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Welcome to the January 2023 Edition of FitzTalk

In this 'bumper' issue we cover: 

  • Can non-indigenous residents do more to mark the contribution of First Nations leaders in Fitzroy?
  • Congratulations to Cr Michael Glynatsis
  • Design Development Overlays – The Future of Key Precincts
  • Yarra Council Meeting Schedule Changes
  • Committee News – getting organised for 2023 and beyond
  • Statutory Planning Update – Napier Street and Smith Street proposals
  • Smith Reserve Draft Landscape Concept Plan - Have Your Say
  • Know your Council … not any more
  • Focus on Palmer Street, Fitzroy
  • Wildlife sightings – good and not so good wildlife
  • Fitzroy February Festivals

From the Chair... Down Fitzroy Streets

We start the new year without two Fitzroy residents whose larger-than-life presence brought inspiration to our suburb. Both were recognised with State funerals. Uncle Jack Charles was often seen whizzing about Fitzroy on his scooter. He remained active in the arts and promoting the interests of First Nations’ people appearing most recently with another well-know identity, Kutcha Edwards, in the SBS TV series Kutcha’s Koorioke. Uncle Archie Roach’s songs about life on Gertrude Street and the First Nations’ people drawn to its community broke down barriers and rebuilt identity for people dispossessed of their country and often their family.
Listening to the stories at both State funerals further amplified the important role Uncle Jack and Uncle Archie played. It recalled many others who preceded them, worked with them and will follow them. The Yalinguth app tells the story of Fitzroy Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Download the app if you haven’t already. There are sculptures in Atherton Gardens and some buildings are marked with plaques. The former Aboriginal Church of Christ in Gore Street remembers Paster Sir Doug Nicholls and Lady Gladys Nicholls. Both played important roles with the Aboriginal Advancement League.
These recollections made me think that perhaps there is more non-Indigenous Australians can and should do to mark the contributions of Fitzroy luminaries (and others) to the struggle for First Nations recognition. One thought was a First Nations’ version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame along Gertrude Street to remember important characters and leaders – a Fitzroy Walk of Honour. It would have to be something First Nations people wanted and valued and had support in the community … please let us know your thoughts!

Congratulations to Councillor Michael Glynatsis

Fitzroy identity Michael Glynatsis has replaced Gabrielle de Vietri as a representative for Langridge Ward on the City of Yarra Council. A countback for the position was held in January after Gabrielle was elected to State Parliament as the Member for Richmond. Michael has been active in the community and is a member of FRA. He expressed his gratitude and told FRA he would be working hard to represent the community and pursue a positive outcome for the community in his role as councillor.

Design Development Overlays - The Future of Key Precincts

The Design Development Overlays (DDOs) covering a large part of Fitzroy’s major shopping streets (and a little bit of Collingwood) were put out for community feedback in September 2022.  Council received more than 500 responses. They have listened and responded to the feedback.  While there are many locations where the FRA feels buildings are too large for the amenity of Fitzroy residents, there were many wins, and the updated overlays are all the better for resident feedback. Key improvements include height restrictions for overshadowing public green spaces, mandatory height limits for Brunswick St, Smith St, Gertrude St, and some parts of Johnston St, and a decrease in some of the heights of potential development in the northern part of Brunswick St and on the corner of Rose St and George St.
The Council met on 6 December 2022 to discuss these changes. The FRA commended the Council for their collaborative approach with the Community and expressed its support for DDOs to provide clarity to all who live, visit, work, buy and build in Fitzroy.  
The Council agreed to present the DDOs to the Minister.  There was one late change which added “encouragement” for lot consolidation.  The FRA are reviewing the arguments for lot consolidation, but currently have concern that consolidating multiple buildings is likely to decrease heritage conservation, particular behind the façade.
The FRA will organise a series of discussions on DDOs and approaches to planning issues in light of the DDOs over coming months.

Yarra Council Meeting Schedule Changes

The FRA has expressed disappointment to Yarra Council at a special meeting on December 9 over the way changes to the meeting schedule were handled. The FRA Committee felt Council should seek broader community input before suddenly reducing the number of full meetings and planning development committee meetings. Councillors argued the move would allow more time for more direct, local meetings with the community. But these ideas were neither well developed as a proposal nor canvassed with the community prior to the decision.
The move was sprung on councillors and others on December 6 when Deputy Mayor, Cr Edward Crossland moved an amendment to what was an otherwise unremarkable motion on the notice paper rolling over last year’s schedule. The proposed amendment was to reduce the number of ordinary council meetings from 17 to 11 with a similar reduction in planning meetings. There was already disquiet in the community over transparency and access to council meetings. Cr Stephen Jolly, who was not at the meeting for personal reasons, moved that the motion be rescinded, which led to the December 9 meeting.
After observing the heat generated by this decision and the importance of council demonstrating good governance processes, FRA Chair Michael Spencer said: “If you feel there is a better way for council to operate. That’s ok. We will support an open, public, independent consultation process to improve governance. We encourage you to consider such a review and revisit this matter when the review is completed”. The majority of councillors ignored these pleas. Councillors Jolly and O’Brien supported the rescission.
While councillors Crossland and Wade attempted to explain the decision on Facebook the following day, the move attracted the attention of metropolitan media. The Age used this episode at Yarra Council as Exhibit 1 in a story headed “’Gamed by councillors’: How gag orders and secret arbitrations are stifling local councils” claiming meetings will be half the frequency of two years ago. While one councillor argued to FRA that metropolitan media seemed to have an agenda of vilifying Yarra, that only makes it all the more important that Yarra Council manages these sorts of changes well. The reputation of the municipality affects us all.

Committee News - Getting Organised for 2023 and Beyond

The FRA Committee has reached its full complement with Douglas Slaweski-Horton recently coming on-board. Douglas is a long-time member of FRA living in Rose Street. He brings a background in the arts – founder and artistic director of ChamberMade (Opera+) – and architecture. He is also interested in building links between FRA state and local government. We are keen for Douglas to strengthen links with Fitzroy’s artistic community and contribute, more broadly, to our community engagement activities.
The end of year and new year holiday period has slowed development of our new structure built around two core committees: one focused on planning and council matters and the other focused on building our broader community engagement. Deputy Chair Rachel Axton has taken on the role of leading the planning sub-committee and her work on the DDOs is evident in this edition of FitzTalk. She is also working on criteria for identifying which planning matters we will take-on and which we might have to let pass, giving particular focus and energy to matters that are of the highest priority. Stay tuned.
Greg Chenhall (Secretary) and Michael Spencer (Chair) plan to co-chair an engagement sub-committee to plan future events. The events will focus on education – how the planning system works and sharing ideas on sustainable living in urban areas -— and building a vision for Fitzroy to 2035. What ideas about sustainable urban living are emerging from our communities, our elected representatives, our schools and universities as well as the experiences of urban living from around the world? How do these ideas influence where our community wants Fitzroy to be in 2035?
Most of us have a sense that we would like to live in a community that is sustainable, inclusive and welcoming; one that provides inspiration and pride to everyone who lives, works and plays here. As a community we must define what that means.

Statutory Planning Updates

For many, the summer holiday period is a time to relax and enjoy a break, but not this year for the residents around 235 Napier Street and the south end of Smith Street, with planning permits advertised for two major developments. 

235 Napier Street, Fitzroy - PLN21/0375.01

In 2021, a planning permit was issued by VCAT to allow a 6-storey building on the corner of Napier Street and St David Street.  The building was to contain residential apartments and appropriate parking.  An amendment was issued to this application, and it was advertised in December 2022.  The updated design sees the removal of all parking in the building in favour two restaurants and a café which will take over all the ground floor and basement.  These will seat approximately 172 persons.  Above the ground floor the building will contain 43 hotel rooms.  
The FRA has conducted its own review and has spoken to residents in the area. We agree this development is not in keeping with the residential amenity of the area and will cause significant safety concerns for cyclists on Napier Street.  In particular, the design of the hotel is oversized for the block and exceeds the proposed Design and Development Overlays. It will cause overshadowing and wind tunnelling. The proposal is based on an unrealistic expectation that no-one will drive to the hotel / restaurants. This will place significant strain on the area.  But most of all, the noise at all times of the day and night associated with 3 venues and a hotel will be high, as patrons move from venues and are dropped off and picked up in taxis and Ubers.  
While 235 Napier is located on a mixed-use zone, it fronts a neighbourhood residential zone and as such we believe any such development needs to be considerate to the residential amenity of those already living in the surrounding streets.  A full copy of our objection will be loaded to the FRA website.  

40-44 Smith Street, Collingwood - PLN22/0598

In Collingwood, a proposal has been submitted to remove one building and to gut the two next to it in favour of a 10-storey mega apartment at the southern end of Smith Street.  The FRA has supported the South Smith Street Group by adding an objection to the height and bulk of this building which far exceeds the proposed Design and Development Overlays.
You can add your objection (or support for) these buildings by searching for the planning permit on the Yarra Council Website.

Smith Reserve Draft Landscape Concept Plan - Have Your Say

Yarra Council have announced that they are developing a draft landscape concept plan for Smith Reserve.  This is the small Reserve on Alexandra Parade, next to the Fitzroy Pool. 

The concept plan will set out a vision for this space and guide upcoming works to ensure the park caters for the Fitzroy community now and in the future.  Yarra Council encourages everyone, especially those who use the park to share their feedback and ideas to help shape this master plan.  The first phase of the consultation will close on Monday 20 February 2023.

You can add your thoughts the Your Say Yarra page.

Know Your Council... Not Any More!

The Department of Local Government has quietly taken down a website that it created in 2015 to provide information and transparency about the performance of local councils. In 2015, it was described as: “… a valuable resource for residents, ratepayers and the general community, as well as councillors, council staff and other stakeholders including local government sector peak bodies, research bodies, state government and academics”.  However, the site was decommissioned recently “due to the technical platform becoming unsupported”. FRA was told Local Government Victoria would be working (future tense!) on a new site with a wide range of features. “There is no set date yet for when the new site will be available.” With municipal elections due in October 2024, it will be interesting to see if the website is replaced by then. In the meantime, people who are really keen can try to crunch the data themselves from a spreadsheet provided by the Department.

Friends of the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens (FREBCG) World Heritage Update

Submissions on the 137 page “Overview” component on a new World Heritage Management Plan are due by 17 February 2023. The FRA will lodge a submission focussing on
  1. Congratulating Heritage Victoria on the new governance policies in the Overview document
  2. The clear need for State Government funded resources to service the Steering Committee and for entities such as the City of Yarra, City of Melbourne and Museums Victoria to perform their (now better defined) roles
  3. The need for the Steering Committee to have a Community Advisory Group
Hearing have been set for interested parties to present on aspects of the World Heritage Environs Area Strategy Plan to the Victorian Heritage Council. The FRA put forward a submission but will not present at the hearings. The Friends of the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens will present alongside other parties.

Focus on Palmer St, Fitzroy

There are many streets throughout Yarra which are looking neglected. Palmer Street, Fitzroy was highlighted in The Age on January 6 2023. Palmer Street is a mostly residential street with a mix of terraces, cottages and flats. It is bookended by flats and a carpark of the Brotherhood toward Brunswick Street, and at the Nicholson Street end by Catholic Girls School. Yarra Council successfully planted additional trees along the street in recent years. The existing footpaths have significant trip hazards, infrastructure is not resolved (and is unsecured) along the street and the street appears to be a dumping ground for rubbish from visiting cars — leaving the fortnightly street cleans inadequate.

Residents are starting to talk to one another about the improvements needed and raise issues which will be sent to Councillors in due course.

Meanwhile: Take Heart - Some Wildlife Sightings

Late last year, Fitzroy resident Penny Algar was following a family of Tawny Frogmouth that had taken up residence on the fringe of Atherton Gardens. The birds (often mistakenly listed as owls) could be seen perched during the day before taking off in search of food at night. Tawnies are at risk in urban areas because they hunt moths and insects mid-air. They are vulnerable to being hit by cars as they chase moths attracted to car headlights. When they are hunting on the ground they are prey for feral cats and dogs and may pick up snails, insects and sometimes mice that have consumed a bait that poisons the Tawny.
There was also a report of a snake being spotted in Atherton Gardens amongst the mulched area on the Town Hall (north) side of the gardens around Christmas. A warning by a dog walker recently using the park this summer.
Spotted just off George Street near Victoria Parade a red fox scavenging for food – in this case a discarded ham and cheese toastie from McDonalds.
Foxes are common in urban areas. Fox Scan records sightings in the Fitzroy and Carlton Gardens as well as some street sightings. While foxes can appear quite cute from a distance, it is important to remember they are a predator species that, as well as picking up discarded food, prey on small native mammals and domestic pets. According to one expert quoted by the ABC, “they love nothing better than poultry”.  Some simple reminders: don’t leave any sort of food scraps lying around, prevent foxes getting under your house, secure chook pens and, if you have a backyard with chooks or vegetables, make it fox-proof.

Fitzroy's February Festivals

Victoria’s Pride Street Party
Gertrude and Smith Sts
Sunday 12 February 11.00am to 9.00pm
Click on the above link for information and to access a locals info sheet.

Johnston Street Fiesta
Johnston St (between Brunswick St and Nicholson St)
Saturday 25 February 12 midday to 11.30pm
Sunday 26 February 12 midday to 9.00pm
Click on the above link for info and to get to the Fiesta website.

Many thanks to the Contributors of this issue:
Michael Spencer, Rachel Axton and Greg Chenhall

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