A sore thumb on Johnston Street?

An interesting if not potentially controversial planning application in focus for today's article. Lodged in recent weeks with Yarra City Council, the application involving 62-70 Johnston Street, Fitzroy seeks the approval of a seven level residential building in and amongst the eclectic grandeur of Fiztroy's Johnston Street precinct.

Going through the particulars, the application was lodged by Ridolfi Architecture in conjunction with Sophie Jordan Consulting on behalf of Terrapee Glen Pty Ltd. With 53 apartments over 6 retail tenancies, the application would see 20 vehicle spaces and 53 bicycle bays within one basement level accessed via a service lane to the site's rear. The 760sqm site is unique in that it is the odd structure out in this section of Johnston Street, characterised by lowrise, late nineteenth century buildings and covered by the South Fitzroy Precinct heritage overlay. In contrast the existing site structure dates from the late twentieth century (below) and carries no heritage character or significance, opening the door for the 23.8 metre high application with considerable Johnston Street frontage.

Of the 53 intended apartments, 43 would be single bedroom options, 9 would carry dual bedrooms leaving a solitary three bedroom apartment. Given the immediate area's demographic profile, one could understand the skewed tendency toward single bedroom apartments, with likely buyers to be young owner-occupiers or investors with rental prospects in tow.

To highlight the sensitive environment which this building seeks to insert itself into, the associated heritage report provided by Lovell Chen goes into great detail regarding the nature of surrounding buildings. To the subject site's east lie "A row of double-storey rendered brick shops, the easternmost of which addresses the corner of Fitzroy Street. These shops were constructed in 1902. West of 62-70 Johnston Street sits the Kinnaird's Buildings, a row of five double-storey shops with residences above. "This building was constructed in 1891...and is identified as individually significant within the precinct."

Seemingly out of context with surrounding buildings, the application does touch upon recent developments in the area to strengthen its cause. The former Bullring at 85-87 Johnston Street was developed into a five level apartment and retail complex while adjacent to 62-70 Johnston Street lies Abito Apartments, although at seven levels it is set well back from Johnston Street with a Fitzroy Street address.

Immediate surrounds aside, the proposal calls for a four level podium setback 1.6 metres from Johnston Street. Ground floor will carry dark glazing while the following three levels will feature a satin white facade and broken into six distinct elements. The podium height and colour serves to continue the existing building height and bulk of Johnston Street, for lack of a better word camouflaging its presence to the average passerby.

Level five maintains a 3.7 metre setback to Johnston Street, while levels six and seven incorporate setbacks of 5.8 metres and 8.9 metres. Ridolfi Architecture have defined these stepped back upper levels by incorporating a aluminium mesh facade and darker precast elements, providing heavy contrast to lower levels. The southern aspect will include limited setbacks of between 1.5 and 2 metres, while all Johnston Street podium balconies will be 1.6 metres deep with high balustrades; in effect limiting what the average pedestrian could see from street level.

Citing the heritage report once more, the crux of this development is found with a number of pertinent question posed by relevant Yarra City Council heritage overlay guidelines, they include:

  • Whether the location, bulk, form or appearance of the proposed building directly affect the significance of the heritage place
  • Whether the location, bulk, form or appearance of the proposed building keep within character and appearance of adjacent buildings and heritage place
  • Whether the proposed works will adversely affect the significance, character or appearance of the heritage place
  • Does the intended development respect the pattern, rhythm, orientation....and heritage character of the surrounding historic streetscape
  • Will the intended development be visually recessive and not dominate the heritage place

You, I and council planning staff will most likely come to the same conclusion when considering the above factors, yet a number of contemporary apartments buildings in the area do lend weight to this planning application gaining approval. Ultimately though it's yet another proposed development that like many others, will be monitored by until a result is announced.


MelbourneGuy's picture

Looks like a nice development imo, especially compared to what's there now.

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Rohan Storey's picture

Yes too big, or rather too big too close to the street line. I much prefer the old CBD podium and tower approach - a streetwall at similar height to neighbours, then a substantial setback for anything taller, about 10m is good given the width of Melbourne's streets.

Otherwise you end up with this sort of mountain effect, where the eye is led inevitably to the taller parts, which, though setback, effectively rise up from the street. Not ideal in a heritage streetscape.

So in this case, would be better with a greater setback for the 5th level.

Though having said that, the height of developments in the immediate area are gradually increasing, building on each other. From four a few years ago, to five to six, now this is the second 7 level one that isn't next to almost as tall buildings. So too tall for the general as opposed to immediate context, given its stong heritage character, I would think.

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