An ambitious sustainable architectural group has set its sites on Ballarat for its first regional development, despite infill teething issues.
Melbourne-based Nightingale Housing have an option on a Davey st site and are now gauging interest in a sustainable development for the city from current and future residents.
Other Ballarat infill developments, including St Paul's Way and the former Ballarat Orphanage site, have yet to be completed despite permit approvals.
Only last week in an ordinary meeting, City of Ballarat councillors lamented a previous VCAT ruling in favour of a development at 203 Wendouree Parade, with fresh plans for 17 apartments at the lakeside property.
The Commons, a 24-unit architectural project in Brunswick, was the first creation from the Nightingale team and opened in 2013. The building is proved by renewable sources, and has a rooftop communal garden, car-share scheme and a lack of car parking in favour of bike parking. This collectively adds up to an eight-star energy rating.
Nightingale managing director, Jeremy McLeod, said the project would have to be appropriate response to the surroundings of Davey Street, with plans yet to be drawn up. Preliminary discussions with council are under way.
He said creatives are looking to be part of a "connected community", and were looking to regional centres that could be walked or cycled, are more affordable than metro areas but did not limit their work opportunities.
"What we're seeing in population growth in Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong are all about this regional centre growth, where people are choosing a lifestyle that works and still being connected to the city by rail," Mr McLeod said.
We know there's a strong community here that cares deeply about the environment and sustainability, and we think there's a population here that want to age in place gracefully that is DDA-accessible.Jeremy McLeod, Nightingale managing director and architect
The architects have a rule of 20 per cent affordable housing in their developments, and 20 per cent for 'key community contributors', like nurses, paramedics and teachers or those in creative industries.
Australian Bureau of Statistics data released this year shows resident numbers in the centre of Ballarat actually went backwards, with a decline of 0.6 per cent over a year, or 72 people.
A City of Ballarat strategy stated they plan to have 50 per cent infill building in Ballarat by 2040.
Central ward councillor Mark Harris said that "regardless of the ecological merits" of the Nightingale proposal, any future build would have to be an appropriate density, with projects close to Sturt Street likely acceptable.
"Property values are going up, and considering the pressure of middle class infill in places like Solders Hill, it's a totally different market for us than the spread out towards the west," he said.
"As far as the regional city is concerned when it comes to that type of project, I'd be all for it. We want to have that sort of offering available for those, for example, who might be looking to take a public service job in Ballarat."
The seed finance for Nightingale 1 on Florence Street, came from 25 investors. But its inception did not happen without some push back.
City of Moreland councillors voted unanimously to support the project in 2014.
A single objector took it to VCAT, where the decision was overturned. Eventually, and after adding three car spaces at the cost of 27 bike spaces, the building was approved again.
Mr McLeod admitted it was unlikely a Ballarat development could be built without any car spaces, considering the city's context. The first community engagement session to gauge demand and what apartment sizes could be of interest will take place next week.
"If we go to information session and everyone says, 'we don't want to live in an apartment, we want to live in a freestanding house' five minutes out so they can drive to work, that's okay," he said.
"We're on a fact-finding mission to see if people want Nightingale here, if they need Nightingale here, and would we be seen as a benefit to the community."
A community information session about the Nightingale Project will be held next Wednesday at Ballarat Trades Hall. For more information, head to nightingalehousing.org/nightingale-ballarat.