“Shine a light on Mirabella’s planned eyesore” declares the flyer plastered along bustling Lygon Street, the home of the Mirabella family for six decades.
Tension is brewing between Brunswick residents and the family, one of Melbourne’s most successful small-business stories, over a controversial eight-storey apartment development on the popular thoroughfare.
Paul and Silvana Mirabella opened the first Mirabella whitegoods store on Lygon Street in the 1960s, not long after arriving from Italy. Almost six decades later, the family-run business has grown into a multimillion-dollar lighting giant, supplying globes and lamps to major department stores across the country.
The flagship store is now at the centre of a neighbourhood stoush after the Mirabella family lodged plans for an eight-storey complex comprised of 78 apartments, four shops and space for a showroom at street level.
“My father has been contemplating this for a very long time,” said company manager George Mirabella, Paul and Silvana’s son. “The residents think my father is doing this for money — that’s not right.”
Residents have opposed the scale of the development, poised to soar 29 metres into the sky despite Moreland Council’s 17-metre preferred maximum height. In nearby Warburton Street, residents are particularly aggrieved because traffic from the development will be diverted onto their small residential street.
Mr Mirabella insisted the proposal, designed by architecture firm Buchan, was within planning guidelines.
He told Domain the apartment block would beautify and revitalise a neighbourhood he claimed was regularly trashed with used syringes and graffiti. “I’ve got a Maserati and I’ve changed six or seven tyres because of needles,” he said, adding that the proposed building would have a 24-hour security presence.
“I want to do something beautiful, not to make money, but to enjoy the environment I live in.”
The Mirabella family would live in penthouses on the top floors of the proposed building. The remaining apartments would either be sold or used as a hotel; Quest Apartments has already approached the family, according to Mr Mirabella.
Mr Mirabella said the family was disappointed by the community’s backlash to the plans. “It hurts to see the residents are going against my father after what he’s done for the community in Brunswick, Victoria and Australia.”
Paul Mirabella, now 81, was awarded with an Order of Australia Medal for his service to Victoria’s Italian community. The family regularly donated to local charities and school events, George Mirabella said.
Residents told Domain they had raised concerns about overdevelopment at the site with the Mirabella family in recent years, and explicitly asked to be involved in the planning process.
“Mirabella have their roots in the Brunswick community,” said one resident. “It feels like they’re just chucking that back in everyone’s face.”
Warburton Street resident Jane, who did not want her surname published, said: “Our small residential street will be completely dwarfed by the inappropriate scale of this development.”
Her neighbour, Rachel, said the street was protected by a strict heritage overlay. “I can’t even alter my fence, but they can build this?” she asked.
University of Melbourne heritage researcher and Brunswick East local, James Lesh, said the store was a tangible link to a migrant success story. “To replace this local icon with what appears to be a cookie-cutter apartment block misses a significant opportunity for a heritage-sensitive development.”
The planning application is before Moreland Council. A spokesman said a decision would be made within two to three months.
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