One of Queensland’s best-known architects, Langer designed the Department of Transport and Main Roads building to have wide setbacks and modern gardens all around the blocky, rectangular building.
The garden is in poor condition, with only remnants of Langer’s original design left on the Boundary Street end, and a car park at the Wedd Street end.
The developers put forward that Spring Hill was an ideal location for student accommodation.
“The development will provide a high level of service to the area in terms of high quality and functional student accommodation,” the original assessment report lodged with the council stated.
“The proposal will also improve existing currently underutilised site with services and an attractive built form, thereby contributing to the character of Spring Hill.”
But Spring Hill residents lodged 75 submissions almost entirely in opposition to the development.
Residents said the tower was oversized for its location, would cause more congestion and create an unacceptable intrusion into the private apartments in The Johnson.
McConnel MP Grace Grace made a submission opposing the development on heritage and suitability grounds.
“The site should be retained as an important, heritage-listed, architecturally designed park in the heart of urban Spring Hill,” Ms Grace wrote.
“It should be activated as a park which could complement the businesses of Boundary Street, and provide a green oasis for the current residents, as it did for me growing up.”
The Australian Institute of Architects also lodged a submission, writing that the design by Langer saw the western garden as a “significant garden setting in its own right” that has “strong cultural significance and should be protected”.
The developers significantly altered the original size and shape of the tower, reducing it from 16 to 13 storeys, reducing the number of rooms, and changing the facade so it would blend more with The Johnson.
“… It is important to emphasise that while the Langer plans for the site had been prepared by
Langer around the time the former Main Roads building was designed, there is no evidence that this landscaping and design, beyond the pedestrian pathway and grade changes, was established on the site,” their response to the public submissions said.
“Further, a third of the site had even been developed for car parking spaces to service the former Main Roads building.”
The developers also noted the gardens, while open to the public in the past, were not identified as public parkland by council or the state government.
Brisbane City Council city planning committee chairwoman Krista Adams said the council had been working with the developers for two years to reach a suitable planning outcome.
“The protection of the nearby heritage-listed Langer Garden is crucial and the application was referred to the State Assessment Referral Agency, who also supported the retention of existing landscaped areas in the garden,” Cr Adams said.
The state referral agency required the partial reconstruction of the surviving garden at the front of the tower, with a plaque attached providing the history of the garden and its link to Langer.
“Through our work with the applicant, they have amended their initial proposal to substantially increase the number of onsite car parking spaces to 67 car spaces and four motorcycle spaces and they have also increased the setback from Wedd Street which delivers more street appeal,” Cr Adams said.
“Council also used the information request to clarify the use of the building, which is student accommodation.”
The council is waiting for further information from the developers before a final decision can be made.
“We have heard the concerns of residents and we have used this time to work through our concerns with the applicant to ensure the final proposal is the best outcome and fits in with the look and feel of the area,” Cr Adams said.
Lucy is the urban affairs reporter for the Brisbane Times, with a special interest in Brisbane City Council.