Today JDAP (the government Joint Development Assessment Panel) did its job and took the expert advice of the DAC (Design Advisory Committee) and that offered by the Fremantle Society to unanimously refuse the Gerard O’Brien 38.9 metre high proposal for the Coles Woolstore site.
The $80 million development had gone through council’s planning committee with a recommendation from DAC and officers of a refusal, and the mayor and councillors wrung their hands in frustration at not being able to pass the plans, as the extra height offered for this site in the scheme was only available for a building that met the criteria of ‘exceptional’ design, and councillors were not qualified to make that judgement.
The Fremantle Society has increasingly sought to commission experts to back our case in various developments, and today at JDAP we were represented by architects Ken Adam, Sasha Ivanovich, Ian Molyneux, and President John Dowson putting the Fremantle Society position and putting forward Malcom Mackay’s report, as he was unable to be there.
The experts commissioned were not directed by the Fremantle Society in any way and their conclusions were their own. In each case they concluded that the quality of the proposal was not ‘exceptional’ and should not be passed.
JDAP is normally very pro development and has angered many communities (and has passed some poor quality and damaging developments before in Fremantle). However, today they were cleverly led by the nose by the two councillors on JDAP Jon Strachan and Rachel Pemberton. Rachel Pemberton knew that JDAP had to make their decision based on expert advice and they had it from the DAC. She did contact various architects whose advice was scathing and backed up the DAC decision. She quoted architects who said ‘the plans were quite unremarkable and the hotel was out of proportion’, ‘the architectural statements on the corners are weak… the monomorphic facades suggest one use rather than the diversity they contain’ and ‘the design is a cacophony – designed by a committee and out of scale.’
We have already provided to members the three reports written for us by Malcolm Mackay and comments from Ken Adam.
Jon Strachan cleverly threw a little hand grenade by announcing that council had legal advice the JDAP may wish to see. The room was cleared and the advice given. It was obvious that the advice was – that in the absence of expert advice supporting the proposal it would be ultra vires for JDAP to approve the plans. The developer Gerard O’Brien, besides gnashing his teeth, fuming at the Fremantle Society before the meeting, and making up stories – ‘Alcoa left Fremantle because council wouldn’t support their plans on the Gas and Coke car park site’ (truth is they got their approval and then disappeared to Melville), hadn’t bothered to provide expert opinion to back up his claim that his proposal was ‘exceptional.’ His architect did quote comments from a Craig Smith, who interestingly didn’t seem to conclude that the design was ‘exceptional.’
JDAP voted 5-0 to refuse the application which would have been the tallest ever building in the town of Fremantle.
The Fremantle Society encourages developments of run down sites like Coles Woolstores (dismal after just 30 years), but wants to see good quality architecture.