Dismay as old homes make way for McMansions

BRAG's acting president Mary Drost works from her home office to keep on top of Boroondara’s redevelopment issue. Photo by Helena Abdou.
RESIDENTS: Locals fear the heritage they prize is being undermined by a trend towards large modern homes. Helena Abdou and Ryan Malcolm report.

Boroondara residents say they are outraged that many historic homes are being demolished in favour of larger, more modern houses.

The redevelopment of the inner-eastern suburbs to accommodate an increasing population has sparked fears that much of the area’s rich history will be lost.

In March 2016, Boroondara major Jim Parke released a statement saying that the council “shares the community’s concerns” about ‘McMansions’ –  which he defines as “excessively large modern homes”.

Tracy Pilkington, a long time resident of a street in Hawthorn developed in the 1880s, says she fears that it is losing its identity as historic homes are replaced by larger, modern houses.

Ms Pilkington, who owns a historic home in Harcourt Street, says that by not protecting entire streetscapes, her street has lost its identity.

Harcourt Street is now divided into classical heritage homes and McMansions, a problem that has caused division in the community.

“The house across the road had been there for years and years, and it just got banged down,” Ms Pilkington says.

“They’re taking so long to build because the neighbours on either side keep opposing.”

Ms Pilkington says that over-development is a Melbourne-wide problem, linking it to accessibility of the public transport network for Melbourne’s growing population.

“I think anywhere along tram-lines and train-lines you are going to see the development of more modern houses,” she says.

“Unless streets are heritage protected it’s likely they’ll suffer from over-development.”

Jack Roach, former president of the Boroondara Residents Action Group (BRAG), says that focusing on protecting ‘single-dwelling’ homes is a “bit of a weakness”.

“Often the antique streetscapes have been lost.”

Mr Roach, who was involved with BRAG for over 14 years, says that many homeowners in the area see their houses as “an opportunity to make money”, while others believe in heritage protection.

Mary Drost, a Camberwell resident and the acting president of BRAG, says that an increasing number of historic streets are being demolished due to Boroondara council neglecting the history of the area.

Ms Drost says that the council has made insufficient efforts to protect the heritage of the area. “Other areas have been protected but not nearly enough.”

“I’ve been shouting at the councillors ‘you’re too slow at getting heritage protection.’

“Instead of getting whole areas protected they’re having to protect individual houses, and while that’s happening, there’s rubbish being put up, or ‘McMansions’ as we like to call them.”

Homeowners have also voiced concerns over the increase in McMansions in their streets.

Ms Drost says that Melbourne is “overloaded” with calls for development and an ever-increasing population.

“We’re $200 billion behind on infrastructure… and they want to spend $100 billion in the next 30 years.

“By the time we double the population we won’t have any heritage left.”

Even though Ms Drost’s family home is protected by a heritage overlay, she says she is losing confidence in the council’s ability to save it and others.

“There could come a time where they [council] either confiscates my land or forces me to build.”

BRAG’s acting president says, “We’re very unhappy about the future. The population is growing and it’s destroying our character.”