Controversial property developer Tim Gurner – the businessman who made international headlines earlier this year for wading into the avocado-is-the-reason-you-don’t-own-a-home debate – is submitting plans to Yarra Council for a 12-level residential block in Collingwood. The 5100-square-metre site stretches almost 200 metres along Wellington Street from Victoria Parade in Collingwood.
Images of a large, resort-style white building, which circulated on Wednesday, are old images of the proposal development, the developer says. While the new images, above, appear similar, Gurner feels the old images portray his development unfairly.
“You’ve got to remember, not many people sit in a hot air balloon 100 metres above Collingwood, so not many people see it in that context,” he says. He’s referring to a birds-eye-view image from the old submission that resulted in the development being compared to a casino. “When you’re at street level this is going to look like a very, very, elegant building that will fit incredibly well in that location,” Gurner says.
An amended design with 12 – as opposed to the earlier-reported 14 – storeys across most of the site will be submitted this week to City of Yarra planning offices. (The building is still 14 storeys in one corner.) Other changes include adding materials such as timber and blue stone.
Yarra City Councillor Stephen Jolly, who says he has seen recent images for the proposal, cares less about the potential development’s size and is more concerned about its aesthetic and how it fits into the surrounding landscape.
“It’s not so much the height that we are concerned about – there are taller buildings in the area,” Jolly tells Broadsheet. “It’s the shape, the look, the style … it’s just the wrong place for that building.
“This building would be more suited to a place like Las Vegas or Monaco or Hong Kong – in those sorts of places you would expect to find a building like this.”
The development will go into a review process, which allows local residents to submit objections. If there are five or more objections, planning officers will make a recommendation to councillors, who will then make a decision on whether the development can go ahead.
Gurner is no stranger to the area, having developed several buildings in Collingwood over the past seven years including the Oxley apartments on Stanley Street and the Foy and Gibson precinct. In March 2017, his plan for a 16-storey building on Queens Parade was blocked by Planning Minister Richard Wynne after protests from residents.
“It’s an area I identified about 10 years ago when there was no one else down there,” Gurner says, when asked how he integrates new developments into existing neighbourhoods. “It was only eight years ago that we launched Oxley … and people thought I was mad as Collingwood was a very different place then. We had our display suite broken into every second night for two weeks with everything stolen each time, and it was burnt down once by squatters living in the warehouse.”
Gurner compares his Collingwood developments to those in the Meatpacking neighbourhood of Manhattan. From the ’90s onwards, this former industrial area and locus for underground clubs and subcultures in New York City saw massive development and now features mainstream attractions such as Highline Park (built on top of an elevated ex-freight railroad) and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
“When you go through the Meatpacking, some of the most beautiful buildings are the modern interpretations that sit on top of the heritage facades,” Gurner says. “They’re not trying to look like heritage facades, because you can’t do that, it just doesn’t work. It’s about creating a heavy base with something beautiful and ethereal that sits above it.”
When asked about the amount of development Collingwood has seen in recent years, Gurner thinks there may not be enough.
“We’ll look back in 30 years’ time and think, with the amount of housing that’s going to be needed, it might be under-done ... but it’s better that density is coming here than five kilometres away in the green suburbs.”
“I totally understand people would prefer it not to change,” he continues. “But we also need to house people in the future and Collingwood is going to be a major part of that. You have to be realistic that these things are coming.”
Indicative pricing for the proposed Wellington Street building shows one-bedroom apartments starting at $425,000, two-bedroom apartments starting at $520,000, and three-bedroom apartments at roughly $950,000 to $1.55 million.
Councillor Jolly emphasises that the local community is a vociferous one, and has fought and won battles to change development proposals in the past.
“Collingwood has a huge sense of tradition and community. We will get back on the horse and fight again if we need to,” he says.
Despite the criticism being directed at the new project, Gurner remains confident.
“I know when this building’s built people will look back on it and say, ‘He was right, it was the right design’, but because of the scale of the project it’s hard for people to see the details.”
Jolly doesn’t think so.
“I think a lot of people will be gobsmacked by the proposal,” he says. “I just can’t for the life of me, think how anyone could think that this building would be appropriate for the neighbourhood.”
Additional reporting by Jesse Burns and Tim Morizet.
For Melbourne’s latest, subscribe to the Broadsheet newsletter.