GE Council Meeting(s)


At Tuesday night’s council meeting the two most contentious applications (Belsize Avenue & Hamilton Street) got their permits – both voted in unanimously. Hyams and Esakoff moved and seconded motions for increased setbacks and full visitor parking spots. The requirement for Construction Management Plans was also ‘tightened’ in the face of much community backlash recently. The thrust of councillor arguments was that applications should be ‘compliant’ with ResCode – especially visitor car parking.

Ostensibly these resolutions sound reasonable and justified. However, when we look at the bigger picture, we can only wonder what on earth is going on. All of council’s published documents on traffic and parking reveal that what is likely to happen is a REDUCTION IN CAR PARKING REQUIREMENTS in our activity centres. We repeat the relevant page from the recently published Integrated Transport Strategy. Please note these ‘recommendations’:

  • explore a reduction in the statutory parking requirements for office use.
  • Where it is demonstrated a public parking availability is underutilised during the evenings, explore a reduction in the statutory parking requirements for these commercial uses.
  • allowing these commercial parking spaces to be shared by multiple users.

The writing’s on the wall! Council’s ‘parking’ strategy will include a REDUCTION in the current requirements. We will get parking overlays that will see waiver after waiver of both visitor and resident car parking or making the requirements for single, double, or triple bedroom places so minimal, that they amount to multiple waivers.

The relevance of councillors’ arguments on the Belsize Avenue and Hamilton Street applications become significant in the light of the above draft proposals. Both streets form part of the Carnegie and Bentleigh Activity Centre. Both are zoned Residential Growth Zone. Council’s consistent argument has been that shops can’t accommodate the necessary parking requirements, but neighbouring streets can. That means streets such as Hamilton and Belsize Avenue. So, if the eventual parking overlays adopt this approach and reduce the current regulations for offices, shops, and apartments, then these side streets will be chocka block full of parked cars.

Going a step further, we then have to ask, are the conditions placed on the Hamilton Street and Belsize Avenue permits nothing more than sheer hypocrisy and/or total ignorance by our councillors? For example, how can they in the same breath vote for a (draft) transport policy that REDUCES PARKING REQUIREMENTS, and also vote that applications in the activity centre ADHERE TO THE CURRENT SCHEDULE OF PARKING ‘STANDARDS’? Was all the chest thumping on Tuesday night nothing more than grandstanding? Will our local streets now become parking lots?

The 13-15 Hamilton Street, Bentleigh application (4 storey, 27 units and a visitor car parking reduction of 4 spaces) features some of the most incredible officer comments ever printed. Of course, the recommendation is to grant a permit!

We are literally gobsmacked by the following paragraph:

Officers have balanced both the positions of Councils Transport Planning Department and the views of the applicant and consider that, on balance, one visitor car parking space on site is sufficient and would not have an unreasonable impact on the availability of on-street car parking.

Innumerable questions arise from such a ‘conclusion’ –

  • Why is the developer’s position given more credence than council’s own traffic department which wanted 3 visitor car parking spots (instead of the required 4)?
  • Where is the data that justifies one space for 27 units?
  • Who is this planning department really working for – the community or the developer?

As with the Belsize application noted in our previous post, this officer report again fails dismally:

  • No breakdown of apartments (ie, 1, 2, or 3 bedrooms)
  • No mention of permeability
  • Site coverage is 62%
  • The side setbacks ‘generally comply’ with ResCode but that’s okay since ‘these minor deviations are considered acceptable’

As for front setbacks we get –

Front setbacks do not comply with the numerical standards in the Planning Scheme, which requires 7.3 metres, based on the average setback of the two adjoining dwellings.The proposed front setbacks are between 4.9 metres and 6.1 metres at ground floor,approximately 6.8 metres at Levels 1 and 2 (with balcony encroachment) and approximately 8.6 metres at Level 3 (with balcony encroachment). 

AND THE ‘EXCUSE’ FOR ACCEPTING THIS LACK OF ADEQUATE SETBACKS? –

There is a four storey building under construction at 16-18 Hamilton Street (to the south-east of the site). The approved setbacks of that building are similar to that of the proposal being between 4.3 and 5.5 metres at ground floor, 6.8 metres at Levels 1 and 2 (with balcony encroachment) and 9 metres at Level 3 (with balcony encroachment). 

So we now have the situation where one lousy decision means that future decisions are also lousy! Brilliant planning all round!

PS: It’s also clear that the planning department has absolutely no idea of the parking situation in these streets. A trip down Nicholson street at 12.45 this afternoon had cars parked everywhere along Nicholson, Blair, Hamilton, etc. To then present the argument that street parking is available is an utter nonsense.

Since the zones were introduced there has been over 190 new apartments built in these few streets. Here’s a visual image of exactly what’s occurred – how many car spots have been waived we wonder?

In an extraordinary VCAT Watch report Councillors have been severely wrapped over the knuckles and by implication, from the unelected bureaucracy. In short, the message appears to be – DON’T VOTE AGAINST WHAT OFFICERS RECOMMEND!

The issue concerns the VCAT permit granted for a 6 storey development in McKinnon Road. We have repeatedly , and over several years, highlighted the fact that councillors consistently lop off a storey or two, plus some apartments from applications and in the end, VCAT always grants the developer exactly what he wants. Our criticism isn’t solely that councillors have been grandstanding to the gallery, or being ‘populist’. It’s that this tactic has never worked and that councillor energies should have been directed at ‘reforming’ the planning scheme. Not continually knocking off a floor or two only to have VCAT grant the permit. The ‘fault’ as always has been with the planning scheme and VCAT itself. Councillors of course ignored this fundamental aspect of their decision making or simply didn’t have the balls, or the will, to initiate major changes in the planning scheme.

Having said all that, in a democracy, which we’re supposed to be living in, councillors have a duty to represent their constituents. It is these 9 men and women who set policy, direction, expenditure, and who are supposed to listen and act in accordance with the majority of residents’ views. It is NOT FOR THE ADMINISTRATION TO determine how councillors should vote. Their role is to provide the information, make recommendations and then leave it to the good sense (hopefully) of councillors.

The officer report represents a new line in the sand, and a public one at that, between councillors and administration. The tone is uncompromising and in fact quite insulting in our view. Here are some examples and our interpretation of the ‘message’ –

The officer recommendation was to approve the development at six storeys, however the Council decision was to delete the upper two storeys

COMMENT – laying the blame!

In reaching the decision the VCAT member was quite critical of Council’s approach in seeking a development of 4 storeys……..The Member agreed with the position of the planning officer and the expert evidence of the application

COMMENT –  to the best of our knowledge, no report has ever contained this unequivocal support for the ‘planning officer’ and the explicit ‘criticism’ of Council – ie councillors!

The best bit however relates to car parking:

The decision places the onus on Council to fulfill its responsibility to undertake the required analysis of car parking requirements based on the planning scheme provisions and not apply a blanket approach in requiring the statutory provision of car parking. 

COMMENT- There’s a wonderful irony here. Council does NOT undertake its own ‘analysis’ of car parking. Most of the time it blithely accepts the developer’s data without blinking an eye. Secondly, the ‘planning scheme provisions’ are there for a purpose aren’t they? So how can we have in the same sentence a reference to the planning scheme and then dismissing its ‘standards’ by stating that a ‘blanket approach’ on the statutary requirements is not on? This is nothing more than another below the belt attack on those few councillors who repeatedly vote for the required number of visitor car parking in permits.

We definitely live in interesting times when the tail continues to wag the dog! Whether our councillors will now have the balls to assert their rightful authority is open to question. They haven’t thus far!

The agenda items set down for next Tuesday feature more planning applications that are literally tearing the heart out of Carnegie and Bentleigh in particular. Of concern is council’s continued penchant to waive visitor car parking with the most spurious and illogical arguments – none of which are of course justified in the various reports.

Here is our ‘review’ of the first of these:

7-11 Belsize Avenue, Carnegie

The application is for a four storey apartment block with 36 units and a visitor car parking waiver of 4. The officer report recommends a permit plus the increase of visitor car parking from 3 to 4 spots – that means a shortfall of 3 spaces.

Things to note:

  • Once again the report does not state how many of these 36 apartments are single, double or triple bedrooms.
  • Setbacks are inadequate but council’s new line of argument is now – Even though the setbacks are less than ideal they still allowed for inclusion of canopy trees, provided that appropriate species were utilised. PLUS this little beauty – The extent of basement and proximity to boundaries was not uncommon for developments of this scale. North-east, north-west and south-east corners all allowed for planning of larger canopy trees.
  • Council repeatedly resorts to the terminology of “preferred character”, conveniently forgetting to highlight the fact that there are NO PREFERRED CHARACTER STATEMENTS FOR ANY HOUSING DIVERSITY AREAS. The result of this failure is that we get the nonsense of: Whilst a four storey development may be acceptable in principle, the design must also respond to its context and achieve an acceptable degree of fit with the preferred character of the area dictated by existing and emerging building forms. What total rubbish.!!!!! With no preferred character statement, conflating ‘existing’ with‘emerging building forms’ is completely contradictory and nonsensical. There are 19 properties in this section of Belsize Avenue. One property has 13 units and another fronting Neerim Road is also a 4 storey with plenty of units. Thus the majority of Belsize remains intact at this point in time! The residents of Belsize and other areas are therefore paying the price of inept council planning that goes back decades. Why aren’t there ‘preferred character statements’? Why hasn’t this been highlighted in the recent structure planning?
  • We also get an entirely new argument with this paragraph – Limited consideration has been given to the structure plan or guidelines due to the advanced stage of the application when the structure plan and guidelines were adopted by Council. Importantly in this respect, the height of the development is in line with the future expectation for this area. Given that council has on several occasions used the structure plan arguments at VCAT, we find it interesting that there is now a divergence from this position and, of course, all to the advantage of the developer! The fact that several paragraphs earlier the report states (f)urthermore it is consistent with what has been adopted under the Carnegie Structure Plan. Thus we have two totally contradictory positions – either the draft structure plan is worthy of consideration, or it’s not. Council can’t have it both ways! Also worth pointing out that the application was received by council on the 29/11/2017 – hardly eons ago! And finally, residents have consistently been told that height is not the be all and end all – yet here we have council’s ‘excuses’ concentrating exclusively on height.
  • Why can’t Glen Eira provide a table that itemises every single component of ResCode and the other requirements that clearly show what is compliant and what isn’t. Council has done this for some applications (poorly) so why not for ALL applications? That would avoid officer reports filled with weasel word after weasel word and phrases – ie ‘not have a major impact’ on traffic; “broadly consistent’, ‘not unreasonably’ etc. Would someone like to give their interpretation of ‘reasonable’ and what ‘broadly consistent’ means?

Our conclusion remains that officer reports are anything but ‘objective’. They simply highlight all the reasons as to why a development should get its permit and ignores, or undervalues, the reasons why it shouldn’t. That of course is planning in Glen Eira!

Council has consistently claimed that ‘evidence’ is the basis of all their decision making. Two items from tonight’s council meeting focus on this claim. We feature two recordings:

  1. Council’s response to the Mitchell Street residents’ letter, and
  2. A public question on the Elsternwick structure plan in the ‘community consultation’ phase of the meeting.

We urge all readers to listen carefully and to decide how well these councillors addressed what was being sought and asked.

MITCHELL STREET

  • Does Hyams’ motion change a single thing?
  • If parking/traffic changes are suggested then one should assume that officers did the necessary research to begin with and that their ‘evidence’ for the proposed changes are beyond question. Thus saying “’if this motion gets passed our traffic officers will examine the street and see what they can do there’ implies two things – (1) either no real ‘investigation’ was done PRIOR to changes being suggested, or (2) placating residents with vague, airy-fairy promises
  • Why can’t the results of this further investigation be tabled at council? What are the chances that the residents’ stated concerns will be taken on board?

ELSTERNWICK STRUCTURE PLAN

  • Has any councillor satisfactorily answered the allegation that decision making is ‘anecdotal’ and far from ‘evidence based’. We remind readers that Delahunty called the published shadow drawings as ‘rudimentary’!!!!!! Hardly the basis for informed decision making!!!!!
  • Not one single councillor, nor any published document has as yet presented any ‘evidence’ as to why 12 storeys is necessary.

The Glen Eira version of ‘evidence’ is let’s make it up as we go along to support the conclusions we arrived at from the beginning!

 

The following letter features in the agenda papers for Tuesday night:

Of concern is the recommendation – once again to merely ‘receive’ and ‘note’ the letter, which will then disappear into the ether no doubt and not be heard of again. Council is duty bound to do far more. Residents are entitled to be provided with solid ‘evidence’ for the proposed changes. For example: has there been a traffic count taken in the past few years? If so, when was this done and what are the results? If in the past there was the decision to erect a ‘no standing zone’ outside 86-90 Mitchell Street, what was the reason and what is the reason now for proposing to change this? And the $64 dollar question of course is that council’s policy is to conduct surveys of local residents before the implementation of changes. Will these 40 residents now be listened to?

The crucial question is- will council now turn all our local streets into parking areas given its statement in the Transport Strategy that they will explor(e) the reinstatement of lost street parking where required. And if council is determined to introduce parking overlays that reduce even further the ‘standards’ set out in Clause 52.06, then should residents expect more and more parking overflow from the commercial centres into their streets?

We urge all readers to take careful note of the following from the Integrated Transport Strategy.

This makes it absolutely clear that council’s intention is to:

  • Reduce the required parking provisions for ‘office space’.
  • ‘Site specific conditions’ can only mean more ad-hoc decision making – especially for restaurants
  • ‘maximise the use of existing (car parking) spaces’, can only augur more of the Mitchell Street example
  • ‘Shared parking’ translates into less car parking spaces provided by developers and residents parking in multi-level car parks largely paid for by ratepayers.

Finally, the Mitchell Street example is the perfect illustration of council’s disastrous planning. Next to a heritage area, and within a flooding zone, Mitchell and its surrounding streets were zoned RGZ in 2013 – ie 4 storeys. Now 5 years later, council is attempting to undo the damage it has created. Too late we say!!!!!! The draft structure plan now wants the WESTERN side of Mitchell street reduced to 2 storey height limit (ie NRZ) and six properties on the EASTERN side of Mitchell Street, reduced to 3 storeys (ie GRZ).  But given what has already happened, and what will still happen until council achieves the gazetting of its amendments, this is literally pie in the sky planning. The horse has already bolted. Yet council has known this for years and nothing was done!

Here is the current state of affairs in Mitchell and Robert Streets. The yellow markings indicate developments granted permits.

The tally thus far is –

77 Mitchell – 3 storey, 7 units

82-84-  4 storey, 23 units

79-83 – 4 storey, 41 units

77 Robert Street, -7 units

Residents of local streets anywhere within cooee of our activity centres have much to fear we forecast!

‘Community’ responses to the Urban Design Guidelines have made a belated appearance on council’s website. Several factors are evident:

  • The overwhelming majority of submissions come from developers/planners representing clients. Some submissions would appear to be duplicated – mainly from the earlier submission(s)
  • These submissions invariably argue for less ‘prescriptive’ guidelines including no mandatory height provisions and the ability to go beyond 12 storeys in some cases. Only 2 specifically mention the originally suggested 6 metre setback that has now been reduced to 5 metres.
  • Resident views highlight the length of the document (167 pages) and how inaccessible it is to those without any planning knowledge.
  • Both developers and residents abhor the lack of definition, analysis, and the clear lack of quantifiable, strategic justification.

We thought it worthwhile in this post to focus on how developers view the guidelines as a planning document and what they basically think of council’s performance in this endeavour. Surprisingly perhaps, we feel that many residents would agree with the concerns raised – if not the conclusions (ie pro-development & less constraints). The following extracts reveal once again the shoddy, knee-jerk planning that is the hallmark of Glen Eira Council – and this comes not from residents but from the development industry. Yet this document was passed by councillors with very little change from the first version and once again basically ignoring community concerns. Nor did any councillor, claiming that they had read the submissions, bother to address ANY OF THE CONCERNS listed below!

Here is what developers think:

It is our submission that a definition of Strategic and Urban renewal Areas should be included in the QDG (Quality Design Guidelines). It is also requested that the information listed under Preferred Locations throughout the QDG be clarified, since it often overlays and/or is unclear.

Under Shared Side Boundaries development for Shop Top in commercial Strips areas the QDG states that when  abutting a heritage residential precinct or building, all upper levels must be recessive when viewed from nearby heritage street scapes. This is a vague and unhelpful statement, which does not explain what constitutes recessive, or from where within a heritage streetscape a view should be cast.

The Guidelines should be prepared to be read as a standalone document, yet key information required by readers is not provided. There is a lack of clarity around the identification of a site’s location.

We do not believe the process for community benefit has been appropriately defined nor strategically justified in the documentation provided. Such a proposal is in our view inappropriate and inequitable, particularly in the context where increased density will deliver on metropolitan policy objectives. The idea that scale can be agreed subject to community benefits (“cash for height”) does not represent orderly and proper planning. The processes of negotiation with Council has not been explained. It is our view that surety around this concept is required before it is adopted as part of the Quality Design Guidelines and certainly before it is sought to form part of the Planning Scheme. In our view, a more appropriate process is the use of a Development Contribution Plan Overlay rather than a piecemeal negotiated approach where only some developments contribute to the required community facilities and services.

The prioritisation of commercial land uses in strategic/urban renewal sites requires more consideration. The documentation does not provide any justification for this. The commercial viability and/or economic impact of introduction of so much retail and commercial space into mixed use precincts (if all developments are to utilise the lower three floors for non-residential uses) does not appear to have been assessed. To make the guideline meaningful, such a proposition may be justified if Glen Eira has an acute shortage of commercial or retail floorspace and an assessment exists (by suburb) to demonstrate this.

The guidelines identify “no additional overshadowing of identified key public open space” and yet do not provide the reader any indication of what the key public spaces being referenced are. Other sections also call up access to ‘winter sun’ but again no parameters are provided as to the key hours.

Clearly, additional work to the document is required in order to clarify how preferred building types will be applied and ensure that the guidelines can be read as a standalone document.

The seventh principle relating to the notion of ‘community benefit’ is subjective and does not provide quantifiable guidance to assess a ‘community benefit’….In our previous submission we strongly suggested that future Quality Design Guidelines include quantifiable criteria as to what defines ‘community benefit’. Such criteria would minimise uncertainty surrounding this principle.

We note that the preferred building typologies are not responsive to the actual context of each neighbourhood centre, nor do they permit site and context-responsive design. The preferred building typologies will introduce conflict with the design principle of the QDP which offer a greater degree of flexibility for great design, and provides a more performance based framework to assess design.

The guidelines do not provide any methodology as to how the Strategic Site typology would be identified through the municipality…..We suggest that a precinct analysis is undertaken for all neighbourhood activity centres and transport corridors to determine the locations of strategic sites and precinct specific requirements.

We suggest that upper level setback be considered at a precinct level. This is to ensure the existing character and role of precincts is considered in full

policy change. Overall, the challenge in this policy is that a proper review of the neighbourhood character has not taken place to accommodate the recent variation by the State Government. The review seems to rely on the existing character study, which could be outdated. Additionally, basic considerations  as the average lot size, lot depths and frontages should be properly reviewed to inform such a substantial

The guidelines are highly arbitrary and the level of rigour/technical justification behind many of the guidelines is not clear.

CONCLUSION

What is evident from these comments is that council simply has not done the strategic work necessary to justify any of the proposals contained in the document – including the proposals in the various structure plans. As with the introduction of the zones, what we have is another ‘one size fits all’ approach coupled with meaningless waffle.

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