and Chair of Planning Nicholas Reece . Also depicted: Smudgey Mc SmudgeFace and Some Dude

Since yesterday's post, it has become clear that the bulk of the proposed new development at GROUND LEVEL, even if you ignore the 18 storey tower sitting atop the podium, will very markedly alter the two storey industrial streetscape and replace it with (another) modern apartment frontage. In short, Councillors have voted to wreck the heritage precinct by destroying the contributory nature to the precinct of the entirety of Thierry Street.

The latest iteration of the proposal, as approved by Councillors last night.
The heritage precinct is to be trashed in scale and form. Retaining the existing facades would have
clearly strongly mitigated these effects.

This is the most cretinous of possible outcomes. While we expected Team Doyle Councillors (and Liberal, Phillip le Liu who essentially always votes with them) to bow down to the memory of the man who left them listing so leaderless and rudderless, the behaviour of Melbourne Greens Councillors in particular, given how much noise they routinely make about a) heritage, and b) listening to the community rather than the vested interests of business are particularly damned.

Also Guilty: Liberal Party member Phillip Le Liu

So, while the wider community has been completely unsupportive of the proposed changes to the Queen Victoria Market, last night Council voted 9-1 to approve everything.

Shutting voices completely out of representative debates, and instead delivering results that would have embarrassed Saddam Hussein is exactly the vehicle via which voters' faith in the processes and politicians becomes eroded.

Thank GOD or your relevant conception of a higher power for Cr Jackie Watts, who has once again proven the sole representative on Council not completely tone deaf to the interests of her actual constituents. But what's to be done if even the GREENS can't grasp the basics of the concept.

Cr Jackie Watts - sole voice for the community's concerns

We look forward at this point to Cr Leppert's mayoral bid, during which we shall be routinely reminding him of his vote last night. Likewise should any of these Councillors deign to ever seek re-election.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Snouts in the Trough: Melbourne City Councillors Prepare to Demolish Listed Heritage Buildings for Their Own Benefit

As if there's not enough going on in the world right now to make a Wombat want to return to hibernation until the asteroid hits ...

Melbourne City Council are tonight preparing to vote to demolish heritage structures that they only recently voted to protect - by way of the inter-war commercial buildings on Thierry St that are acknowledged as highly contributory to the Queen Victoria Market Heritage Precinct.

For the Wreckers? Thierry Street Shopfronts, with character brick 1940s facade and arched brick interiors

These are C graded Heritage structures, designated as such in planning amendment c198, which adopted the findings of the City North Heritage Review that Council itself commissioned to make sure we don't lose any important heritage as this part of town was coming under enormous development pressure.

And why? Because Council wants to maximise the value it can extract from PDG corporation, who was the sole bidder for the Munro Site tender. That's right. Councillors are so shame-scared that their entire Queen Victoria Market Redevelopment will become even MORE of a fiasco than it already has become via the rank amateurism of its protagonists, that they are willing to let a developer completely rip up the entire basis of heritage protection in Melbourne for a few pieces of silver.

Councillors in Utopia

In what might generously be considered a discarded script line from the comedy series Utopia, Councillors are preparing to replace the C graded 2 storey brick heritage structures fronting Thierry Street with new 2 storey brick structures "reflecting the heritage of the area".

Let's be clear. These are C graded Heritage structures, and if Council allows their demolition, it is by precedent allowing the potential demolition of all the existing C and D grade structures on its inventory. In this day and age, permission to fully demolish any listed heritage structure should only be granted in the most exceptional of circumstances, and the proposal in no way demonstrates this imperative.

In fact, what it demonstrates is how Council have dim-wittedly sleepwalked themselves into this position. Council's Chair of Planning Nicholas Reece actually sat directly across the table from yours truly in a meeting and said "Oh I don't think they are actually listed buildings." The Chair of Planning. This is how much scrutiny and care clearly went into drafting the development brief.

Given how desperate Council appears to be to secure PDG's involvement, without which its entire, already shaky Queen Victoria Market redevelopment would doubtless fall over - we would hardly be surprised to learn that the brief document read something a la "yeeeeeehaaaaw! You boys do what you want here ..."

Is there ANY rational reason why THIS (above) ...
Can't be incorporated into THIS, given the identical form and scale?

Throwing out the Basis and Meaning of Heritage

To support this demolition, a clear argument needs to be made that at least the facades could not be incorporated into the new structure. Given the proposal appears to support replacing this structure with buildings of almost identical scale, form and material, there appears to be no such sustainable argument.

The proposal's assertion that "despite their grading of “C”, the shops are quite unpre- possessing architecturally" is not apparently supported by any heritage professional. The first question that needs to be asked is why the heritage assessment has apparently been carried out by Bates Smart, where an independent assessment by a qualified heritage professional would normally be required at the very least, in order to be even contemplating demolition. The impression left is that they were unable to find any professional unethical enough to sanction this.

Furthermore there is no such thing as "despite their grading of C...". These buildings are graded and therefore PROTECTED. Full stop. Councillors will be grossly negligent of their duties if they fail to uphold this.

The citation for heritage overlay HO7 that covers the entire market site and surrounding streets states "What is Significant? ... the south side of Therry Street between Queen and Elizabeth Streets (nos 97-141)." So the buildings HAVE been assessed by a heritage professional as significant, and there is no professional argument tendered to the contrary. Bates Smart and PDG apparently simply know better about matters completely outside their profession than the authors of the City North Heritage Review.

Councillors must surely at the very least require a professional heritage assessment to the contrary to dismiss the findings of the City North Review, otherwise the basis of the entire review can be called in to question.

The Mercat Cross Hotel. Same difference?
"yeah, we'll keep this bit cos people like pubs 'n' that. But not the actual pub ... just the facade ...
we need to make $$$$ from this thing ..."

If the Mercat Cross Hotel facade (which is really identical to the rest of the streetscape) can be retained and incorporated into the development, why can't the other significant heritage buildings?

While the development proposal would have it that these buildings "make a minimal architectural contribution to the precinct", they would never have been listed if that were the case. Furthermore a building's being "unprepossessing architecturally", setting aside the utterly cretinous nature of the statement, must be countered by the absolutely established principle that - particularly for industrial structures, this is NOT the criterion by which we assess heritage. The buildings have been listed by dint of being a typology worth preserving and which contributes to the traditional market ambience that is the basis for the entire overlay. If we can start knocking over C graded buildings for not being beautiful, then Councillors are placing large swathes of the city's heritage at risk.

Which Councillor would care to stand up at VCAT and argue against the next developer who wants to knock over any one of the C graded buildings in the City North Heritage Review (most of which are industrial in nature and not very 'prepossessing') after this?

Put simply, any Councillor who votes to demolish buildings that Council itself only recently nominated as C grade structures will be tendered to the wider community as having placed the entire basis of heritage listing in peril, and find themselves positioned alongside PDG, whose brand will enter into the growing lexicon of troglodyte, heritage-wrecking developers.

Thierry Street, from Queen Street intersection.

We cannot make the point strongly enough, this is a MAJOR heritage litmus test, and it will, if allowed to proceed, set an APPALLING precedent for the demolition of listed structures. This cannot be allowed to pass without consequence.

To date Cr Jackie Watts has been alone amongst current Councillors in opposing the Queen Victoria Market from the outset. This is some testament to how anti-democratic a body Melbourne City Council already is. There has been ample media commentary recently highlighting the fact that it makes more decisions in secret than any other Victorian Council.

PDG - Proudly Destroying Goodness

... and DEATH to heritage ...
The gerrymander handed to the business community, whereby unlike any other democratic election in the country, votes of these non-human ratepayers are given twice as much weight as actual human beings has not surprisingly resulted in electing a group of people who don't represent the community's view, which has been resolutely against the market's redevelopment from the outset (and yet somehow the redevelopment is going to inject $2b dollars into the state's coffers once people are served up the redevelopment that they don't want ... no we don't follow either ...)

And now these same people are preparing to vote to preserve their collective arses by wiping their own heritage rules off the map, because if PDG picked up their bucket and spade, it would certainly be curtains for a fiasco that has already lost its progenitor and Chief Advocate in the former Lord Mayor.

The Ghost of 'Demolition Doyle' Stalks the Corridors

We expect Team Doyle will all vote in unison, and the reality is they have the numbers. We know Cr Jackie Watts will be continue to abide by her record in standing up for the community ahead of vested interests and oppose it.

The Greens have been locked in with Team Doyle over the redevelopment so far, but Cr Rohan Leppert - who has made much of his record on heritage cannot possibly commence his Lord Mayoral bid with a decision to knock over listed heritage buildings.

We therefore look to the Greens and independent Cr Nic Frances Gilley to at least go on record as opposing the unconscionable.

Any Councillors who vote to demolish listed heritage structures for the benefit of their own redevelopment will most certainly find their record regarding this vote placed repeatedly and prominently in the public arena.

Tune in tomorrow, friends, to learn of the outcome ...