At the second Council meeting for the year, a controversial planning application in Mt Alexander Rd, Essendon, was approved, the Flemington Hub was advanced in a new location adjacent to the existing centre, and Council will advocate for more mature trees to be planted in Buckley St to replace those removed for the underpass.
The meeting began, before a reasonable audience in the chamber, with seven residents asking questions of Council. All councillors were present barring Cr Lawrence who was on approved leave.
I asked two questions tonight about the Flemington Hub:
- Last year, there was considerable angst across the Flemington community when Council officers recommended spending $65m on the Flemington Hub and Debneys Park precinct. Council decided to allocate $45m on the precinct dividing this into $20m for the Hub and $25m for the precinct in the longer term and seek $20m from external funding. Given that no external funding seems to be forthcoming, would it be financially feasible for Council to redistribute $10m from the $25m funding pool to allocate $30m for the construction of the Flemington Hub, leaving $15m for external works (with the additional $5m for storm water harvesting), and to amend tonight’s resolution regarding the Hub to reflect this? The officer says there is $20m in the budget and the report responds to this amount.
Council officers responded that the $20m spend on the Hub was approved by Council in the 2019/20 budget as well as additional funds for design and planning. My second question:
- Thank you for responding to community concern about last year’s proposed location and for including in tonight’s report a recommendation that the Flemington Hub be built “adjacent to the current Community Hub and the existing sports pavilion (adjoining the current carpark).”Would it be possible to include this specific reference to location in the recommendation itself at point a?
The officer said this is a matter for Council.
Five residents then asked questions about a planning proposal at 957 Mt Alexander Rd, Essendon.
Freia asked two questions: her first question was about overlooking. The planning officer responded that the application meets the requirements of the planning scheme. Freia asked another question about balconies at low levels, and received a similar response.
Another resident of Richardson St asked why the application is being recommended for approval when it is 5 metres above the preferred height. The planning officer responded the height is considered to be an appropriate response. A follow up question was asked about the preferred height and built form for the Commercial Zone. The planner said it is appropriate for the Commercial Zone.
Kathy asked about the setbacks of the same planning application. The planning officer said the setbacks are appropriate given the Commercial Zone of the site and there is no unreasonable overlooking. Kathy asked about the overlooking and bulk – given that there was no revised shadow diagram for the revised plans released last Friday. The planning officer said the design of the building has been purposefully to limit overlooking and bulk to the neighbouring properties.
Another resident asked about the removal of the aged care facility, and the replacement with a facility that does not provide for social needs. The planning officer said the assessment of the application cannot consider this aspect.
Chris asked about the articulation of the proposal and how it could be improved to reduce the bulk of the proposal. The planning officer said appropriate changes have been made.
Michael asked whether Council would consider submitting an objection to the plans for 45-69 Woodlands St to Heritage Victoria. The planning officer said a report will be prepared for Council. Michael asked whether Council would consider purchasing the property. The planning officer replied that this is a matter for Council.
Council then considered the planning application for 957 Mt Alexander Rd, Essendon – being the construction of a multi-story mixed use building.
Cr Gauci Maurici moved the officer’s recommendation with an amendment to remove level 3 with no other changes to the remainder of the building. Cr Marshall seconded the motion.
Cr Gauci Maurici said while she has been concerned about the height, over-shadowing and non-compliant set-backs, the proposed condition reduces the impacts and the proposal is, otherwise, adequately compliant.
Cr Marshall said that she has been consistent in her desire to see applications meet preferred heights. She said the amendment provides a compromise and that other issues have been addressed.
Cr Sharpe said residents have been concerned about this proposal and she acknowledges the concern of residents. She said the zoning of Mt Alexander Rd was changed and the Design and Development Overlay has been negotiated to respond to the zoning interface with the residential properties. Cr Sharpe has argued for the need to comply with DDO3, but VCAT has approved proposals that Council has rejected.
Cr Sharpe said “councillors can’t refuse developments because they don’t like them”. She said the precinct is ear-marked for higher density development and it is unclear whether deleting a level will be supported by VCAT. She foreshadowed an alternative motion.
Cr Nation did not support the motion due to its non-compliance with DDO3. He did not believe it was a councillors’ role to amend planning proposals to make them compliant.
Cr Sipek said he has been on Council for a long time and he is concerned that when applications go to VCAT, Council loses control and “all bets are off”. He cites the example of the Church on Mt Alexander Rd that had conditions removed at VCAT. Cr Sipek says the same occurred for similar proposals in Mt Alexander Rd. He says the Caydon project was 22 storeys; Council knocked it back and VCAT approved 30 storeys. He says, “if it goes to VCAT, we might not get what we want”.
Cr Surace expressed concerns about parking and traffic. She said it is really difficult to make these decisions. Cr Surace said the Planning Minister called in the Caydon development and approved the 30 storeys. She can’t support the development. She said developments do have an impact on residential amenity.
Cr Cusack said he is concerned that the development is highly compliant. “It falls under the DDO therefore it will always be a site that will have some development.” He said the concern about VCAT deliberations is valid: “there is always a level of ambit in some of these proposals”. He referred to applications in Ascot Vale that were reduced at VCAT. He said he is inclined to support the motion as there is not enough in the application to run a strong case at VCAT past a negotiated outcome.
Cr Gauci Maurici concluded by saying the proposed position is a compromise. She said she does not think a refusal will succeed at VCAT.
Councillors Marshall, Gauci Maurici, Cusack and Byrne voted for the motion, the others against. The motion was carried on the casting vote of the Mayor.
Cr Cusack moved the officer’s recommendation with some amendments – although he did not amend to specify the new location for the Hub.
Cr Cusack included a requirement that the Hub specifically include a dedicated space to foster employment opportunities and micro-business; dedicated spaces for children, youth and older people; sports pavilions that are accessible; connections with outdoors; renewable energy and sustainable outcomes; digital technology to activate spaces; means to address community safety; and design that is welcoming and respectful for A&TSI and diverse communities.
In moving these amendments, Cr Cusack made no reference to the two years of consultation that has taken place with community embers and whether these amendments have been discussed or agreed to by the local community.
He also added points about consultation and continue to advocate for state and federal funding.
Cr Cusack said Council had two options: a) to partner with DHHS, or b) to use Council’s own land. He says the decision for b has benefits for Council and community. Cr Cusack mentioned spaces for mental health and homeless services.saying the Hub should be integrated with the outdoors and good landscape design. “I want to see this Hub to be a safe place for the community” and welcoming for all people.
Cr Sipek asks whether Cr Cusack would consider a minor point. The Mayor says the motion stands as it is.
Cr Surace said the Flemington Hub project is moving forward and the Hub will be located adjacent to the existing community centre. She said the spaces in the officer’s recommendation have been the result of extensive consultation. She said the recommended location also minimises negative impact on mature trees. She is glad the Hub is moving forward.
Cr Sipek expressed his support for the motion. He said that as an immigrant he recalls visiting friends in Flemington and would like to see a part of the Hub developed to recognise the history and heritage of the Flemington community.
Cr Sipek moved a minor amendment to this effect followed by debate about exactly how much space such a dedication to history would take. Cr Gauci Maurici asked what sort of space: “I would hate to see that interpreted literally” – she is concerned about the word ‘space’.
Cr Cusack said he has sympathy for Cr Sipek’s intentioned that there is relevance for the area and discussions could be held with DHHS and the Flemington Association regarding a history project. He thinks it is a good idea, but he can’t fathom it in terms of the use of the space. He says it might be an operational decision. He says the Hub was a great place to meet clients when he was a youth worker.
The amendment was supported by all councillors except Crs Gauci Maurici and Cusack.
Cr Sipek continued and said the word ‘community’ is the key word and the space for historical depictions can be small – “I’m not asking for a room.” “I’m not asking for half the hall.” Cr Sipek was happy to support the amended motion.
Cr Marshall said it is a difficult position to be in, but she doesn’t want to “cut off her nose to spite her face”. She said there is too much uncertainty to wait for the DHHS and there is further need for consultation on the use of rooms. She has concerns about the licensed children’s space as she was worried about it being a precursor for selling the Hopetoun centre.
She said it will be a two-story built form. She says it would be a pointless exercise to try to increase the budget and that last year was very divisive.
Cr Nation said the fact DHHS is not contributing to the Hub project is embarrassing.
The motion was carried unanimously.
Moonee Valley Flood Study
Cr Marshall declared a conflict for item 10.3 for reasons disclosed to the CEO, as did Cr Sharpe for residential amenity.
This motion notes the impact of climate change on Moonee Valley and the increased risk of flooding from significant rain events.
Several flooding hotspots have been identified for further work. Flood modelling exists to show how drainage and certain areas may be under pressure. The report is going out for consultation and residents can let Council know of any concerns or inaccuracies. The motion was carried unanimously.
Response to petition – Newsom St., Ascot Vale
Cr Marshall said Council has maintained a consistent position of residents maintaining their own nature strips. Cr Nation suggested residents refer to the Nature strip landscaping policy to learn what they can plant on the nature strip. While Cr Nation said “there are some things you can do without even notifying council … drought tolerant grasses and small plantings”, the policy says that only the planting of grasses can be conducted without a notifying Council and obtaining a permit. Carried unanimously.
Policy: “Any of the above treatments, other than growing grass, require Council be informed prior to commencing any works.”
Council Plan 2017-2020
Cr Surace moved the recommendation. She says 96% of the action for this year’s budget are on track to be completed.
This item was deferred from the last meeting. Cr Sipek said the Audit Committee has noted the report and advised that Council will need to make additional savings in coming years given the economic climate. Cr Surace and Cr Sharpe made comments about the revised budget and work done by officers. Carried unanimously.
Notices of Motion Quarterly Report
Considered procedural and carried unanimously.
Notice of Motion – replacement of trees following the Buckley St level crossing
Cr Surace moved that Council write to the appropriate body regarding the replacement of mature trees in Buckley St. The LXRA removed substantially large trees along Buckley St. She said this is a passionate subject. Cr Surace showed pictures of the trees that were removed and the pictures of the small trees that have been planted.
Cr Nation said some of the trees that were removed did not need to be removed and the project was hurried forward to meet the deadline of the state election
Cr Cusack disputed that the trees were 100+ year old trees. He says he recalls the trees being planted and that it was not 100 years ago. Cr Sipek asked, as a point of clarification, how old Cr Cusack is – raising laughter. Cr Cusack said Eucalypts might not be the best tree to plant along a median strip.
Cr Sipek supported the motion, but also wondered about the age of the trees that were removed. He says the trees that were planted in replacement are an embarrassment. “Seriously, that is a disgrace. They are toothpicks … these are embarrassing trees.”