JDAP ‘breathes new life’ into Freo’s historic West End

JDAP approves Genesis redevelopment proposal citing need to bring ‘a breath of new life’ to Fremantle’s historic West End

Yesterday, 17 January 2024, the Inner-Metro Joint Development Assessment Panel – more colloquially known as JDAP – granted conditional development approval to the redevelopment of the heritage-listed Genesis Building at 49 Phillimore Street, Fremantle, on the corner of Pakenham Street, in the historic West End of Freo, citing a need to bring ‘a breath of new life’ for heritage buildings in the precinct.

The approved development comprises alterations and additions to the heritage building, including the construction of four new ‘multiple dwellings’ – more simply known as apartments – on top of the existing building.

Artist’s impression of completed development

In more recent times, the building has been known as the Genesis Building, for the travel agency that operated its business there.

More formally, in heritage lingo, it is known as the former Robert Harper Building, reflecting its 1920’s origins.

Supplied by Urbis and Heritage Intelligence

The JDAP decision follows months of prelodgement consultation between the project team of the applicant – the well known Freo-focussed Adrian Fini and Nic Trimboli – and the City of Fremantle before engagement opened to the public in November, garnering 7 submissions objecting to the proposal and 26 submissions supporting it. On 20 December, City of Fremantle Council expressed conditional support for the approval of the development proposal.

The building stands on a super landmark spot in Freo’s famous Gold Rush Era West End, and is richly steeped in history. Its ‘Inter-War Stripped Classical style’ is recognised by the National Trust, Register of the National Estate, and the building is included on the City of Fremantle’s Heritage List. It stands on the site of a former warehouse of flour and dry goods which burnt down in 1922.

And of course, it forms part of the remarkable Phillimore Precinct within the historic West End of Freo, just 200 metres from Fremantle Train Station – the gateway to Fremantle for many visitors.

The Heritage Council of WA describes the building in these terms –

Two storey and basement, painted brick and rendered corner building with a zero setback from the pavement. The building has a bracketed parapet and a dome above the rounded corner, which is covered with lead sheets. The main entrance has a stucco arch and glazed paneled doors with a stained leadlight glass fanlight, the windows have prominent stucco mullions flanked by engaged pilasters.

The primary point of controversy in relation to the DA concerned the apartment additions and the effect they would have on the heritage integrity of the building itself, as well as the apartments’ visibility in the West End streetscape.

The building is protected under two key layers of heritage: the State-heritage listing applicable to the West End of Fremantle, and as Level 1B Management Category denoting “Exceptional Significance”. Level 1B places typically require buildings to “Integrate with the area’s urban setting, established skyline, view corridors, form, urban scale and grain” and respond to the surrounding streetscape by respecting its proportions and materiality.

Building heights within this part of the West End are capped at 11 metres under the City’s Town Planning Scheme No 4, with a further 3 metres on top permitted on the basis the upper levels are staggered back from the street, although the Council can exercise discretion in respect to height should they determine there is an existing precedent set by a nearby building with a greater height such as the neighbouring Quest Hotel at 17.2 metres.

Artist’s impression looking north along Pakenham St, including the Quest building

The new upper additions would bring the total height up to 16.79 metres as measured from street level but designed to be setback at least 4m from the buildings frontages on both street boundaries in order to minimise their visibility at street level.

Extensive interior demolition is also proposed to make way for four office tenancies, including the removal of all ore recent additions like partitions, stairwell, doors, windows, and fixtures. A portion of the internal basement brick wall and steel pillars are also proposed to be removed for basement carparking.

The applicant argued the modern apartment additions and outdoor terrace to the top level of the building are essential for giving 49 Phillimore a “sophisticated, and contemporary reinvigoration of an important heritage building”.

For opponents this feature represented an unacceptable major change to the heritage integrity of the building and the West End, and if approved a worrying precedent that might encourage a range of substandard development proposals throughout the West End leading to an irreversible change in its character.

JDAP had little trouble in approving the DA. While the two City of Fremantle Councillor members of JDAP (Councillors Andrew Sullivan and Ben Lawver) dissented from the result, the appointed JDAP members (Rachel Chapman A/Presiding Member, Ian Birch A/Deputy Presiding Member, Diana Goldswain A/Third Specialist Member) determined to approve the DA with conditions.

In doing so, supportive JDAP members emphasised the high integrity of the proposal and their view that it will not negatively impact the streetscape, and will only have a minimal impact on heritage value.

More generally, the JDAP A/Presiding Member said the approval will bring ‘a breath of new life’ for heritage buildings in Fremantle, emphasising the need to encourage the respectful continued use of old buildings.

The point was also made by the A/Deputy Presiding Member that in a market economy the maintenance of privately-owned heritage buildings like the Genesis Building will inevitably result in approvals such as the present to ensure the continued conservation of old buildings. In that context, he said – acknowledging the strong views opposed to the DA being approved – the decision to approve the DA was a reasonable one on balance.

As to the unwelcome precedent argument expressed on behalf of objectors to the DA, JDAP specialist members considered that only respectful, well-considered development development proposals in respect of heritage buildings – such as the present one – will past muster.

We will bring our readers the more detailed reasoning of JDAP when they are released in due course.

* By Michael Barker, Editor, Fremantle Shipping News


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