Two successive items from Wednesday night’s council meeting produced 2 staggering decisions. We can speculate as to the reasons why these councillors decided as they did however, one thing is clear. When it comes to that holy of holies (ie planning law) this council and its crop of councilors have basically no interest in applying the law as it is written. So please, no more chest thumping and statements such as ‘we have to apply planning law’ when we make decisions!

The two items were:

7 apartments at 31 Weeroona Road, and

12 storeys in a heritage precinct at Derby Crescent, Caulfield East.

Councillors voted unanimously to REFUSE the Weeroona Road application and to grant a permit for the Derby Crescent application. Only Delahunty and Davey voted against this second application. In both instances planning law was totally ignored in our view. Could it possibly be that the reason the Weeroona road was refused was that there were 14 objections versus only 3 objections for the Derby Crescent application – this latter fact neatly pointed out by Magee and Strajt!

Please note that we are not discussing the merits of either application or whether they add to the overall housing ‘improvement’ in Glen Eira. What we are suggesting is that when time and time again councilors get up  on their hind legs and argue that their hands are tied by what the planning scheme says and therefore permits are granted, that the same should have happened with these two applications. Namely, that Weeroona should have got its permit and Derby Crescent should have been refused if there was to be consistency (and may we say integrity) in this councillor group. Sadly, these two cases are just another example of behind the scenes manipulation, vested interests, and a pro-development agenda that does not give a stuff about heritage in this municipality.

Here are some facts (as outlined by the officer report and Hyams for the Weeroona application –

  • It is zoned GRZ1 – ie an allowed height limit of 3 storeys (10.5 metres). The building is 9.4 metres.
  • Site coverage is 41%. The schedule allows up to 60%
  • Garden area is 37.61%. Requirement is 35%
  • Site area is 1024 square metres – council has granted other land subdivisions of barely 100 square metres!
  • Car parking requirements are met
  • Permeability is 42.371%. The requirement is 20%
  • Overshadowing meets the standards
  • Dwellings are 3 and 4 bedroom – meeting needs of ‘family’ living.

Thus on every major criterion upon which decisions should be based these councilors decided to REFUSE the application. Their reasons? – didn’t fit ‘neighbourhood character’ and there is a Neighbourhood Character Overlay on the other side of the street – in the NRZ zoned area. If council was so concerned about ‘neighbourhood character’ then why was this street zoned as GRZ in the first place?  Why hasn’t council got off its backside and rezoned these areas or at least provided a ‘preferred character statement’ that would have some bite at VCAT? Of course, nothing has been done! We would like to be as assured of winning lotto as this application will meet with success when it goes to VCAT. Council’s planning scheme is all the developer has to point to in order to win his case! More of our money down the drain ‘defending’ the indefensible!

Next there was the Derby Crescent application for a monstrous development of 12 storeys (outlined in one of our earlier posts) plus the total demolition of one of the two ‘contributory’ heritage listed buildings.  Although part of the Phoenix Precinct, and yes there are tall and taller buildings in the vicinity, this should not be seen as over-riding heritage constraints in this area. The arguments of Magee, Silver, Strajt, Taylor, Hyams and Esakoff, were lamentable and had nothing whatsoever to do with planning law as it applied to this specific site. Which makes us wonder what decisions have already been cooked up between council and the VPA for this entire area?

To her credit, and also Davey, Delahunty launched what must be the first ‘analysis’ of what the planning scheme actually has to say about heritage and the demolition of contributory buildings. Torres finally had to admit (through clenched teeth we assume) that ‘on balance’ heritage comes a poor second to development and that the planning report could have been better and more expansive in its commentary.

This is the first time in ages that any councillor has come close to challenging an officer’s report. She established that:

  • Council’s ‘expert’ heritage advisor’s recommendations were ignored
  • That demolition of a contributory building should only happen when it is not fit to be lived in – according to the planning scheme

Disappointingly, no one seemed to have too many qualms about sticking a straight up 10 storeys onto the top of a heritage 2 storey building so that it will literally protrude like a sore thumb – despite the fact that the planning scheme for this area is replete with statement after statement about preserving the height and ‘ambience’ of this area.

We ask that readers listen carefully to the audio on this item and to ask themselves the most crucial question – why has planning law been so flagrantly ignored in these two instances?

Finally, another reminder of what the majority of councillors believe is acceptable in a heritage precinct!