GE Council Meeting(s)


The agenda for Tuesday’s council meeting contains the draft Urban Forest Strategy. Whilst it does have an abundance of useful information, such as the economic, social, and environmental impacts of doing nothing, and the subsequent further loss of our tree canopy, the same cannot be said for its ‘Action Plan’.

Here are the most important points to consider:

TARGETS

These targets are well below what is required. A comparison with some other councils illustrates once again how late and token this council’s proposed actions really are:

These recommendations raise numerous issues that residents should consider –

  • If the stated objective is to increase the municipality’s overall tree canopy and to mitigate as much as possible against urban island heat effect, climate change, etc., then why has council REMOVED THE MANDATORY GARDEN REQUIREMENTS from those areas proposed to be zoned GRZ5 in Amendment C184 for Bentleigh & Carnegie?
  • Why is council even contemplating a zone that allows 90% site coverage and 5% permeability?
  • Why has council allowed the NRZ2 zoning in this amendment to revert back to a site coverage of 60% (from 50%)and a reduction in permeability requirements from 25% to 20%?
  • Why are we still waiting for a Water Sensitive Urban Design policy to make it into the planning scheme when this was announced 4 years ago?
  • Why do we only have a proposed Significant Tree Register that will in all likelihood only include about 150 trees (maximum) instead of far more stringent and powerful controls incorporated into the Planning Scheme as other councils have done?
  • Why, when council has declared a climate emergency do we have a budget that only provides an additional $150,000 to an already paltry sum.
  • Why does a strategy such as this nominate ‘low’ priority for monitoring and evaluation? Surely council should keep and publish all data such as tree removals as a result of development on a regular bases?

CONCLUSION

Several conclusions are possible given this draft strategy. Most importantly until we have a planning department that is in sync with other departments then no environmental strategy will come within cooee of achieving its targets. It is quite ludicrous that a strategy ostensibly devoted to increasing our tree canopy, is faced with a planning department that consistently fails to introduce controls that would facilitate this endeavour. What is happening is the reverse.

Then again, we have to wonder whether this strategy is nothing more than another public relations exercise, a ‘feel good’ document that whilst very belated, council can point to as ‘look we’re up to date’ and ‘concerned’. If council was really ‘concerned’ then perhaps we would have proper budgetary funding, and a planning scheme that contributes rather than hinders to mitigating all the environmental issues we currently face.

 

Our apologies for this long post. It is however a very important one. Our objective is to inform the community why Amendment C184 represents another cave in by our councillors and why residents should object strongly to the continued erosion of their amenity.

The image presented below represents the zoning changes that Amendment C184 is seeking to introduce. In summary:

  • Areas marked as red are supposed to represent a REDUCTION in height of 2 storeys
  • Areas marked as yellow/orange are supposed to represent a REDUCTION in height of 1 storey
  • Areas marked as green are supposed to represent an INCREASE in height of 1 storey, and
  • Areas marked as blue are supposed to represent an INCREASE in height of 2 storeys.

The most important aspect of the above image is the number of INCREASED property zonings. If one were to calculate how many untouched properties had their heights reduced and how many of the green and blue labelled properties had their heights INCREASED, then the increase far outweighs the effective reductions. Even more important is the fact that what will now be zoned as GRZ5 has had the ‘mandatory’ garden requirements removed and that those properties zoned NRZ2 will have an increase in site coverage permitted and a decrease in the permeability requirements currently tagged as belonging to the Neighbourhood Residential Zone.

Whilst it sounds wonderful that Heritage is now reduced from 4 to 2 storeys, and that previously zoned 3 and 4 storeys will also be reduced, we maintain that the horse has well and truly bolted given council’s abject failure to introduce sensible and judicious zoning in 2013. Mavho and Loranne in particular are now gone and no amount of rezoning can remove the 3 and 4 storeys already in existence. The following image reveals exactly what has happened in these two streets whilst council sat on its backside and welcomed such development. Mitchell street, with its Heritage Overlay is also another victim of four storey developments.

Finally, we wish to illustrate our previous allegation that the zoning which was introduced secretly and by stealth in 2013 has been an absolute disaster and is now explicitly acknowledged as a failure. The architects of this zoning are still there – namely, Hyams, Magee, Delahunty and Esakoff. They are part of the problem – not its solution!

The following screen dump taken from one of Council’s exhibited documents makes it absolutely clear how illogical the 2013 zoning was/is. Heritage areas were zoned RGZ (4 storeys) and some were even under a Special Building Overlay. This was done in spite of the fact that the Planning Practice Notes stated clearly that Heritage Areas were to be excluded from Activity Centre borders. Yet the Libs and Guy rubber stamped the ineptitude of Akehurst and his complicit councillors. Residents have been paying the price ever since. And remember, Wynne had to order this council to undertake structure planning. It was not something that our woeful council wanted to do!

CLICK TO ENLARGE

So 5 years down the track we have another abomination to contend with. Gone are mandatory height limits for all areas as was the case in 2018. Not once, in any document produced by this council has there been clear and unassailable evidence that the municipality needs more and more growth to meet its projected housing ‘quota’. What we have been presented with is more scapegoating onto State Government. Opposition, public commentary and fight to oppose more and more development has been deafening by its absence. Conclusion? This council has always been and remains a pro development rather than a residents first council. It is definitely time for a change in October!

In what can only be described as the most retrograde and negative step this council has taken since the introduction of the notorious residential zones in 2013, we now have a further erosion of residential amenity. All thanks to the proposed C184 amendment. The main documents can be accessed via this link! https://www.gleneira.vic.gov.au/services/planning-and-building/planning-scheme-and-amendments/current-planning-scheme-amendments/c184glen

Whilst we still need to go through all the documents with a fine tooth comb, here are the main things we’ve noticed at this stage. Please note:

  • Properties zoned NRZ 2 (Neighbourhood Residential zone) will revert back to what was there in 2004. What this means is that instead of a requirement for a 50% site coverage this will now become the ResCode vision of 60%. Permeability will also go from 25% to 20%.
  • Here is the zoning map for Bentleigh. Please note the number of GRZ5 and NRZ2 dwellings to be rezoned. Also GRZ5, will no longer have to have the mandatory ‘garden requirement’ as recently introduced by Wynne. In other words, more room for development with less open space.
  • Carnegie will now have a RGZ4 where site coverage is 90% and permeability is 5%
  • Please also note that some of the above ‘thinking’ was never, ever made public. How typical of this council!!!!!!

CLICK TO ENLARGE

With each step in this process it is becoming clearer and clearer that the Virginia Estate project is Council’s gift to the developers with very little consideration to local residents and the wider community.

Admittedly the Panel report largely supports everything that the developers wanted. This however does not obviate councillors’ responsibility to their constituents in fighting tooth and nail for a far more equitable outcome. The officer’s recommendations fail to do so and we certainly have little confidence that these 9 councillors will have the gumption to oppose the final recommendations!

Here’s a brief summary of council’s proposed concessions:

  • Prior to the Planning Panel councillors voted to insist on mandatory height provisions for all areas. This has now become ‘discretionary’. Thus 8 storeys could quite conceivably become 10 or even higher for the majority of the site.
  • Council also decided prior to the Planning Panel that 3000 dwellings be seen as a ‘hard cap’ (ie mandatory). This has now been changed to a ‘soft cap’ meaning that there is the real possibility that by project’s end we could have over 4000+ dwellings. A replica of what has happened with Caulfield Village where that incorporated plan states a figure of 1100-1200 dwellings. By the time this is completed, the total number will exceed 2200. Literally double the amount agreed upon.
  • Council also wanted mandatory overshadowing protection for all the site’s proposed parks including Virginia and Marlborough Parks. This has now become nothing more than a ‘guideline’ for the latter two. Given that there has also been an increase from 3 to 4 storeys abutting one of these parks, then the probability of greater overshadowing increases.
  • Council has also agreed to the narrowing of the originally decided upon road widths within the project site. Since flooding is a major issue and the width of the roadways were originally supposed to be necessary to cater for the overflow and drainage capacity, this could end up being a disastrous decision. With narrower roads we also have to ponder whether this means more land for the owners to develop?
  • Another major concession agreed to by council is the removal of several traffic infrastructure items that were initially deemed essential by both the VPA, and council. The developers are surely laughing all the way to the bank given that their contribution has now become $48+ million instead of the original sum of $64+ million. On top of this windfall we must not forget to include the State Government’s purchase of 1.2 hectares of land for the new McKinnon High campus. No detail has been provided by the government as to how much this purchase cost. We can only guess that it would certainly be well over $4m – and that is a conservative figure no doubt.
  • Adding insult to injury is the fact that the calculations provided still state that the site is 24+ hectares in size. Why isn’t the 1.2 hectare site removed from this calculation? Especially since the traffic estimates DO NOT INCLUDE the traffic generated by the school in any of its final numbers.
  • When one looks at the open space calculations we find that only 8.33% is considered as ‘open space’ and that includes a calculation based on 24+ hectares. Only when the neat sleight of hand is applied to calculate percentages according to Net Developable Area,(instead of total site area) do we come anywhere near a 10% return.
  • Council also is in agreement with the loss of parking for residents along East Boundary Road to accommodate the installation of traffic lights not where originally deemed necessary.

There are a myriad of questions that residents should be asking of their councillors, namely:

  • Why can Hobson’s Bay have 3000 dwellings on a site that is 67 hectares and Glen Eira thought that 3000 dwellings on a site of 24 hectares should also accommodate this same number?
  • Why can Hobson’s Bay have a density quotient for each hectare and this isn’t even considered by our council?
  • Why should nearly 3 potential hectares of this site (ie along North Road) only be charged the minimal 5.7% open space levy?

As stated previously, we do not expect that our  very compliant councillors will reject the officer’s recommendations. We will undoubtedly get more scape goating about government, about population growth, about ‘consensus’, whilst the missing ingredient in all of this discussion will be the tremendous impact on East Bentleigh residents and the municipality as a whole.

A quick summary of last night’s council meeting.

BUDGET, SRP & CARNEGIE POOL

In a council first, changes were made to the advertised budget. Esakoff moved a motion to include an additional $150,000 for sustainability efforts as a result of the declaration of a climate emergency. Where and how this money was to be utilised was not stated. The motion was passed unanimously. Whilst certainly a welcome change given council’s past record of rubber stamping everything, we wonder whether this amount is nothing more than a token gesture and what it will actually achieve.

Comments were also made on the proposed $60M loan over the next 5 years and some were repeated when discussing the issue of the Carnegie pool redevelopment. The arguments presented included: current low interest rates, meeting community service expectations, cheaper to fix/renew/develop infrastructure sooner rather than wait until repairs cost too much or the costs go up year after year.

In relation to spending at least $51M on the Carnegie pool only Delahunty questioned the wisdom of concentrating so much on aquatic facilities in place of other potential projects. Also disheartening was Sztrajt’s continued recourse to a black and white (and false) dichotomy. The issue isn’t whether infrastructure needs upgrading, but how much should be spent on these projects. It is never a case of do nothing now or spend the money now. The fundamental question should be: Do residents agree with spending $51M – especially since they have never been asked this question! We remind readers that council is currently in debt for $11 plus million. Borrowing another $60M will ensure that ratepayers are paying off the loan for another several decades at least.

TREE REGISTER

Councillors unanimously resolved to seek further consultation on implementing the tree register. Sztrajt again came up with some bogus arguments such as the problem with anonymous nominations by neighbours determined to create mischief. Delahunty countered by stating that the decision would be based on the merits of the tree nominated. If it was worthy of inclusion in the register it would be regardless of the motivation of whoever nominated it.

Esakoff did not repeat her previous opposition to the register on private land, but stated that she would read residents’ views. Cade was opposed, and Magee was absent. Hence we have at this stage 4 councillors who have already declared their opposition to the creation of controls on private land. All it would take is for one councillor to alter their view and the tree register issue would again be confined to the dustbin of history!

It is also becoming pretty tiresome to hear repeated the arguments about community consultation and how this fails to elicit the full community’s views. Instead, we are told, that only those with an interest will respond, or those who are the loudest, will respond thereby negating the ‘outcomes’ of the consultation. Council can’t have it both ways – ie arguing that ‘we have consulted’ and forging ahead with dubious projects or, conversely, the consultation is a dud. If council is really determined to elicit greater responses then there are various methodologies they could employ, namely:

  • Including a letter/flyer with each rate notice so that postage costs are kept at a minimum
  • Providing discussion papers for each major project that clearly lists the pros and cons so that residents have a clear idea of the issue
  • Asking specific questions instead of the vague nonsense that currently parades as ‘community consultation’

DELEGATIONS

Whilst other councils rescind their earlier increase in funds available to the CEO, Glen Eira councillors have merely halved the total – ie from $20M to $10M. However, planning conference and Delegated Planning Committee meetings can now proceed with community input via zoom.

In another jam packed agenda for Tuesday night, the council tradition of ignoring resident views continues. Here is a brief overview of the important items.

THE BUDGET & SRP

Given the number of submissions put forward by residents on the budget and the Strategic Resource Plan (SRP) it is unbelievable that the budget does not include one single word in response to these submissions. The only acknowledgement of what residents said comes in the SRP in a paragraph that typically says nothing. We quote:

While there were three formal submissions received for the Strategic Resource Plan 2020-2021 to 2029-2030, twenty submissions received for the 2020-21 Draft Annual Budget also made reference to a number of matters in the Strategic Resource Plan. These included level of proposed borrowings and strategic projects contained within the long term capital works program. No formal submissions were received for the Draft Community Plan Commitments 2020-2021.

Once again we have a council that refuses to alter any aspect of its budget in response to resident feedback. Several submitters urged council to increase its allocated spending given the declaration of a climate emergency. Totally ignored! But this has not stopped council from:

  • Increasing the rate in the dollar (marginally) despite the fact that there is now an additional 200 rateable properties that will be paying rates.
  • A mere $3 reduction in the 240/120L wastage charge, despite the fact that there is a large reduction in the estimated State Government land fill levy.
  • The continued determination to borrow $60m over the next five years, most of which will probably go to funding the $51M Carnegie mini Gesac pool redevelopment! This is assigning future generations to huge debt repayments.

When residents have taken the time and trouble to sift through volumes of pages and figures, the least any council should be prepared to do is respond directly to these comments and provide solid justification as to why the suggestions have been ignored, adapted, or even incorporated into the final budget! In Glen Eira, there is no such thing as changing what has already been determined as a result of community feedback. The legal requirements are met and that is it!

CARNEGIE POOL DESIGN

Despite the fact that the vast majority of feedback on the initial concept designs repeatedly stated that a de facto GESAC was not wanted, Council has again ignored these views. The ‘promise’ is that the size presented in the plans: Remains within the footprint, size and structure as the existing pool

We certainly query the veracity of this statement as depicted in the following images. How on earth council can claim that the ‘footprint’ will be identical to what currently exists is simply mind boggling when the following is compared:

There are many other questionable statements. For example:

In terms of a Business Case we find this comment: The findings of this review will be presented in full to Councillors in July. Does this mean that councillors have not as yet even clapped eyes on the business justification to spend at least $51M? Will this business case ever make it into the public domain? And how on earth can any design be progressed when the financial evidence is not available? Another example of putting the cart before the horse!

There’s also this:

The traffic and parking report includes future scenarios which have been modelled around the proposed closure of Moira Avenue. Councillors have not made a final decision on closing Moira Avenue yet and an additional community consultation will be conducted in relation to the proposed road closure at a separate time next financial year 

Surely the question regarding the possible closure of Moira Avenue should come before any designs are put out for consultation? This smacks of the Inkerman Road bicyle path fiasco where decisions are made to plough ahead prior to a full, objective assessment of all the data.

We are simply reminded of what happened at GESAC with its abysmal planning that required the expenditure of several more millions to turn open space into more car parks (3 times). The Mile End traffic report and its claims for sufficient car parking down the track warrants very careful scrutiny.

All in all, it would appear to be more of the same in Glen Eira City Council. Namely, pretend you are really consulting in order to ‘prove’ all the decisions that have already been made!

Evidence keeps piling up as to the machinations that this council undertakes in the name of ‘community consultation’ – especially in relation to structure planning. The latest example is the draft Glen Huntly Structure Plan.

Tuesday night’s ‘debate’ on whether or not to accept the draft was stage managed to perfection. With Silver absent this created the potential for a tied 4-4 vote on whether to proceed with consultation or to reject the draft plan. The final vote was 5 to 3 to exhibit with Hyams, Esakoff and Sztrajt voting against exhibition and Magee, Athanasopolous, Cade, Delahunty and Davey voting to go ahead.

Not for the first time Magee outdid himself. Anyone listening to his comments would surely have come away with the view that he was opposed to exhibition. But no! He VOTED FOR, in spite of all such comments as: Council has to be ‘very very careful’; Glen Huntly is ‘charming’; there already are ‘lot of flats a lot of units’; to grow futher  ‘ would be detrimental to that strip if the structure plan was implemented the way it is currently written’ and finally ‘let’s make sure we save Glen Huntly so that in 10 or 15 years time Glen Huntly looks like Glen Huntly’. Had Magee voted against, as his comments implied, then Esakoff would have had the deciding vote and the draft would have been knocked back. As we said, stage managed to perfection!

But that’s not all. Consultation is now going ahead and the questions asked of residents could not be any more vague and useless. Here are the pertinent questions after the usual demographic options such as sex, age, connection with Glen Huntly. Direct questions on the draft structure plans itself are:

What do you like about the draft Plan?

Are there opportunities for change?

Do you have any other feedback?

How did you hear about the draft Structure Plan and the opportunity to provide feedback? Please select all that apply.

Not once in the opening blurb are residents told:

  • 10 storeys is proposed in one spot and between 6 and 8 for others
  • How many properties will be rezoned from 2 or 3 storeys to 4 storeys
  • Which height limits are discretionary and which are mandatory
  • That Glen Huntly is already the most dense suburb in Glen Eira

By way of contrast we provide the following example from a current consultation by Kingston. Whilst not brilliant, residents are at least provided with options that they can prioritise and comment upon. Also worth noting is that residents are specifically given the option of development density and scale plus the question: Please describe what need to be protected most when planning for the future of Chelsea! Questions that Glen Eira would not dare to ask because they know that the majority of residents are opposed to 10 storeys!

Countless other processes are missing whenever this council pretends to undertake community consultation. For instance:

  • No Discussion Papers outlining the pros and cons are presented
  • No background studies on traffic, parking, business, etc are done to accompany and inform the consultation

This approach is consistent in all council’s ‘consultations’ and stands in stark contrast to the way that  other councils go about involving their communities. Glen Eira does not have consultation worthy of that name. What we have is a carefully managed show where decisions are made behind closed doors and then the data or questions are skewed to find the ‘evidence’ that supports the predetermined decisions.

Readers will remember that as a result of COVID, Glen Eira decided to put into the hands of the CEO a $20M fund to use as she saw fit. Other councils also upped their CEO’s powers – but nowhere near this amount! The rationale behind this was that at the time the Local Government Act required the physical presence of councillors in the chamber. This has now been amended and council meetings are being conducted via zoom. Hence, there is no reason why the delegations that came into effect should remain.

Below, is a page from the Boroondara Council’s agenda which repeals the COVID delegations and returns things to the previous state. Please note the reasons given!

Glen Eira however sees no need to rescind the delegation. A recent public question asked when this is likely to happen and Council’s response is presented below:

Questions/Comments:

  • Why should this be ‘left in place’?
  • Why is this council so consistently out of step with what is happening in other councils?
  • Where are our representatives and why do they continually accept such nonsense responses that only work to sideline them even further?

The following table taken directly from council’s latest version of the Open Space Strategy (OSS) says it all in terms of performance and how important this council views open space.

There are several things to note about this table:

  1. Of the fourteen suburbs listed 7 have less than 10 square metres per individual
  2. Only three suburbs have maintained the amount of public open space available to each individual, and these are the suburbs with the LEAST amount of public open space per capita (ie 3 metres).
  3. Thus Glen Eira has seen a REDUCTION of available public open space per individual over the past 6 years. Given the projected population growth, this will only get worse.

Over the past 6 years council has ‘achieved’ the following:

  • Placing a public acquisition overlay on 2 properties in Mile End Road/Mimosa Road, Carnegie. Houses still stand.
  • Purchase of old furniture store in Carnegie for $3+M in order to cater for market
  • Purchase of fully renovated property in Aileen Avenue for $2.16 and then rented out for 4 years. Also a stone’s throw from Princes Park
  • Several pocket parks. No report/evaluation as to how well used these are – ie unnamed road between Eskdale and Fitzgibbon Crescent and 500 metres from Caulfield Park

Over the past ten and a half years, council has accumulated $52m in open space levies. It has spent just over $8M on acquiring properties as NEW open space. That is basically 15%. The rest has gone into ‘improvement’ of existing open space, despite the fact that this council has identified for the past 30 odd years the need for additional open space!

Here’s the table that documents council’s accrued levy contributions. The figures are taken directly from the 2014 and 2020 open space strategies, together with data from the monthly financial reports.

FINANCIAL YEAR

REVENUE

2009/10 $1,663,000
2010/11 $1,629,000
2011/12 $2,230,000
2012/13 $1,900,000
2013/14 $2,581,000
2014/15 $3,667,000
2015/16 $5,865,000
2016/17 $7,811,000
2017/18 $10,348,000
2018/19 $7,851,000
2019/20 (Jul-April) $6,856,815
TOTAL $52,401,815

The central question for residents is: how much more development should a suburb like Glen Huntly have when it is already the most overdeveloped area in the municipality? Council uses profile.id. Here is what they conclude about Glen Huntly based on census figures. With Council’s proposed structure plan it can only get worse!

It is time that this council was called to account for its continued facilitation of more and more development. The latest example of what this means for residents is the draft Glen Huntly structure plan. This is far from a typical ‘structure plan’ in that:

  • Borders are yet to be identified
  • Rezoning of residential areas is yet to be itemised (ie from 2 to 3 or 4 storeys)
  • Potential heritage impacts unidentified

What we do know is that council’s much vaunted Quality Design Guidelines is not worth the paper it is written on and the latest City Plan  isn’t much better. Whilst the Guidelines stated that the preferred heights for the commercial areas be 5 storeys, we now have council officers advocating for 6 storeys. What was 8 storeys now becomes 10 storeys. The following screen dumps reveal what is proposed (most are discretionary height limits too):

The final insult comes with the discretionary setbacks. Whilst the Bentleigh & Carnegie upper floor setbacks were reduced from 6 to 5 metres, we now have council recommendations for a majority of only 4 metre setbacks and in one precinct a front wall of up to 15 metres.

This is not ‘urban design’ – it is urban destruction in a suburb that is currently the most densely populated in the municipality. With this ‘structure plan’ it will only get worse.

Several things are very clear.

  • The entire Caulfield North/East and Glen Huntly/Murrumbeena/Carnegie will meld into one hodge podge of high rise.
  • Glen Huntly currently does not have any sites zoned Residential Growth Zone (ie 4 storeys). This is the first step in changing this!
  • Developers, once COVID is over and the economy recuperates, will have a field day with practically everything being ‘discretionary’.

The tragedy of all this is that our councillors are failing spectacularly in fulfilling their roles – that is primarily to be COMMUNITY REPRESENTATIVES. Listening to the community is one thing. Acting on community wishes is another thing completely.

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