Mounting opposition to Melbourne’s high-rise retirement village

  • Aisha Dow

Most people wouldn’t be too worried about having a retirement village next door, after all nursing homes tend to attract a type of neighbour unlikely to be the instigator of raging parties or burnouts.

But a unique proposal in the municipality of Glen Eira has many residents up in arms for a very particular reason. The new retirement facility would be 19 storeys.

The proposal is to redevelop the low-rise Calvary Health Care Bethlehem hospital in Caulfield South into a $73 million precinct including retirement village, aged care home and childcare centre.

A “loophole” in the planning law means the owners of the Kooyong Road facility could sidestep a strict eight-metre height limit, angering hundreds of local residents.

“We are not against the site being developed. It’s a very ugly building,” said Bethlehem Hospital Community Action Group spokesman Kelvin Cope.

Calvary Health Care’s national development manager Angus Bradley said the proposed redevelopment would be a place where the ageing and elderly could stay in their homes for longer, and couples remain together.

The new precinct would see 85 two and three-bedroom “independent” units with shared gym, art room and library. Those needing more living assistance could relocate into the aged care home with 80 beds. And there would be a  hospital specialising in palliative care and neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s.

“What is really important to us is that we are catering for the needs of the people of Glen Eira and surrounds for the medium and long term … so they don’t have to leave the place they may have lived in for 15 to 20 years,” Mr Bradley said.

But the proposal is facing fierce opposition from the community. Almost 300  people have officially opposed the application, with just eight in support.

Eight-year-old Finn Clarke is one those who have submitted an objection, writing he was worried that people in the planned tower could see him swimming in his backyard pool. His family lives near the hospital.

“Don’t build the tower here. Build it in the city where it belongs,” he wrote. Finn’s mother Melissa Monks described the proposal as “monstrous”.

“While the proposal may include underground car parking, like is the reality today, many staff and visitors will continue to try to park in the surrounding suburban streets, subjecting neighbours to gridlock, increased safety risks and increased noise,” she said.

Glen Eira councillors are scheduled to vote on the proposal on February 28 – but the council has already raised its concerns in a submission to the state government. It said current planning rules meant the area’s two-storey height did not apply to buildings defined “non-residential”, including independent living units and retirement villages. The council said this should change.

“It is considered that all buildings should be required to meet the mandatory maximum height limit in order to ensure that the neighbourhood character of residential areas is maintained.”

A spokesman for Planning Minister Richard Wynne said Glen Eira could still exercise its discretion and decide whether the proposal was appropriate for the area.

“This is an important matter for Caulfield South residents and it’s important the Glen Eira City Council gets it right,” he said.