VCAT has once more pronounced ‘judgement’  on council’s Planning  Scheme and shown its inadequacies to prevent overdevelopment. One of the latest decisions comes from the same developer who gained a permit for the 8 storey proposal in Centre Road, Bentleigh. This time it is for a 3 storey, 21 apartment  venture in Prince Edward Avenue, McKinnon.  Below are some extracts from the decision. If Council is ‘fair dinkum’ about shoring up its defences against inappropriate development, then each and every VCAT decision must be considered and amendments drawn up to plug the countless loopholes that developers have so successfully exploited. Anything less is unacceptable.

In principle, I consider that the zone, the absence of overlays, the consideration of relevant planning policies and the locational attributes all lend support to a more intensive development on the review site. Although residents may prefer medium density developments of not more than two or three double storey townhouses, that intensity of development is inconsistent with the extent of built form expected within a neighbourhood centre and in a housing diversity area.

However I make the point that more intensive development does not necessarily mean that individual lots along Prince Edward Avenue will be capable of accommodating three storey apartment style buildings containing ten dwellings. It may be, for example, that individual lots are unable to comfortably accommodate such development and that lot consolidation will provide a means whereby such buildings can be comfortably accommodated in this area. It is certainly the case that policy at Clause 22.07-3 encourages lot consolidation to promote development opportunities.

In contrast with the residential areas which lie outside the Housing Diversity Areas (within the Minimal Change Areas), there is no neighbourhood character policy to articulate the expected outcomes here. Nor are there any built-form overlays, such as a Design and Development Overlay, to establish the parameters which would apply to new development. Beyond the policies which have been detailed above, the only guidance which can be gained from the Planning Scheme is essentially from the purpose of the GRZ1, the 10.5 metre height limit specified in the schedule to the GRZ1, and the provisions of Clause 55.

The extracts from Tribunal decisions provided earlier confirm that the new buildings within Housing Diversity Areas are not expected to respect the existing character. To do so would detract from the policy direction that these areas are to evolve over time into locations where there is a predominance of higher density housing. This view is supported by the fact that the Planning Scheme does not include a neighbourhood character policy for the Housing Diversity Areas. They are expected to change in quite a substantial way, and this involves a very obvious departure from the traditional dwelling forms and styles which presently characterise streets like Prince Edward Avenue.

Having regard to the maximum 10.5 metre building height provided for in the Schedule to the zone, submissions that development should not be greater than two-storeys cannot be substantiated, as this specified height allows for three-storey development. The inclusion of Prince Edward Avenue in GRZ1 is an indicator that, at a point in time, a conscious decision was made that three-storey development in this street would represent an acceptable outcome. The provisions of the GRZ1 as they currently stand reflect an expectation that, over time, three-storey buildings will be constructed not only in Prince Edward Avenue, but also in the nearby residential streets contained within this zone. Indeed, approvals for such buildings are in place for sites in Station Avenue and Penang Street, both of which are within the residential area of the Neighbourhood Centre.

Within the zoning and policy context where these forms of development are anticipated, it is inevitable that new buildings of this type will affect neighbouring properties. The resultant impact on the occupants of those properties will, undeniably, be significant. It will represent a significant change from what they have become accustomed to and will, of course, affect their amenity. This is particularly so for the properties at 27 & 33 Prince Edward Avenue and at 30 & 32 Station Avenue, all of which I have inspected. The residents’ opposition to the development is entirely understandable.

However, as explained in earlier Tribunal decisions, the Council has identified this neighbourhood as one which will undergo a much greater level of change than other residential locations which are situated in Minimal Change Areas and where the Neighbourhood Residential Zone (NRZ) applies. In those other areas, new development is restricted by the zone provisions to a maximum of two dwellings on a lot and the height is restricted to 8.0 metres (equivalent to two storeys). That is not the Council’s vision for this neighbourhood, as articulated in the Planning Scheme. If it were, then it would have sought to apply the NRZ here. It has not. Rather, a strategic decision has been made based on the location within a Neighbourhood Activity Centre to apply the GRZ1 and to allow higher and more intensive development. This is not without its consequences for the amenity of adjoining properties

I acknowledge the residents’ opposition to the proposed overlooking on the basis that views beyond 9.0 metres into their secluded private open space areas will be possible. While this may be true, the Objective is to limit views, not to prevent them altogether, and the Standard only requires views within 9.0 metres to be screened. The Planning Scheme’s provisions do not address views beyond this distance

The residents expressed concerns regarding the capacity of local services to absorb the demand generated by developments such as this. Although these concerns may be understandable, I have no evidence before me to lead me to conclude that the capacity of local infrastructure will be exceeded as a consequence of this development.