Richmond residents around the Ben Alexander Reserve on Berry St, south of Bridge Rd, are celebrating an unexpected win after VCAT overturned Yarra City Council's approval of an apartment building that would have overshadowed the small park.
After the council signed off on the planning permit for a six-storey development at 268-272 Church St, a group of affected residents formed with the aim of securing a reduction in the height and scale of the building and its impact on the neighbourhood.
Led by Abby Moret, the owner of Church St business Atlas Vinifera Wine Bar, whose courtyard would have also been overshadowed, the Friends of Ben Alexander Reserve created a petition, hired a town planner and applied to VCAT to have the planning permit altered.
When negotiations with developers Pacasa JV were unsuccessful, the group sought a review of the council's decision at a VCAT hearing, setting up a crowdfunding campaign to help finance it.
In addition to the building's impacts on the park, they argued, it was too large and failed to comply with an intended transition in building height along Lennox and Church streets, from taller buildings on Bridge Road to low-rise ones in the adjoining residential area.
In his decision following the May hearing, VCAT Member Michael Deidun agreed with them, and set aside the council's planning permit.
Referring to Yarra's temporary DDO (design and development overlay) for the activity centre, DDO21, which expires on June 30, the Member found the discretion to exceed preferred heights was limited by a development's need to conform with specific requirements, including, in this case, the height transition from Bridge Rd down to the residential area.
The proposal's failure to comply with the intended height transition and integrate with the adjoining residential buildings was in itself also grounds for refusing the permit, he said. With the park, even relatively minor overshadowing of public open space in inner areas was "a weighty consideration".