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28 April 2021
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La Trobe Street skyscraper to tower over Mint and acclaimed apartment building

Posted On November 21, 2016

Plans for a 70-level skyscraper that will tower over one of Melbourne's most celebrated apartment buildings, and the historic Mint complex, has raised the ire of residents and a prominent city planner.

On Saturday, Planning Minister Richard Wynne gave the nod to a hotel and apartment tower at 383 La Trobe Street, to replace an office building used by the Australian Federal Police.

An artist's impression of the proposed tower, from Flagstaff Gardens, and how it would dwarf the Republic building.

The skyscraper will be precisely double the height of the acclaimed Republic tower next door (below). Designed by architect Nonda Katsalidis and completed in 1999, the Republic is recognised as one of the city's best residential towers.

It has just 87 apartments, compared to the almost 500 units and 200 hotel rooms planned in the new tower next door.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 08:  Photo of Republic Tower - cnr Queens and Latrobe Street on March 8, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Luis Ascui/Fairfax Media)

The new tower breaks density rules put in place by Mr Wynne and will have a major impact on all apartments on the western side of the Republic tower. Many have views of Docklands and the West Gate Bridge to the west that will go when the new tower rises.

Residents in the apartments were not consulted by the minister about the new tower next door. "The minister failed to understand the architectural contribution of the Republic Tower," said the chair of its owners corporation, David Suder.

The owners corporation said the lack of consultation was alarming.

"A government that claims [to be] "Putting the People First", as indicated on the minister's media release, would have at least made the minimal effort of sending a letter to the nearby affected stakeholders," a statement from the owners corporation said.

The tower is being developed by Sterling Global, a relative newcomer to Melbourne. The firm is Melbourne-based but owned by Chinese-born Qi Qi Li, and draws some of its capital from Asia.

An artist's impression of the tower and how the street corner would look before and after the development.

Mr Wynne said he approved the tower because, while it broke his own height and density rules, it would provide a public benefit. A government statement said this included a new arcade featuring video art installations, to run between La Trobe and Little Lonsdale streets.

The project will have a "plot ratio" – the amount of floorspace being created compared to the size of the site it is on – of 29 to 1.

The minister is about to sign off on rules compelling plot ratios of 18 to 1 unless buildings provide exceptional public benefits. He has been highly critical of his predecessor Matthew Guy, for signing off on very high towers on tiny sites.

RMIT's Professor Buxton said that approving the tower showed how easily the government would bend the rules.

A 70-level tower on La Trobe Street was, he said, unacceptable and precisely the sort of thing Mr Wynne's new planning rules were meant to prevent.

"The so-called public benefits of this tower show how susceptible the new controls are to manipulation," Professor Buxton said. "Melbourne urgently needs the certainty of inflexible rules to control high rise. Instead the government allows exceptions which quickly become the rule."

The designer behind La Trobe Street's Republic tower was philosophical, saying it was a big site and the plan, by world-renowned French architect Jean Nouvel and local firm Architectus, was excellent.

"I'm not that precious," said Mr Katsalidis. "It's quite a good building, and it's got significant setbacks. Everyone would prefer nothing – but that's just not what happens.


Source: The Age

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