The image presents the location (in yellow) of an application that was recently decided by VCAT. The developer got his 3 storeys and 21 dwellings. Council had refused the original application and they were still opposing amended plans that the developer submitted. This VCAT decision, like so many others, deserves highlighting because:

  • The entire area is zoned General Residential 1 (GRZ1) which means 3 storeys – yet council stupidly & unbelievably argued that only ONE SIDE OF THE STREET IS SUITABLE FOR 3 STOREYS!
  • The application met all of the following ‘standards’ – height; permeability; set backs; site coverage
  • It was a ‘consolidated’ lot size of over 1400 square metres – ‘encouraged’ by the planning scheme
  • Traffic and parking were deemed acceptable by Council
  • The ‘consultant’ arguments were diametrically opposed to what the Traffic department has said!

This leads to the central and most important questions:

  • Why has council wasted ratepayers’ money in going to VCAT?
  • What’s the point of hiring expensive ‘consultants’ (tender in September 2012 was for $90,000 per annum) when they are totally hamstrung by the ineptitude of the planning scheme?
  • How much more money has to be wasted before Council stops blaming everyone else and starts doing what it hasn’t done for 14 years – fixing up the planning scheme?

The VCAT member was clearly unimpressed. Here’s some of the judgement –

…the local policy regarding the residential areas of neighbourhood centres expressly encourages the consolidation of sites to promote development opportunities. Thirdly, the maximum height of 10.1m (excluding the lift overrun) of the proposed building is less than the 10.5m maximum building height….

Mr O’Leary (for Council) submitted that the eastern side of Station Avenue principally comprises single and double storey detached dwellings, with some recent two storey contemporary developments. He advised that the Council sees the eastern side of the street as unsuitable for three storey development.

Mr O’Leary correctly highlighted that the purpose of the GRZ includes ‘To encourage development that respects the neighbourhood character of the area’. However, the purpose does not refer to respecting the existing character and in this instance there is no neighbourhood character policy or statement of preferred character. The purpose of the GRZ must be read with reference to the policy regarding housing diversity areas.

The Housing Diversity Area Policy is not about respecting the existing neighbourhood character. There is no preferred neighbourhood character nominated for such areas.

I agree with Mr Bromley (for developer) that it is not self-evident that a two storey development would be more appropriate, as suggested by the Council’s Urban Designer. Rather, the general residential zoning, the central location within the neighbourhood centre and the consolidated site suggests that the height should not be restricted to the two storey scale that is allowed in a NRZ.

Furthermore this is not a case where there is any issue of a suitable transition to land in a NRZ. The subject land is central to the neighbourhood centre, close to the commercial heart and not near land in a NRZ.

There is no basis for distinguishing between the eastern and western sides of Station Avenue, at least in terms of the streetscape. They have the same planning controls. As I have already noted, the ‘consolidation of sites to promote development opportunities’ is specifically encouraged for the residential areas of neighbourhood centres.

There is also clear compliance with ResCode Standard B 20 (North-facing windows). To the east, there would be some additional overshadowing in the afternoon, but well within ResCode Standard 21 (Overshadowing open space).

With respect to visual bulk, there are no proposed walls on the boundaries and there is easy compliance with ResCode Standard B17 (Side and rear setbacks), especially at the upper level. The rear part of the building is cut into the land, so that the maximum height at the rear is 8.8-9.3m.

Regarding the statutory requirement for car parking, as set out in clause 52.06, the proposal provides the full complement of spaces for residents but only three spaces, instead of four, for visitors. ..In response to referral of the application, the Council’s traffic engineers accepted the reduction of visitor car spaces. However, Mr O’Leary submitted that there should be four spaces, arguing that the area is already under pressure for on-street parking due to various factors, including commuter and employee parking.

The Council’s traffic engineers have not raised any issues about the traffic implications of the proposal. The traffic report accompanying the application concluded that ‘the site traffic and access location is expected to have minimal impact on the function and safety of the surrounding road network’.