VCAT approves redevelopment of Dimmeys in Richmond

THE Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) this month approved the controversial redevelopment of the Dimmeys store in Swan Street, Richmond, allowing for a 10-storey, mixed-use building.

The responsible authority, Yarra City Council, refused a planning permit application for the proposal in February this year and the developer, Richmond Icon Pty Ltd, subsequently sought a review of the decision at VCAT.

The proposal involves the refurbishment and reinstatement of the building's external heritage fabric and inside this, the construction of two parking basements and retail and office space on the ground and first floors, with a supermarket occupying most of the ground floor.

Apartments would be developed above with some in a low block generally hidden behind the building's facade and the majority in an elliptical, glass-clad tower rising 8 floors above the commercial levels to an overall 10-storey height. 

The Council and objectors argued that the glass tower is not a quality design and not respectful of Dimmeys' clock ball tower. Further, it was argued that the tower would compete with, and diminish, the ball tower's landmark significance. 

The redevelopment proposal had already received approval from Heritage Victoria and an order had been issued stating that no party may rely upon heritage related matters or make submissions about heritage at the hearing. 

Other objections related to issues including traffic, overlooking, overshadowing, noise and other external amenity impacts.

In response, VCAT said that "it must be acknowledged that residents choosing to live in a Major Activity Centre must accept a lesser level of amenity than that enjoyed in a typical residential neighbourhood." 

The Swan Street Traders' Association supported the proposal, describing it as an opportunity to bring people back into the community.

VCAT found that both local and state planning policies provided support for the redevelopment proposal and called the tower an acceptable and appropriate addition to the local area.

In response to descriptions of Dimmeys as a "faded jewel", VCAT said the proposal "will rejuvenate and renew this jewel through the proposed new development and the combination of residential, retail and office use of the old and new buildings on the site."

Yarra City Council Mayor, Alison Clarke, said VCAT's decision would be sad news for many Melbournians, including the 370-plus people who had objected to the proposal.

"This VCAT decision is going to be heart-breaking for our community because it will tarnish a local landmark of which we were all proud," Cr Clarke said.

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