Thursday, October 23, 2014

Melville Street UTAS proposal: Questions that must be answered!

I’ve received some pretty concerned emails over the UTAS Melville Street proposal.  It’s clear that, despite have to declare a non-pecuniary interest, I strongly support tertiary education as a growth sector for Hobart.  (See earlier blogs.)  Yet in the interests of fairness, the rest of the Aldermen are being asked to set aside the City of Hobart’s Planning Scheme when it comes to zoning, use, heritage, density and height. 

Does the University’s case stack up?

Have a look at the reports (, look at the reports for 20 October, 2014)

Think how you’d be responding to these planning questions Aldermen should be asking:

How does it compare and contrast to the area’s core existing built characteristics listed below?

The scale along the streets is mostly two – three storey buildings stepping up the slopes.

There are low level stepped awnings that provide effective shelter for pedestrians/shoppers.

The existing streetscapes are continuous streetscapes with lanes and slots that allow views back into the depth of the blocks and often through the blocks.

Buildings in the area have generally low scaled sky line views from opposite sides of streets.

The sense of building forms is one of stepping up the slopes at a human scale. 

There is a dominance of churches and spires that mark the whole of the area, as reference points and height markers and are also broadly viewed across the tops of buildings giving them a three-dimensional quality within the whole landscape.  The current proposal is higher (40.32metres) than the State Library building (14 stories).  Arguments that it compares to the Trinity Hill church ignore that fact that the site is meant to be a transition zone between the residential and core commercial zones of the city where a 12 metre height is the limit.

Looking from adjacent streets, there are well-scaled sky views across and around the site, even though while some of those views do have larger buildings in them they do not dominate the views.

The existing buildings are generally characterised as having an extensive variety of form, material, shape and heights.  They present as “fine-grained” compared to the development application.


Does this proposal achieve conservation outcomes that could not otherwise be achieved if the proposal complied with the zoning and other controls in the Scheme?

Zone Objectives

Does the proposal satisfy the zone objectives?  In other words, is the use being proposed consistent with the planning scheme and existing uses of the area?

Does the proposal demonstrate that it does not have adverse impacts on surrounding properties through its design, interface, height, bulk, scale and use?

Precedent for future development applications

Does the granting of the discretion permanently shift the interpretation of discretion for these planning precincts for future developments?  In other words, set a precedent that is harder to argue against?

As the planning precincts call for mixed use, and given that the major use (student accommodation) is secondary in planning considerations, what precedent does this set for future interpretation of the planning scheme?  In other words, are strategic considerations in how the city is shaped to be set aside for one particular use?

Why can’t the proposal be re-designed to activate the street frontages with other retail and commercial functions of a small scale in order to maintain the city streetscape?

Strategic approach to affordable student housing

Given the numbers of students wanted in the area by UTAS (apparently students like to congregate), why has such a proposal, given the scale, bulk and height, not been proposed for the Sandy Bay Campus?  Earlier Management Plans for the Sandy Bay campus included student accommodation on the rugby field and yet this was never properly followed up.  Indeed, why not spend the $75M on student accommodation across the city as well as providing social hubs and connecting transport with the City’s three campuses?  There are many other public and private sites. 

Is the funding mix/guidelines the problem?  Is the University’s student housing strategy dictated to by the funding mix/guidelines or is it developed in accord with Hobart’s Strategic Plan and Planning Scheme?

Is the application consistent with Hobart as a human scale city?

And if we compare and contrast this development application against the Gehl Report’s recommendations* for maintaining a human scale city, how does it stack up?

How will the proposed height protect Hobart’s pleasant climate against strong winds?

Will approving the application create a defacto building height strategy?

Will approving the application cause a spread of high that  overtake the pleasant low, intimate city streetscape and affect climatic conditions negatively?

Is the present average building height of three to six stories in fact the optimum for Hobart to maintain its difference in a world where cities with high buildings are dark cities, where very little sunlight is allowed to reach the street level?

Will Hobart’s point of difference as a city of low rise and finely detailed city streetscapes be lost if this development application’s height and finishes fails to reflect older low rise city fabric?

Does the development application fit in with neighbouring buildings in terms of scale, building heights and relationship to surrounding public spaces?


*Hobart Public Spaces and Public Life 2010 (Gehl Architects, recommendations, page 106)

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