Minister Wynne recently gazetted Amendment VC110 which introduced several changes to the residential zones – ie those sites included in the Neighbourhood Residential Zone (NRZ) and the General Residential Zone (GRZ) in particular. With much fanfare it was declared as saving residential backyards and improving ‘liveability’ (see:

By way of summary, here are the major changes introduced. We will then analyse their potential impact.

  • The mandatory height limit in the NRZ changed from 8 metres to 9 metres.
  • In the GRZ the mandatory height changed to 11 metres from the previous 10.5 metres.
  • The mandatory maximum number of 2 dwellings per lot in the NRZ have now been removed. There is no limit on the number of new dwellings now allowable in the NRZ. The GRZ has never had a limit imposed.
  • If councils have mandatory heights already imposed via their respective zones and accompanying schedules, these will remain for the time being. Councils have three years to fall into line with the new legislation. They can change the new height limits – but only go higher, not lower!
  • A new category of ‘Minimum garden requirement’ has been introduced for all NRZ and GRZ lots over 400 square metres. If the property happens to be 399 square metres or less, then none of these new requirements for a ‘garden area’ apply.

So what does all this mean? – especially for Glen Eira and its zoning? Whilst there are some potentially positive changes, notably for the GRZ, there are also some very negative ones that have the potential to impact severely on development throughout both the NRZ and GRZ areas.

Height Limits

With wonderful sleight of hand, Wynne has included this sentence in the requirements for both NRZ and GRZ –

A basement is not a storey for the purposes of calculating the number of storeys contained in a building.

By raising the maximum height limit in the NRZ from 8 to 9 metres, coupled with the single sentence above, this has the potential to allow a three storey building to be developed in the NRZ and 4 storeys in the GRZ – especially if part of the ‘basement’ is at least below ground level and does not exceed 1.2 metres above ground level. The following depicts why this is a real possibility.

Dwelling Numbers 

There is absolutely nothing to stop a developer now deciding to construct a 2 storey apartment block on a 500 square metre site and incorporate as many units as he possibly can in the NRZ. Making things even easier for him is the fact that the government refused to introduce mandatory apartment sizes in its recent Better Apartments ‘standards’.  We suspect that the NRZ can now look forward to plenty of apartment buildings that quite feasibly could contain anything from 8 apartments upwards depending on lot size. If the site is very large (ie over 1500 sqm) then the sky is literally the limit!

Garden Requirements

Here is an image of what Wynne and the department would like us to think will be the outcome of his ‘garden’ requirement and why this is totally misleading –

  • Anything above 1 metre in width can be included in the 25/35% ‘garden area’. Hence, instead of one single decent sized ‘garden area’ that is portrayed in the image, the reality is that the end product will see narrow strips at the sides and back of developments that will count as ‘garden’ space.
  • Here’s a hypothetical to see how Wynne’s ‘garden requirements’ could work in practice. We have a 650 square metre site in either the General Residential Zone or the Neighbourhood Residential Zone. Site coverage in the GRZ is 60% – ie 390 square metres therefore taken up by the actual building and 50% in the NRZ (IE 325 SQUARE METRES). Since the hypothetical site is 650 square metres, the mandatory ‘garden requirement’ is 227.5 square metres (at 35% of site). 130 square metres (20% of the total block area) is required to be permeable in the GRZ and 162 square metres in the NRZ.  This would mean in the GRZ case that 97.5 square metres of the 227.5 square metres (43%) of the garden area could be non-permeable.
  • Another problem with Wynne’s ‘garden area’ is that swimming pools and tennis courts would be included in the calculation as well as concreted, uncovered patios. Since the permeability requirements aren’t mandatory we could literally be seeing those ‘liveable’ backyards become concrete!

The legislation is poorly drafted (intentionally?). We also find it incredible that instead of ‘road testing’ the legislation first, and that it be accompanied by Practice Notes, we first get the legislation and then there’s the mad scramble to provide guidance via the drafting of some Practice Notes. The best example of the current confusion is Wynne’s references to subdivision and the phrase ‘vacant lot’ as a trigger for subdivision. Planners have already questioned what the term might mean – ie a previously demolished dwelling? An untenanted, empty dwelling? Each interpretation has its ramifications that are yet to be made clear and most importantly, capable of holding up before VCAT and possibly a court of law.

After two years of ‘review’, the outcome is nothing more than another ‘gift’ to developers and the further erosion of residential amenity. Quite clearly the intent was to diminish the clear lines between the Neighbourhood Residential Zones and the General Residential Zones. The NRZ is now ‘open for business’ to developers. And Council? Not a peep! And we’ve already seen one application in Bignell Road exploiting the changes!

PS: A related article from The Leader –