Pyrmont tower rejected after months of to and fro

by William Brown Last Updated
Crown Sydney to open doors on December 28 but casino to remain shut

The Star Casino has been dealt a major blow with its $530 million luxury casino and apartment tower plan rejected by the state’s planning commission.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Wednesday afternoon that the Independent Planning Commission found the “overly obtrusive” 237-metre building should not proceed.

There were concerns from the commission that the 66-storey tower was “inconsistent with current strategic planning for the site and locality and fails to promote the orderly use and development of land.”

The commission sided with the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment’s negative assessment of the plan.

The commission said on Wednesday the development would “result in unacceptable built form, including a tower of a height which is overly obtrusive and that will result in unreasonable and unacceptable impacts with respect to view loss, visual impact, and overshadowing.”

The project’s refusal is likely to spark furious opposition from The Star, business groups and the tourism sector, who all argued the project would draw tourists and ease a shortage of luxury hotels.

The decision will be welcomed by residents though and the majority of members of the City of Sydney council, who argued the project was out of character.

The Star lodged ambitious plans for a luxury 220-room Ritz-Carlton hotel and 204 residential apartments as part of a half-billion dollar power play in 2008 to lure wealthy Chinese tourists to the Harbour City.

The proposal also included a neighbourhood centre, library and function spaces.

There were more than 25 submissions against the plan, prompting the Independent Planning Commission to get involved in June.

The department’s rejection of the proposal unleashed a torrent of criticism from some development players and high-profile media supporters of the tower, including 2GB’s Alan Jones.

The results of a review by the Greater Sydney Commission on Pyrmont’s planning controls recommended developing a masterplan for the Pyrmont precinct considering the character and potential of its various districts, establishing a timeframe and options for implementation.

The three member panel said they considered the findings of that review and acknowledged The Star’s proposal was “located within a precinct which is evolving in terms of strategic context.”

“The commission takes the view that the outcomes of the Pyrmont review support an assessment of the application on merit against the existing statutory framework and strategic context of the area as opposed to a potential future context which at this stage is not yet known.”

City of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore said the decision was “a win for the integrity of the planning system, for the community and for fairness.”

“The casino proposed a tower eight times the height allowed by the planning controls, which would have included 35 storeys of luxury residential apartments on a site zoned for commercial activity as well as overshadowing public spaces and parkland.”

Proposed Star building a challenge for architect

An architect appointed to review the contentious proposal for a residential and hotel tower at the Star Casino in Sydney described the building as “challenging to the eye and the mind”.

Architecture AU reported in September the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment determined that the proposal should be refused planning permission in July 2019.

The proposed 237-metre-tall tower, designed by FJMT, was deemed to be “unduly prominent”, “over assertive” and “not in the public interest”.

The IPC appointed architect Yvonne von Hartel to peer review the previous assessment by Peter Webber, a former New South Wales government architect, with the aim of assessing “the robustness and validity of the independent assessment and design advice.”

Von Hartel was also tasked with reviewing a number of other peer reviews and assessments produced as part of the approvals process.

Von Hartel’s assessment is even more critical of the proposal than Webber’s assessment on a number of points.

“The built form of the proposed development is challenging to the eye and the mind; a tower that tapers inwards at its base is contrary to ‘common sense’; the eye expects a thickening at the base not a constriction,” she writes in a section on built form.

“The tower itself is not sleek – rather it is a combination of cylindrical and part of cylindrical forms which start and stop apparently randomly. The tower is striated – two horizontal breaks in regular floor to floor height and possible façade treatment (depending on the artistic licence shown in the renders).”

Von Hartel is also more critical of symbolic issues of the proposal.

“The proposed residential and hotel tower draw attention to the attached casino,” she said.

“If the development proceeds, it will be so much taller than any currently permissible development in the future and the singularity of a tower in Pyrmont and its disturbing built form will mark it as an intrusive object in the skyline.”

One issue Von Hartel takes with Webber’s report is its “limited” comments on the built form and the selection of the FJMT design over two others that were part of a design competition for the project.

“He suggests that the selected design is the best of the three competition designs and acknowledges that the preferred design is still problematic.

“He does not define why he thinks the selected design is the best of the three completed designs, suggesting only that it could be an elegant three-dimensional form when viewed as an isolated object, but not when placed in this location as it has no sympathy with its urban context.”

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