A long post, but an important one.

The agenda for Tuesday night contains two officer recommendations for planning approval that are nothing short of staggering. In this post we will concentrate on the first one, which proposes:

217 Nepean Highway Gardenvale. A 9 storey building with 21 apartments; waiver of 4 parking spots; 88 square metres of retail and 182 square metres of office space.

Why the recommendation for a permit is unacceptable

The site is zoned Commercial 1 and hence is permitted residential development. There are no mandatory height limits. It is designated as a LOCAL CENTRE in council’s planning scheme. These are assigned a much lower priority in the development pecking order, behind Urban Villages like Bentleigh, Carnegie, Elsternwick etc. and then Neighbourhood Centres such as Ormond, East Bentleigh, McKinnon, etc.

The officer report cites the planning scheme objectives for these local centres and it is acknowledged that Gardenvale and Patterson local centres may be candidates for more intense developments. However the objectives as stated in the planning scheme refer to a 2 storey height limit overall and the possibility of somewhat higher in Gardenvale and Patterson.

What is completely mind boggling however is the following spurious ‘justification’ for 9 storeys in Gardenvale:

The Gardenvale Local Centre is specifically mentioned within the policy, noting that a taller built form may be accepted. The policy requires consideration of potential offsite amenity impacts such as overlooking, overshadowing, visual bulk and noise. These are important considerations and will be addressed later in this report (under the section ‘offsite amenity’).However, in terms of residential context, the site benefits from having only one residential abutment (and even in this case, the land is zoned commercial). 

The outstanding issue, and one which has been raised by objectors, is that this development exceeds anything that is currently approved or constructed in this local centre. While this statement is correct, there is nothing in the local policy which explicitly prohibits a development of this height, in this location. 

With this final sentence, we have a clear indication of the sham that is this council’s planning department and its agenda for anything goes. Just because there is a gaping hole in the planning scheme, does not mean that going from a stated preferred 2 storey height or even a 5 storey height to 9 makes it acceptable. Council often uses this strategy ie if not stated we don’t have to do it, or the reverse. If nothing is explicitly stated we can do it!

Even worse is that council has completely ignored its own policy documents already embedded in the planning scheme. We refer to Glen Eira City Council Quality Design Guidelines– Commercial and Mixed Use Areas (March2018) which is in the planning scheme as a Reference Document and covers all commercial and mixed use areas in the municipality. Under the heading of Shop Top (Standard) on page 424 of this document we find the following statements:

To provide commercial and mixed use buildings that maintain the low-scale and fine grained streetscape character of traditional shopping strips and respond appropriately to sensitive interfaces. 

Preferred height > 3 to 5 storeys (subject to site context), unless otherwise defined in the Glen Eira Planning Scheme or a locally specific strategic plan. 

Well, one could argue that 2 storeys is noted in the planning scheme although nothing is specifically ‘defined’ or made mandatory. Hence the question remains why we now have the recommendation for a 9 storey building which flies in the face of council’s planning scheme and its associated policy documents. Please note that even the latest document included in this agenda, specifies a 5 storey height limit for its neighbourhood and local centres! A four storey differential is simply ignored. Existing and proposed policy is ignored. Also ignored completely is this from the planning scheme:

Encourage gradual changes in building heights between existing buildings and new developments in the commercial areas of the Patterson and Gardenvale local centres 

Council’s interpretation of ‘gradual change’ becomes at best 4 storeys, and at worst,7 storeys.

Ultimately, the question basically boils down to why have a planning scheme at all? Why spend a fortune devising policies that in the end are dispensible and useless? Why is this planning department ignorant of its own guidelines or sees fit to override them? This will truly test the mettle of our so called ‘representatives’ who have repeatedly stuck to the mantra that ‘policy is policy’ and should be adhered to (in particular: Delahunty and Esakoff).

More to the point is the question of how and why a planning department can recommend that permits be granted when the proposals are so out of kilter with their own planning scheme and current strategy documents. Perhaps the answer is quite simple? If 9 storeys can go in this section of Nepean Highway, then anything goes along the current car yards and fits in perfectly with council’s ambitions for high rise development as part of the Urban Renewal South of Elsternwick. This is merely the first step in the process. Precedents are set and they are all in the developer’s favour!

This is NOT planning. It is fulfilling a predetermined agenda set in secret and without community input.