Readers may remember the recent application for a 9 storey development at 217 Nepean Highway, Gardenvale. This was supported by officers, but rejected by councillors. The ensuing VCAT appeal by the applicant was refused. We now have the second attempt. This time for a six storey development and 18 apartments. The plans are not yet available.

Gardenvale presents a fascinating insight into the council agenda. According to the CURRENT planning scheme, Gardenvale is deemed a LOCAL centre. With the arrival of the City Plan, it has been upgraded to a Neighbourhood Centre and earmarked for “substantial’ development. The current Planning Scheme Rewrite seeks to enshrine this new designation. City Plan proposes that commercially zoned sites be set at the preferred height of 5 storeys. This application, whilst lower than its predecessor, is already seeking something higher. It will undoubtedly be recommended for a permit by officers, given that they were in favour of 9 storeys.

Yet, we cannot find one single word anywhere which justifies the re-classification of Gardenvale as a Neighbourhood Centre from a Local Centre. Nor can we find any logic behind the failure to treat each activity centre as an individual entity with its own height nominations. Time and again we are told that locations should be assessed on their unique characteristics, but what we have are strategic plans which treat all neighbourhood centres as mirror images of each other – ie 5 storeys for anything zoned as Commercial – regardless of their residential surrounds or various transport options.

More concerning is the failure of council to safeguard all of our neighbourhood and  local centres. Will all of these be candidates for structure plans, or will residents have to be satisfied with meaningless built form frameworks that are nothing more than ‘guidelines’? And what is the time frame for any other work? Another 5 years of nothing, 10 years?

This current application will probably be determined well and truly before anything is finalised in terms of the current planning scheme rewrite, and the adoption of the city plan. It will set a precedent and that means it will be too late to halt other, and probably higher applications.

Finally, we present below, the VCAT decision which rejected the original 9 storey application. The comments relating to the wisdom of designating Gardenvale as a neighbourhood centre instead of its current local centre status are worth reading. The comments are still very relevant. How does council answer these judgements? Where is the justification and the strategic work that should underpin such changes? It is non-existent, we assert!

·  The provisions relating to the scope for Patterson and Gardenvale local centres to have more intense development are however quite limited in scope because the policy encourages only gradual changes in building heights between existing buildings and new developments. Where building heights are above the prevailing height of existing development, policy encourages the building design to reduce the visibility of the additional storey(s) by either;

  • Incorporating the additional storey(s) into roof space (attic style).
  • Limiting the additional storey(s) to an envelope that is significantly less than the floor immediately below and is significantly set back from the front and rear of the site to limit visibility from the street in front or the properties to the rear.

·  I was referred to the Council’s City Plan[8] which was adopted by the Council in February 2020. By virtue of having been adopted by the Council, this is a document to which I may have regard as appropriate[9], but it is not part of the planning scheme. City Plan includes the review site in a Substantial Change Area 3 in which development up to 5 storeys is contemplated. Structure plans for activity centres are to be prepared.

·  With respect to the applicant submission that the proposal should be assessed on the basis that Gardenvale is akin to a neighbourhood centre or even an urban village, the submission ignores the fact that Council has had ample opportunity to change the local centre designation for Gardenvale but has not done so. I must apply the planning scheme’s provision as they exist, and it would be inappropriate to accord a different status to that which appears in the planning scheme.

·  I have also commented previously that Gardenvale is a small, confined centre surrounded by Commercial 2 zoned land that extends north and south along Nepean Highway and by residential areas predominantly zoned Neighbourhood Residential. I am not persuaded that Gardenvale is anything other than a local centre with very limited capacity to expand beyond that designation. This application must therefore be assessed having regard to the policy settings established for this local centre.