Up for decision next Tuesday night is an application for 7 storeys, 30 apartments, some office and retail space in Balaclava Road, Caulfield North. The site is directly opposite Caulfield park and practically on the corner of Hawthorn and Balaclava Road. The retail component is seeking a car parking waiver of 9 spots. The officer’s recommendation is to grant a permit.

As per usual we get pages and pages professing to quote the planning scheme. The conclusion is that the planning scheme supports the application. No mention is made of the fact that currently there are no height limits, nor that the so-called City Plan, calls for a maximum of 5 storeys.

These omissions are all minor compared to the following. On page 23 of the agenda we find that the report quotes Section 22.07 of the Housing Diversity Policy. What we are not told is that this is only PART of section 22.07. Completely missing from the officer’s report is the section on Commercial Zoning in Neighbourhood Centres which is the most relevant section of the planning scheme in relation to this application. We quote it below:

Ensure that where the new building is greater in height than the prevailing building height or where significant changes in building height are proposed for residential buildings:

  • There is a graduated transition in building height between the proposed building and adjoining buildings.
  • The resulting height, mass and scale of the building does not dominate or visually intrude on the streetscape and takes account of views from the wider neighbourhood and at a distance.
  • The upper storeys are recessive so that the visibility of upper storeys is reduced when viewed from the footpath opposite or residential properties to the rear.

If readers know the area, then they will know that a 7 storey building next to a 2 storey building cannot but help stick out like a sore thumb! So much for the ‘graduated transition in building height’, which the planning scheme states! There’s also the problem of how upper storeys can be truly ‘recessive’ when the setbacks of levels 4, 5 and 6 are deemed acceptable at only 2.65 metres. Readers should remember that council started off contemplating setbacks of 6 metres, then 5 metres, in its early documents/policies, so now it seems that 2.65 metres will do!

But there’s even more to query in this report. We quote directly from this report and then comment:

The area has undergone substantial change over recent years with a number of redevelopments of up to seven storeys in height extending along both Hawthorn Road and Balaclava Road.

COMMENT: Yes, it is true that Hawthorn Road has several seven storey developments approved. To the best of our knowledge, Balaclava Road, DOES NOT!

Caulfield Park is a neighbourhood centre which has a role to support increased density and to provide greater diversity of housing. …. It is an area where substantial change is anticipated. 

COMMENT: Nowhere in the current planning scheme can we find any reference to the need for ‘substantial change’ – whatever that term may mean. It is also worth pointing out that the ‘reference’ documents to the Housing Diversity Policy (Clause 22.07) date back to 2002 and 1996!!!!!! This is after ‘strategic work’ on reviewing policies was promised in 2004, 2016. Thus far we are stuck with 20 year old data and promises!

Empirical assessment confirms that the retail parking allocation is sufficient for staff parking and that car parking occupancy survey indicates that there is available car parking spaces in the surrounding streets to accommodate the customer car parking demand. 

COMMENT: The above is in relation to a 9 car parking waiver. In previous applications for 7 storeys, much was made of the LACK of street parking in this area. Delahunty in particular, commented several times on the difficulty of finding a car parking spot. We would also like to query the ‘empirical assessment’. Did council verify the developer’s data, or have they simply taken it as gospel?

There are plenty of other issues with this report and its assessment. Currently one rear laneway serves the other two 7 storey developments. Now we will have another development that in part at least will also be utilising this laneway. How much traffic can one rear laneway take? How much backing up and manoeuvring will be required since there certainly is not enough room for two cars to pass each other?

Finally, we wish to remind readers of what happens when precedent after precedent is set in an area that council has done nothing about. When the first 7 storey application came in, the officer report stated:

The proposal is inconsistent with the intent and objectives of clause 22.07 (Housing Diversity policy) as:the density, mass and scale of the development is not appropriate to the scale, character and physical size of the Caulfield Park Neighbourhood Centre 

Two years down the track when the second 7 storey application arrived, we had this: suitable for an intensive form of development that would complement the well-established mixed-use role of the Caulfield Park Neighbourhood Centre

Given that not a word had changed in the planning scheme Clause 22.07 how can we reconcile these two contradictory statements?