Burt Street brouhaha

LONG-HELD plans by the WA housing department to rezone a prime parcel of land from R60 to R160, to enable a 200+ units development, moved a step closer Wednesday with Fremantle council’s planning services committee recommending approval.

The vote flies in the face of 47 strong written objections from residents surrounding the site, and ignored the pleas of 10 locals who’d turned up to express concerns directly to the committee.

Bounded by East, Vale, Skinner and Burt Streets, the elevated land is opposite John Curtin College of the Arts and near the Fremantle Arts Centre and army museum. Sixty-two Homeswest units housed in three-storey blocks were demolished some years ago.

The state government is keen to redevelop the site and says it needs the higher zoning to attract a private developer. It aims to sell most units, with just 15 per cent reserved for public tenants. Less than half the development overall is required to be “affordable”.

Neighbours were at pains to stress support for public housing but said R160 was too high—up to six storeys—and dense, especially opposite single-storey R25-zoned homes. They fear the project will lead to traffic and parking gridlock and result in an estate devoid of trees and open space.

“An example of well-planned high density is Cockburn Central,” said Eileen English. “Greenfield, multiple bus routes, train station, shops and entertainment. Burt Street has none of these attributes. No handicap access, not even a footpath.

“Forty-seven of 49 submissions objected to this. Councillors, I understand you’re here to support residents — is that happening here?”

Other speakers echoed her concerns, going into more detail about height, overshadowing, parking and traffic. Some said it was a simple fact that where there was more public housing there were problems such as “nuisance crime”. “I’m born and bred Fremantle but never more concerned than I have been in recent years [with] rapidly increasing social problems,” school principal and Burt Street property owner Jennifer Broz told councillors. “I have an intimate knowledge, sometimes too intimate, of public housing [and its association with social issues]”. While expressing support for public housing she said, “I challenge you to find someone on Burt Street who hasn’t had their car broken into or been subjected to violence”.

The department’s decision to welch on legally binding it to certain outcomes—and watering its commitment down to a memorandum of understanding—had residents crying foul.

“An MoU is not worth the paper it is written on,” Bruce Maluish told councillors. “The developer will be motivated by profit.”

Acting strategic planning director Paul Garbett summed up the reason for the rezoning bid as being the “owner of the site believes it represents one of very few opportunities for large redevelopment at a significantly higher density then previously”.

He argued R160 would be a “more efficient use of an important land mass”.

• Residents in the Burt Street precinct are fighting a losing battle to stop a massive rezoning opposite their homes. Front (l-r): Eileen English and Leighton Stringer. Middle: Elena Morgillo, Nanette Hassall, Christine Loundes, Rosalie Dwyer, Hilary Hodgson, Bruce Maluish. Rear: Dawn Featherby and Tony Morgillo). On the rock: Wayne Williams. Photo by Matthew Dwyer

• Residents in the Burt Street precinct are fighting a losing battle to stop a massive rezoning opposite their homes. Front (l-r): Eileen English and Leighton Stringer. Middle: Elena Morgillo, Nanette Hassall, Christine Loundes, Rosalie Dwyer, Hilary Hodgson, Bruce Maluish. Rear: Dawn Featherby and Tony Morgillo). On the rock: Wayne Williams. Photo by Matthew Dwyer

After more than an hour of listening to residents, deputy mayor Josh Wilson was the first councillor to speak, and the gallery was dismayed by the tone he set.

“There’s a value in increasing density, subject to caveats about how it is done,” he said, bluntly. “There is a need for greater density in WA generally and affordable housing in Fremantle especially.”

Rattling off a list of parks and amenities nearby that new residents at the site could enjoy, someone from the gallery heckled, “we’d like to keep our amenity!”. That sparked a testy reply from Cr Rachel Pemberton: “We’re working now!” which earned a rejoinder “oh, you’re listening now!”.

Committee chair Rob Fittock, who’d earlier allowed all speakers to exceed their allotted three minutes, growled at the gallery, “I’ll ask you to leave [if you continue].”

Cr Wilson won committee support to seek a reduction in height from 37 metres to 34 metres for the section fronting Skinner Street, saying “I do believe the height in that area has the potential to be out of character” but he made it clear he was, overall, a fan of rezoning.

“This development has the potential to be better than what was there,” he said. “I’m sure people here don’t see it that way but I’ve read every single submission and my view is clear.”

Cr Pemberton also strongly supported the rezoning, stating the site was well served by bus routes and the height  difference between R60 and R160 was “not massive”.

“I live in a 4-storey building and it’s pretty awesome really if done well,” she said.

She did admit to harbouring concerns that “we’re going to end up with big long rectangular boxes” but appeared confident the council could negotiate a good design outcome.

Cr Jon Strachan had a foot in each camp: “The applicant has every right to expect council will stand by the commitment it made in December 2013,” he said. “On the other hand, we have a very articulate community. It’s a difficult one for me.” He voted to support rezoning.

Crs Bill Massie and Ingrid Waltham opposed the recommendation.

“I see a lot of people from the community and that is who we represent,” Cr Massie said. “Putting R160 there does concern me. A smaller scale development there would suit the community very well.”

Cr Waltham said she’d “originally supported it when we had a legal agreement with specific outcomes for the city”.

“Now it’s on good faith. I’m going to seek more advice to gain more specific information but in the meantime I won’t support it this evening.”

The recommendation was approved four votes to two. It goes to the full council for a decision. If passed there, it will go to the WA planning minister as a formal request to rezone the land in the city planning scheme.

by BRIAN MITCHELL

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