Another VCAT decision raises major questions about the decision making capabilities of Council’s planning department. An application went in for 8 townhouses of three storey height in Grange Road Ormond. The land is 874 square metres and zoned GRZ1. The permit was appealed against by a neighbour and VCAT upheld the objection.

What is significant in this decision is that the member confirms that ‘policy’ supports 3 storey developments. However, there are plenty of comments made about internal amenity, safety of car parking proposals, and landscaping. All basic requirements that any planning department worth a cracker should have picked up on and consequently refused the permit. In Glen Eira, the permit was granted!

Here are some extracts:

On Landscaping

Mr Crawford (developer) put to me that modest landscaping is proposed along both the pedestrian and vehicular accessways and that landscaping is not a strong character evident in the adjoining properties or area. On my inspection, I observed that there is a level of landscaping evident in the area. The street trees make a contribution as do the existing trees on the adjoining sites. There has been no real attempt to soften the visual impact of the built form to the adjoining boundaries. There is minimal opportunity for landscaping on the southern boundary with landscaping limited to a series of ‘islands’ along the boundary where you would anticipate some tree planting. There is also minimal landscaping provided on the northern boundary. The northern interfaces comprises of a 1.6 metre wide pedestrian path providing access to each of the eight units. The plans detail a landscape strip along the boundary……The provision of landscaping along boundaries is hardly a new design technique that is difficult to achieve. Even if I was to accept the submission that landscaping is not a strong character in the neighbourhood, as a bare minimum, clause 55.03-8 Landscaping objectives seeks ‘To provide appropriate landscaping’. I find the provision of landscaping as proposed, is not appropriate and fails to achieve the objective of clause 55.03-8.

On Internal Amenity

The continuous linear form of the development and the setbacks to the adjoining boundaries has resulted in the need for screening to every window at the first and second floor levels to a height of 1.7 metres. The screening is required to protect the adjoining properties from overlooking. This continuous attached form compromises the internal amenity for future occupants. There is not one window that has an uninterrupted or obscure view to the sky. There is not one window that has an outlook. It is noted that the ground floor bedroom windows are not required to be screened to a height of 1.7 metres but are sited 1.4 metres from the ground as they are located on the pedestrian pathway that provides access to each of the units. It is often put that there is a compromise to be made between providing affordable housing and levels of amenity. It was also put to me by Mr Crawford (for developer) that ‘…one must also appreciate that planning decision making is concerned with appropriate, not optimal or ideal, outcomes …..’. I acknowledge that there is a balance to be struck, but in this case, the internal amenity impacts are a result of the proposed form of the site to develop eight townhouses. Fewer houses on site may enable this issue to be dealt with differently. Fewer houses may enable a design to provide an outlook to at least the living area if not bedrooms. As it is proposed, I find that the level of internal amenity to the future occupants is poor and the design is not a good planning outcome.

On Car Parking

The car accommodation is provided at grade in the undercroft of the building. Mr Robertson (for developer) in his evidence detailed that Design Standard 2 of clause 52.06-8 provides minimum dimensions of car parking spaces and accessways. The narrowest accessway width is shown as 4.8 metres (although less in some places). To confirm access to the car spaces, he provided swept paths which detail multiple movements to access the car spaces. It was his evidence that in residential developments where the user becomes familiar with the car space, a three-point entry and exit into the car spaces is acceptable. The car spaces are the minimum possible. Whilst it can be demonstrated that a car can enter and exit with multiple moves, the question is does it satisfy the objective of clause 55.03-10 [Parking location):

To provide convenient parking for resident and visitor vehicles.

To protect residents from vehicular noise within developments.

I find that the parking accommodation is a poor outcome. Combined in the parking space is an overhead storage unit for each dwelling which is to sit above the car space and presumably above the door to the units. The car accommodation is ‘squeezed’ onto the site. It only meets the minimum standards and as it is open at grade car park with little opportunity for landscaping along the southern boundary. I am also concerned with the potential for noise to not only the residents within the development but adjoining to the south. The constrained nature of the design of the car park accommodation leads me to conclude that what is proposed is an unsatisfactory design response.

In terms of car parking numbers, the proposal meets the statutory requirement for the provision of resident parking and seeks a reduction in the provision of one visitor car space. I do not consider the reduction of one visitor car space inappropriate.