Adaptive reuse of heritage building Athol Place a powerful ground in support of proposed commercial development

by Ian Wright, Nadia Czachor, James Nicolson
30 November 2017

In brief

In the decision of Body Corporate for Mayfair Residences Community Titles Scheme 31233 v Brisbane City Council & Anor [2017] QPEC 22 the Planning and Environment Court upheld a decision of the Brisbane City Council to approve a development application for the adaptive reuse of a heritage building known as Athol Place and the adjacent development of a new eight storey commercial office building at 307 Wickham Terrace, Spring Hill.

The appeal was commenced by a submitter which was the body corporate for the Mayfair Residences, a 12 storey residential building located opposite the site. The key issues in the appeal centred on the bulk and scale of the proposed development, consistency of the commercial use with the planning intent for the precinct, the impact of the proposed development on the heritage significance of Athol Place and planning and community need.

In upholding the Council's approval, the Court held that the proposed development is one of substantial merit which allows for the co-location of medical services within a short walk to the Brisbane Private Hospital and provides for the revitalisation and adaptive reuse of Athol Place.

Proposed development of Athol Place

The proposed development comprised of two components. The first component involved the adaptive reuse of a heritage listed two storey Georgian-style terrace house known as Athol Place which was constructed in the 1860s along the street frontage to Wickham Terrace.

The existing use of Athol Place is for medical consulting rooms and residential flats. The adaptive reuse proposed the demolition of a dilapidated 1929 rear addition to expose the original stone exterior, removal of some internal walls, and use of the interior for a combination of consulting rooms, a food and drink outlet, and an interpretation centre showcasing the history of the building and its occupants.

The second component involved a new eight storey commercial building behind Athol Place to be used for offices and health care services (principally medical consulting rooms) as well as a rooftop food and drink outlet.

Brisbane City Plan 2014

The proposed development was assessed against the Brisbane City Plan 2014, under which the site was located in the High density residential (up to 15 storeys) zone and the High-rise residential precinct (special area 22) of the Petrie Terrace and Spring Hill Neighbourhood Plan.  The site was also subject to the Heritage overlay.

While the proposed development was impact assessable and was therefore to be assessed against the whole of the Brisbane City Plan 2014, the issues focussed principally on the code provisions for the relevant zone, neighbourhood plan and the heritage overlay.

Bulk and scale (plot ratio, site cover, boundary setbacks and building separation)

The Submitter argued that the proposed development was an overdevelopment of the site based on the fact that it failed to achieve the minimum setbacks and separation distances from all boundaries. The Submitter also argued that adjacent buildings had a plot ratio and site cover that was some three to six times the maximum amount prescribed by the relevant acceptable outcomes.

The Court held that while the proposed development substantially exceeded many of the quantitative standards in the acceptable outcomes, it did not conflict with the relevant performance outcomes (with the exception of the rear boundary setback) when the likely visual presentation of the proposed building is viewed in perspective and in context.

In reaching this conclusion, the Court found that the proposed development would be consistent with the existing modulated skyline and that its bulk, form and scale would be in keeping with the locality.

Planning intent

The overall outcomes of the High-rise residential precinct (special area 22) within the Petrie Terrace and Spring Hill Neighbourhood Plan Code provide for the reasonable intensification and expansion of an existing well-established use.

The Court found that the site is presently under-developed, the uses proposed by the development are specifically acknowledged to be consistent uses, the effects on neighbours are not unreasonable as character and amenity will be protected and enhanced (particularly by the reuse of Athol Place), and that the planning negatives typically associated with non-residential uses that the code seeks to guard against, are absent.

The Court held that the proposed development was a reasonable intensification and expansion of the existing use and did not conflict with the planning intent for the area as expressed in the overall outcomes for the neighbourhood plan Code.

Heritage impact

The Submitter argued that the proposed development conflicted with the Heritage Overlay Code for two reasons.

First, that extinguishing the original residential use of Athol Place for the first time in more than 150 years and demolition of the 1929 rear addition would have an unacceptable impact on the cultural heritage significance of the place.

In this respect, the Court held that the matters of heritage significance for a heritage place are limited to those stated in the Queensland Heritage Register, which in this instance made no mention of the 1929 rear addition. While the occupation of Athol Place as a residence is mentioned, the Court found from the context that its cultural heritage significance is tied to its "appearance" as a residence rather than its "use".

Second, that the size and scale of the proposed commercial building component would appear as a visually imposing contemporary backdrop immediately behind Athol Place that would impact on the heritage character and significance of the building.

In respect of this point, the Court again emphasised that the proposed development must be viewed in the context of the locality, which in this instance contains an eclectic mix of buildings including many tall buildings. The Court held that the proposed eight storey commercial building is not dissimilar to surrounding mid-rise buildings, some of which can already be seen as part of the backdrop of Athol Place.

The Court ultimately held that the proposed development will improve the interpretation and appreciation of the heritage significance of Athol Place by restoring, maintaining and providing access to the building for future generations.

Planning and community need

The Applicant developer argued that there was a planning and community need for health care services in the location of the site and that, when a proposed development involves the provision of essential services, the bar to establish community or planning need ought not be set too high.

The Court agreed, noting that the co-location of health care services within a flat, short walk to Brisbane Private Hospital will provide a significant benefit to the community and has synergistic benefits for both patients and medical professionals.

Outcome of the appeal

The Court concluded that while the proposed development was in conflict with some performance outcomes of the codes in Brisbane City Plan 2014 there were sufficient planning grounds to justify approval despite the conflict.

In dismissing the appeal, the Court noted that the proposed development is one of substantial merit located on a particularly suitable site and that the revitalisation and adaptive reuse of Athol Place is a powerful ground in support.

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