Back from the dead

When was the last time a sizable apartment project began construction, only to fall over and remain dormant? It certainly doesn't happen that often, particularly now given current market conditions and a buying/sales frenzy over any viable piece of land throughout inner Melbourne.

I'm sure there have been plenty before, but for the life of me I can't recall any bar one: 392 St Georges Road, Fitzroy North. Taken at the turn of 2012, the lead image shows a sorry state of affairs onsite for Tranquility Apartments as then head contractor Maxcon witnessed a build fizzle into the ether.

Then developer Brooklyn Projects suffered the ignominy of watching their headline development falter, leaving the site an overgrown mess for the best part of three years. Definitely not the norm for Melbourne.

A Brooklyn Projects webpage screenshot with Tranquility. Image courtesy

But as is the case so often, the dormant site had passed hands quietly with revised plans put before Yarra City Council. Studio Antonio Calabro (SACBW) have assumed design duties on behalf of new owner Blue Earth Group and have proceeded with a revised design of 72 apartments over six levels.

Overlooking Merri Creek Reserve, the project looks to make use of existing building footings prepared for Tranquility. With one bedroom apartments beginning from 52sqm, the one and two bedroom complex will be known as Northwood.

In a quirk of sorts the site has gone from one developer - who clearly struggled to advance the build - to another who appears to have little trouble pushing out masses of apartments with minimal fuss. A case in point sees commencement of construction this month on Blue Earth Group's A Apartments project in East Brunswick without the project ever hitting the mainstream apartment sales channels; they have clearly mastered a winning formula.

392 St Georges Road reborn. Images courtesy Blue Wealth Property


Less empty sites doubling as blights on the urban landscape is a more than acceptable outcome, though this question must be asked: who is responsible for allowing a car park access ramp through the retained heritage facade?

A trivial issue in the grand scheme of things, but it does seem to defeat the purpose of retaining the facade to begin with. Certainly not the end of days, but it did bring forth an incredulous smile upon first viewing.


johnproctor's picture

re: your last question that would be the local Council (and VCAT) who wouldn't stand up to local resident angst and allow this development's residential traffic to have it access off the two residential side streets that provide access (Barkly Street onto Bundara Street).

Bundara Street is a quiet local street where children play and bikes gain access to the Merri Street trail and unicorns are known to frequent with 1000 butterflies landing on them while the local villagers play music on their front porch and enjoy the ambience.

All of that would have been ruined by an extra 100 vehicle movements a day using the street.

all a bit odd really.

May 2009 - original requirement to change access from Bundara to St Georges Road

October 2009 - final decision.

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Bilby's picture

This is not a "Trivial issue in the scheme of things", Mark. The "scheme of things" here is a vibrant city with a rich heritage, and this building damages these values and contributes to a growing problem which will continue to dog Melbourne unless something is done soon. There is no "Carbuncle Cup" in Melbourne, but if there was, this one would absolutely get my vote. This is possibly the worst treatment of a significant heritage building in Yarra for a decade. The carpark entrance right through the middle of the historic cinema foyer, the poor finish detailing and apparent loss of the original steel windows are literally unbelievable. And that is after one takes into account the utterly inappropriate facadism here. This was a great building, but if it is a choice between this form of the development or knocking it over entirely, I think it's time to admit that council and VCAT have utterly failed their own heritage standards here - and yes, demolish what remains. What a debacle from our planners - it is pathetic.

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Mark Baljak's picture

You and I have different a definition regarding 'The grand scheme of things' but yes you are correct in this sense.

Pallisco's Capital Gain section last Saturday had an article regarding Melbourne's very own Carbuncle Cup (second article)

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Bilby's picture

I prefer to narrow down definitions so we're clear what's under debate. Arguably planning anything in the Melbourne (let alone protecting our built heritage) is going to become irrelevant in the grander scheme of things if climate change is not addressed within the next few years on a global level, for instance - but I assumed you weren't talking about that sort of "scheme of things". I do think these smaller battles are the whole box and dice when it comes to the heritage side of planning, though. Melbourne is a city built up of layers of what the planning scheme refers to as 'contributory' heritage. What we are now seeing time and time again is a failure to adequately account for the specific nature of heritage in Melbourne - we have very few grand or "important" historic buildings at all, but what we do have is a significant collection of smaller structures, which taken as a whole (or as precincts), make up Melbourne's built heritage. Any losses in these local precincts and smaller buildings accumulate quickly, degrading the precinct and making any remaining buildings prey to the argument that a row or isolated building is no longer 'significant', 'contributory' or part of a heritage 'precinct'. This is the way most of Melbourne's heritage has been lost during the era of the heritage overlay. So if you think built heritage matters at all, then what happens to a building like this matters a great deal. Speaking of which, how about an update on the large proposal at 239-249 Johnston Street, Fitzroy? The façade of the existing Macrobertsons factory there is now going to be retained in the new development, so I hear (thanks to resident action) - but the incredible Lyric Star Theatre is to be demolished (Fitzroy's and one of Australia's earliest large purpose built cinemas. The amazing interior and roof structure of the Lyric Star is definitely worth a visit if you've never been.

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Mark Baljak's picture

Sounds like the making of an excellent article there, if you care to write it?

Will need to check on 239-249 Johnston Street, Fitzroy. I'm unaware

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Development & Planning

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