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Fitzroy residents say ACU development is a “monster in the midst”

Upset Fitzroy residents have been petitioning against a large new development planned by Australian Catholic University that they fear will impact on the area’s liveability.

The ACU’s proposed 14-storey building and underground parking lot has generated local concern about congestion and noise.

Residents fear that the proposed parking lot for 350 cars will cause severe traffic issues, noise pollution and endanger cyclists of Napier St, the narrow one-way street which will face the brunt of the development.

The development proposes to convert Napier St into a two-way street and place a roundabout at the southern end of the street, disrupting one of Melbourne’s busiest bike paths. Permit parking on the west side of the street will also be removed.

Napier St is also renowned for its heritage and conservationists fear that the development will destroy the street’s history, especially with part of the development to include building on top of heritage buildings.

The concerned residents formed the South Fitzroy Protection Group Inc (SFPG) to lobby for a more sympathetic development design to suit a small inner city suburb.

Group member Phillip Campbell said he doesn’t oppose the development but is concerned at the proposed size of the additions.

“We don’t oppose it, we just oppose the scale of it,” he said.

The first Development Plan (DP) was submitted in 1998 and was approved by the council and ACU constructed a series of new additions.

In 2016 neighbouring property owners were then advised by the City of Yarra of ACU’s proposal to amend the approved Australian Catholic University Development Plan in line with a Yarrar Planning Scheme clause to provide for new additions to the development.

Currently a development plan can lay out guidelines for future development, indicating on a map the propositions. But once the plan is implemented, pending Council approval, the plan is then exempt from third party notice and appeal rights for individual building projects.

“They’re taking advantage of the rules and pushing the boundaries of those rules,” Mr Campbell said.

“And to our view what they’re doing is they’re not being honest with what they intend to do with the total site.”

“We understand that the university needs to do things, but these things have got to be done in the right scale.”

The group of more than 115 residents lobbied for a public meeting with ACU representatives to present their intentions with supporting documentation to the attendees.

ACU has re-submitted its plans, but in a slightly reduced format which residents feel did not sufficiently take notice to what is required in the area.

At a recent council meeting, the council’s planning department agreed with the university, but the members of the SFPG lobbied individual councilors who voted unanimously to overturn the planning department’s decision.

The plan of the 15-storey building has now been reduced to 12, all on-street parking [to be retained?] on the east side of Napier St, and the removal of two trees.

But residents continue to find the designs problematic and unsuitable for the area.

Local businesses on Victoria Parade will also face the brunt of the changes, particularly those who use Napier Street for parking.

Athena Papas, owner of Scent of a Flower, says that the development will make parking her delivery van problematic.

“They’re going to cut back a lot of the parking,’’ she said. “We may have to park underground, but then we don’t know if that will be at a cost, or if we’re going to have designated spots for whoever has been affected,” she said.

“The other thing is security. If I’m leaving late at night, and I’ve got to walk through a car park, there’s no safety there either. It’s just a hassle.”

Ms Papas says that she understands the purpose for development, but says that the university should “think of the locals and how it will affect them.”

“If they’re going to bring more traffic into Napier St it’s going to become a very busy road again,” she said.

“They made it a one-way road 15 years ago, just to detain [not sure this is the right word?] how much traffic goes through.”

“It’s more for cyclists now because cyclists have [right of? ]way on the road, so you’ve always got to look out for things like that. If they make it a two-way it’s going to become like Victoria Parade, it’s going to be busy.”

Planning Minister Richard Wynne said he was aware of community concern.

“I’m aware that many members of the community are concerned over Australian Catholic University’s plans to develop in Fitzroy and I appreciate their sentiments,” Mr Wynne said.

“I would encourage the university to work with the local community to find an outcome that satisfies both parties.”

Mr Campbell said: “I think the university has taken a very arrogant attitude to the neighbors and to the community.”

“They’ve got their agendas and I understand their business imperatives but you’ve always got social responsibility and responsibility to the community in which you live.”

“I just don’t think that they’re willing to understand their social responsibility.”

ACU declined to comment but said in a project overview that the development would accommodate the university’s growth and “continue to provide the very best education to a changing, growing community.”

Mr Campbell warned the university about sticking to the proposal. “If the university goes ahead with the way they’re proposing, I think you’re going to have a community here that feels pretty betrayed by the council and the whole state planning department and you’ll see a reaction at the next election,” Mr Campbell said.

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Tina Hasiotis is a writer and researcher based in Melbourne, Australia. G'day.

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