The officer’s recommendation for the Woolies site in Elsternwick is available in the current agenda. The recommendation is for a refusal. The application is for:

  • Two towers – one of 10 storeys and one of 14 storeys
  • 181 apartments
  • Large supermarket and 3 ‘kiosks’

There were 187 objections and an opposing petition with 1787 signatures. One letter was in favour!

The recommendation for refusal is not a surprise given the vast community opposition. What is a surprise is some of the nonsense and misleading statements contained in the officer’s report.

Mention is made several times of council’s ‘preferred character’ for this activity centre, and especially this site – for example:

The height, form, scale and design detail of the building is not sufficiently resolved and therefore the proposal does not appropriately respond to the existing low rise heritage character of the area or the preferred character envisaged as part of Schedule 10 of the Design and Development Overlay.

Readers should note that THERE IS NO SPECIFIC PREFERRED CHARACTER STATEMENT in DDO10. Instead, we get vague generalities and motherhood statements that make up the ‘decision guidelines’ for increased height  –

Whether any building in Precinct 5 or 6 that exceeds the maximum preferred building height

Demonstrates that the development includes the provision of significant community benefit; and

Does not create unreasonable impacts on the amenity of sensitive interfaces as a result of additional height; and

Demonstrates architectural design excellence.

The officer’s report also cites just one VCAT decision to reject a Monash application for a 7 storey building in a 4 storey preferred height limit. Hardly the same as a 14 storey building in a 10 storey limit! The argument presented in the officer’s report is that

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) has also issued decisions, stating that departures from the preferred height limit should not be treated as expected, but rather only in exceptional circumstances such as those outlined above (Boneng (Portman) Pty Ltd v Monash CC [2017] VCAT 797).

Furthermore, the Monash DDO contains far more ‘guidance’ than anything in the Glen Eira DDO10. In place of the above ‘permission’ for applications to exceed the preferred height limit, Monash includes this paragraph –

A building should not exceed the Preferred Building Height (in metres and storeys) specified in the built form precinct provisions of this Schedule unless particular site conditions warrant an alternative design response and that design response demonstrates a respect for, and significantly contributes to, the preferred character of the Oakleigh Major Activity Centre. (refer Figure 2 in this schedule

AND the ‘objectives’ for this precinct state:

To retain and enhance the pattern of urban development in the core centre that is characterised by small lot frontages, two storey federation and inter-war buildings, steeply pitched roofs and architecturally detailed upper storeys

Glen Eira’s ‘objectives’ for this precinct is simply – To encourage developments in urban renewal areas and on strategic sites that provide a significant benefit for the Elsternwick community.

There are also countless VCAT decisions that would fly in the face of this ‘exceptional circumanstances’ view including a centre road Bentleigh application –

As well as these –

More worrying is the implicit acceptance in the officer’s report that a 12 storey building would be okay! –

The applicant’s own Urban Design Strategy prepared by MGS Architects does not support a building height of 14 storeys. Rather, it identifies that a 12 storey height limit should be adopted. This is more towards what is suggested as being the appropriate height for this strategic site and recognises the community benefit contribution included as part of the proposal.

What is not acknowledged here is that council’s resolution of February 2018 designated this area as suitable for a 6-8 storey building. Wynne gazetted 10 storeys. There is no excuse therefore for the comment that at even 12 storeys this is ‘more towards what is suggested as appropriate’.

When this goes to VCAT will council cave in on 12 storeys or will they fight this tooth and nail?

There are plenty of other issues such as traffic, heritage, overshadowing, setbacks that we will refrain from commenting upon. All in all this application was doomed to failure and will certainly test council’s commitment to the community once this ends up at VCAT.