The long-running saga of Centrepoint at Red Hill South has entered a new chapter, with an old application now back before the shire to build “a tavern and double-storey serviced apartments buildings [sic] and associated works”.

A significant change is substitution of double-storey for single-storey apartments. Twenty-six units were originally sought but this number was dropped to 21 during the VCAT hearing.

The site, close to the main Red Hill shops, now features the Epicurean Centre, approved at VCAT in 2008 along with a residential hotel that site owner Mr Joseph Alesci never built.

Centrepoint, particularly the Epicurean Centre, regularly draws large crowds that can cause traffic and parking snarls. It and the popular nearby supermarket, along with the Red Hill area’s growing population, often strain available parking to breaking point.

A $30,000 traffic management study for Red Hill is allowed for in the coming shire budget, “to identify and prioritise investments to improve road infrastructure, parking and traffic management” in the area.

Mr Alesci had originally applied to build the Epicurean Centre and the serviced apartments above existing shops and intruding into the coolstore building. The shire put a stop order on work begun on the second storey and the project proceeded no further.

The new application is remarkably similar to the original 2006 proposal, much of which is out of date, superseded by the first application to the shire and the VCAT approval.

It is to build the tavern, an unspecified number of two-storey apartments “and associated works including partial demolition, alterations and additions to a heritage building, vegetation removal, variation to the car parking requirements and the sale and consumption of liquor and use of council owned and managed land for the treatment of wastewater”.

Since much of this has been achieved, is is perplexing to know why it is part of the new application – unless it has to be if an amendment rather than a new application is sought.

For example, Centrepoint is served by a new wastewater system that treats effluent on site then pipes it to a nearby property for holding in a dam before dispersal. A liquor licence has long existed at the Epicurean Centre.

The old heritage Red Hill coolstore, which once held local apples for shipment by rail from the long-demolished Red Hill station, now houses the Epicurean Centre. The coolstore was partly demolished, altered and added to years ago after some spirited discussion at VCAT.

The application number is P06/1378.17, with “06” identifying the year in which the initial application was lodged with the shire. Bandicoot believes the “.17” has been removed from the code number and that the applicant seeks approval for the fresh proposal in the form of an amendment to the 11-year-old application.

In a decision dated 6 August 2008, VCAT members Anthony Liston and Ian Potts set aside councillors’ decision to refuse the Centrepoint application on a number of grounds, including that it was an over-intensive use of the site.

But they did not wholly approve what Mr Alseci and his company, Porsh, had sought, instead giving permission for a tavern and residential hotel – not strata-titled apartments.

This came about after Mr Alesci, when questioned, stated that the apartments did not include laundry facilities but that a common laundry room would be provided. He remained silent when Member Liston said that, without individual laundries, the units could not be strata-titled.

It appears Mr Alesci, or whoever now owns the site – the application was made by Southern Planning Consultants – has regularly renewed the permit application since 2006.

Parking was a contentious issue at VCAT and remains so. The original proposal provided 104 spaces for Epicurean Centre and other Centrepoint patrons and occupants and a vehicle space for each of the apartments.

VCAT considered 104 spaces was sufficient (the Epicurean Centre alone was permitted 120 patrons, requiring the lion’s sure of parking), but conceded that “the Red Hill South township is somewhat unusual in that there are very few car spaces available within the public realm”.

Current parking demand indicates that the site would be extremely hard pressed to provide a vehicle space for each of the apartments originally proposed as well as catering for the regular pressure from clients of Centrepoint’s other businesses, including the Long Table restaurant and a café.

Overflow on to roadsides where parking is banned and into spaces provided for people using other nearby shops and the new playground, as well as equestrians needing space for horse floats, exacerbates the problem.

VCAT took a sunny view of this seemingly intractable problem, stating that “patron number limits are relatively commonplace, they are not difficult to enforce, and in fact in this case only need to be enforced when there is evidence of an entrenched car parking short fall”.

It also took a generous approach to another problem – the plan for the site made it impossible to provide the 15% that must be set aside for landscaping. Generously, VCAT overcame this problem by permitting the applicant to “borrow” landscape from the surrounding bushland rather than order a reduction in the footprint of the proposal.

The tribunal also permitted the applicant to exceed the eight-metre height limit. This was “of no consequence”, its decision stated and, since the the apartments were not built, VCAT was proved right. 

But what now of any height limit on this small site? The application is for two-storey apartments. Since no one yet but the applicant and shire planners have seen the application’s details, no one but they know whether the two storeys are additional to the single storey that exists on the site, or whether the units are additional to that.

Nor does the public know how many apartments are proposed, and whether the proposal includes additional parking that will reflect the area’s “entrenched car parking short fall”.

These are matters for folk such as lean and nosey Bandicoots to pursue.

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