GE Governance


Finally a positive move on Virginia Estate. Sad however that it had to come from our neighbouring councils and not from Glen Eira Council or the VPA itself!!!

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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?

With every monthly release of new housing data, Glen Eira’s ‘projections’ are shown to be so out of kilter with reality that it calls into question every single aspect of their current structure planning. Council has based its planning on the allegedly required 9000 new dwellings by 2031. This is supposed to be the full justification for doubling the size of activity centres, ‘upgrading’ hundreds upon hundreds of properties to 3 and 4 storey height limits, and proposing 12 storey apartment blocks adjacent to heritage properties. Building approvals reveal that in the past 2 years alone (and we still have 3 months to go for 2017/18) 4000 permits were given out. Even if we subtract the roughly 17% that were for single house replacements that still leaves well over 3000 new apartments in the space of 21 months. Add in the fact that the overwhelming majority will be completed by 2031, then the alleged target of 9000 net new dwellings will be here in the next 3 years at this current rate of development. And even if development slows the number of permits still coming in will ensure that our 9000 is a reality well before 2031.

The ABS has released its latest building approvals this morning for the current financial year. (UPLOADED HERE). We’ve summarised the data for various councils. Only Monash exceeds Glen Eira’s numbers. However this municipality is also double the size of Glen Eira and has double the number of replacement single houses. In short, Glen Eira is still ‘leader of the pack’!!!! Why? And why is council continuing to support this unsustainable level of development and in fact, encouraging more?

 

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 proposes to create at least 4 multi-storey parking lots throughout Glen Eira. Two are to be located in Bentleigh. If we are to take the pictures at face value, then one at least will be 4 storeys and possibly higher.

Not a single word has yet been spelt out as to cost and timing. Instead, residents have been provided with several documents on ‘case studies’, including the Monash Council’s development of the Atkinson Street multi parking site. Council also insists on citing the cost for this development as $7.1 million. This is only half of the stor(e)y (pun intended!) since the Atkinson Street development is only for 2 levels of car parking and not the three proposed by Glen Eira. Furthermore, the overall cost was $8.7 million of which $1.6 million was paid by Monash’s levies on developers.

Here is part of the Monash Council’s report from 2015. We’ve uploaded the full document HERE

Bearing in mind that this document was produced in 2015 and costs have surely gone up in 3 years, the following deserves close attention –

Moonee Valley Council also provides some food for thought in their council report on the prospect of developing multi level car parks.

Needless to say, Glen Eira council has simply decided to erect all of these multi-level car parks without providing the necessary documentation (ie strategic justification) for its proposals as cited in the above Moonee Valley document. Surely before any commitment is made to expend millions upon millions of dollars that such undertakings must be fully planned, costed, and details provided to residents!

Making matters even worse is the fact that according to council’s Strategic Resource Plan, Glen Eira is currently in debt to the tune of $18.4 million at the close of the last financial year – the result of borrowing $25 million for GESAC and the hefty interest rates incurred. If each car park will cost in the vicinity of $8 – $9 million at least, then that is roughly another $32 million that is needed but which council certainly does not have at the moment. Thus the question becomes:

  • When will any of this actually be completed? Well after developers erect their dog boxes and are granted car parking waivers?
  • It is certainly on the cards that much public land will be sold off to developers
  • It is certainly on the cards that meters will be introduced in order to bring in some cash
  • What other costs will rise in order to pay for these decisions?
  • Will Council attempt to borrow even more (up to the legal $25m) so that we are again in hock up to our ears?

Like everything else with this council residents are invited to give their opinions when the most basic information is with-held or hasn’t even been compiled as yet. Do residents really want to spend a fortune on high rise concrete bunkers is the question and what are the alternatives to this massive long term investment? Have alternatives even been considered? How much extra would underground parking cost?

Questions abound. Answers are in very, very short supply!

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