West Melbourne residents outraged over hotel redevelopment plans
A proposal to redevelop the Miami Hotel in West Melbourne into a five-storey building over four parcels of land has angered locals who believe it will have a detrimental impact to the area’s amenity.
The City of Melbourne endorsed plans at its June 13 Future Melbourne Committee for the Miami Hotel Group to redevelop the site associated with the existing hotel at 599, 601, 605-609 King St, and 13-25 and 27 Hawke St, totalling 2761 square metres.
The proposed development includes a mixed-use 21-metre building containing a residential hotel, food and drinks shops, dwellings, underground car parking and the partial demolition and retention of heritage buildings classified as significant.
The land at 599-601 King St is currently occupied by two double-storey brick terraces built in 1875. Both dwellings are categorised as significant under the incorporated City of Melbourne Heritage Study Heritage Places Inventory March 2022 (the Inventory).
At 605-609 King St, the land is currently vacant, but remains categorised as a contributory heritage place under the Inventory, while 13-25 Hawke St is developed with a three-storey brick building housing the existing Miami Hotel, which has remained unchanged since it began operations in 1970 under the same ownership and management of a single family.
Echelon Planning stated that “in this market context, particularly in the post-COVID-19 economy, it is critical that the Hotel expand and modernise its accommodation offering to remain competitive and viable”.
However, controversy has surrounded the Miami Hotel Group’s request to the council that it seek an amendment to the West Melbourne Structure Plan (WMSP) so that the land can be rezoned from general residential to mixed use, and therefore making it exempt from a three-storey height limit, as well as “requirements for site-specific development with appropriate conditions”.
The structure plan was approved by the state government last May, and sets out guidelines for West Melbourne’s urban development, with strict height controls in place to preserve the neighbourhood’s character and to ensure appropriate building proportions.
But the decision to approve the plans has left residents fuming, as they believe the proposed development contravenes the principles of the West Melbourne Structure Plan, and that the increased height would impede the views to the iconic and historic Town Hall and undermine the “low scale nature of the area”.
“The ink is barely dry and an application to amend it – to support a development proposal that contravenes the principles of the WMSP – is already in the pipeline,” resident Bill Cook said.
“This action by the Melbourne City Council completely undermines the planning process. Why would anybody take part in any planning consultation in the future knowing the outcomes are only in place for a short time up to the next developer’s planning application that is contrary to the current planning scheme?”
Deputy Lord Mayor and planning portfolio lead Nicholas Reece said he understood the community’s concerns and their “confusion about what is going on with the site” but added “this is a very unusual application and it’s occurring in a very unusual context”.
“When the West Melbourne Structure Plan process was under way, it was a process which took many years … however, the planning panel that reviewed the West Melbourne Structure Plan recommended that the developer instead pursue a site-specific planning scheme amendment so that wasn’t a decision of the City of Melbourne – that was a decision made by an independent planning panel”.
“In accordance with that, the planning panel formed has indicated that they thought the site could accommodate a bigger development than what was currently allowed under the existing planning controls and as such, we’ve got the developer now under direction, if you like, from the planning panel, seeking to get this site-specific planning scheme amendment.”
Cr Reece emphasised that this is “the first step in a much longer process”, with the amendment to be publicly exhibited, “which will mean it will go out for consultation and all submissions that will be received during this process will be formally considered later in the process”.
Overall, Cr Reece said the Hachem Architects-designed proposal was an attractive contemporary design, and “if we get this right, it could actually be a real positive for West Melbourne”.
But the North and West Melbourne Association’s chair Kevin Chamberlin expressed his dissatisfaction, saying the council’s decision was “one of the worst I’ve ever seen on a planning matter” and “sends the message to every developer, town planner, and planning lawyer and the rest of the community that planning scheme controls stand for nothing”.
“To think the council would even consider spot rezoning which had been taboo for decades is unbelievable,” he said.
“I would be very surprised if the government agrees to this request. It’s important to remember that the planning controls for this area were put in place in May last year after years of extensive consultation. Who would want to take part in any consultation in future knowing it’s not worth a cracker?” Mr Chamberlin said.
The council has set a really unhealthy precedent and people are becoming concerned about major sites in North Melbourne where the council may support spot rezonings, the most recent being the United Church site close by that has just been sold to a developer.
Echelon Planning said the proposal “strikes a more sympathetic balance between the adjoining heritage streetscapes and complements the broader planning direction for West Melbourne”.
The council will seek authorisation from the Minister for Planning to prepare and exhibit the amendment known as C435. •