When former premier Steve Bracks was poised to sign off on the Commonwealth Games Village in Parkville in 2003, protesters fought bitterly to ensure it was largely low-rise housing.
They mostly won, with the majority of the 900 homes built on the site next to Royal Park kept to two or three levels, or within medium-rise apartment blocks bordering CityLink.
The tallest building was 11 levels.
But 14 years later, the developers have gone back to the government and successfully persuaded its planning advisers to recommend towers rising to 22 levels in the project’s final stage.
Planning Minister Richard Wynne is poised to sign off on the deal, which would gift Citta Propertyy Group and Frasers Property a windfall worth tens of millions of dollars.
But residents and community groups say 22 levels is far too high and the development must adhere to the original terms for the site struck in 2004.
Melbourne City Council also opposes the plan, which it argues is too high for the area and would overwhelm Royal Park.
“Royal Park is the most valuable, biggest and oldest park in the state,” said Joe Edmonds, a Parkville resident and member of the Friends of Royal Park.
“You could never do a development like this around the Shrine. It’s excessive and exploitative.”
Mr Edmonds said that if Mr Wynne allowed the change to the planning rules for the site, it would amount to changing the laws on the run.
“A free kick in front of goal when there is no justification,” he said.
Mr Edmonds said the community a decade ago had battled to stop any towers being built there.
“Back then [they] fought bitterly against those towers. They lost but they did succeed in getting the height limits put on. And now that’s just going to be whimsically overturned.”
When it was approved by the Bracks government, the masterplan for the development was to have between 900 and 1000 homes, in low-rise housing for most of the site – but with towers lining the freeway side to act as a noise buffer.
Now Frasers Property (formerly Australand) and Citta Property Group want a total of 1300 dwellings on the site.
The consortium is working with the state government’s Development Victoria on the project.
The consortium would increase the number of apartments by raising towers from their existing highest height of 11 levels to a range of new higher levels, the tallest being 22 storeys.
The developers are already marketing the first of the towers, and despite the government’s assurance affordable housing is a priority, the cheapest two-bedroom apartment will start at $602,000.
The consortium behind the plan argues that increasing the height of the apartments built along the freeway will allow 117 more apartments but will not increase overshadowing of the adjacent wetlands.
The Citta Property Group director in charge of the project, Alister Woods, could not be reached for comment on Sunday.
Earlier this year, Melbourne City Council planning chairman Nicholas Reece said the government should not change the planning rules for the site. He said the proposal was “clearly inappropriate”.
A spokesman for the Planning Minister said Mr Wynne would carefully consider the panel’s findings when making his decision.
He pointed out that the land was close to the freeway and away from more sensitive neighbourhood streets.
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