GE Open Space


Wishing all our readers a healthy, peaceful and fulfilling 2020.

Reflecting on the past year, change is definitely needed as highlighted in the image below. We require:

  • a council that fights tooth and nail for its residents
  • a council that is open, transparent and accountable
  • a council that engages in genuine consultation
  • a council that listens and acts upon majority views
  • a council that implements immediate height limits for all mixed use and commercial zones
  • a council that has councillors equipped to deal with their oversight obligations

The year is fast drawing to a close, so we thought it worthwhile to consider the ‘achievements’ and ‘failures’ of this council over the past few years.

Below is a list of things that spring to mind. We’ve probably ignored or forgotten some, so please feel free to point out any we might have missed. There is no specific order to the following list.

What we’ve concentrated on are major councillor decisions that arguably fly in the face of majority community views.

Tree Register: still waiting after the issue was first raised in 2003. No guarantee that any control will include private land.

Local Law (Meeting Procedures): No notice of motion; no change to public question format or ensuring that public questions occur much earlier

Structure Plans: version(s) change from 7 storeys to 12 in Carnegie; Elsternwick 12 storeys; and Bentleigh up one storey. Strongly opposed by vast majority of residents.

East Village: 3000 apartments an ‘overdevelopment’; heights of 8 storeys on nearly 60% of the land too high; no public transport to speak of.

Neighbourhood Centres:  no height controls and won’t be for at least another 3 years. In the meantime 7, 8, 9 storey applications coming in. Council’s ‘excuse’? Resources and working very hard on major activity centres, yet nothing is adjusted in budget to facilitate this undertaking.

Environmental/Sustainable development: no WSUD in planning scheme as promised in 2016. Position is ‘advocacy’ and state problem

Winter Solstice Overshadowing: again do nothing but ‘advocate’

Aged Care Sell Off: no consultation and huge angst created for all concerned. Back flip we suspect because price not agreed upon. No guarantee that they still won’t be sold down the track.

Open Space: purchase of Aileen Avenue for $2.1m and then leased for approx. 3 years. No public acquisition overlays except for Mimosa Road property in past 5 years. Millions in fund but council content to spend a fortune on ‘redevelopment’ rather than purchase.

Caulfield Village: cave in on ‘affordable housing’ and overdevelopment of site

Heritage: too little too late for Seymour Road, Elsternwick. Plus how important is heritage to these councillors when a 12 storey permit is granted for Derby Road in a heritage precinct.

Planning Scheme Review: change after change in ‘action plan’ so that years are added on to completion of promised actions. Some ‘actions’ simply disappear ie structure plans for all activity centres becomes ‘urban design guidelines’.

What all of the above illustrates is the nonsense of the utilitarian arguments about ‘greater good’. If that was truly the motive behind some of the above decision making then we would already have more open space, a tree register, height controls in all our commercial zones, and a council that fought tooth and nail to protect residential amenity.

PS: The recently published Wynne letter to council spoke about 2 months of working with the department to ensure that the permanent Amendment for Bentleigh & Carnegie is progressed. We now have an extension on the existing interim controls gazetted until MARCH 2021. Another 15 months of dithering and opportunity for developers to go to VCAT and argue their case about ‘interim’ controls that have not been tested at panels, etc.

Dirty tactics would appear to be in plentiful supply when it comes to the two largest developments to ever occur in Glen Eira ie Caulfield Village and now East Village.

CAULFIELD VILLAGE

With wonderful timing, we have another development stage for Caulfield Village that will grow the site by another 437 apartments. Residents can submit their views (not officially ‘objections’ since there are no third party objection rights) by DECEMBER 24TH, 2019. No need to comment on how inappropriate this is!

Please consider the following facts:

  • The developer’s submitted documents are dated from August to September 2019
  • The actual application went into council on the 1st October, 2019 according to the developer’s letter of submission.
  • Given that there would have been plenty of discussions already between council and the developer prior to this date, we do not see why the plans could not have been made public at the November council meetings. We also note that council states that they only announced the application on the 3rd. Again over 8 weeks after it was received. So, is this dirty tactics by the developer and/or council, we ask? How convenient that Christmas Eve is the deadline! Machiavelli couldn’t have planned it any better!

Next we have the actual proposal itself:

  • 4 buildings up to 9 storeys high
  • 94 Studio apartments with an average size of 40 square metres
  • 191 single bedroom apartments with an average size of 50 square metres
  • 142 two bedroom apartments with an average of 70 square metres
  • 10 three bedroom apartments

Even more startling is that NONE of these properties are to be sold. They are all for rent! And that includes 21 dwellings that will be offered at 20% rent reduction for ‘social/affordable housing’. So magnanimous of the developer when they fought tooth and nail to avoid any social housing component, even though this was stated in the Incorporated Plan.  And so magnanimous of council to cave in and not fight this tooth and nail when they had the opportunity!

Bear in mind that we still have the 20 storeys and more to go and that will probably add another 1500 dwellings to this monstrosity, ably abetted by council. The 2014 Incorporated Plan that was passed by Hyams, Esakoff, Lipshutz and Pilling (only 4 out of the existing 9 councillors) specified a dwelling component of 1100 to 1200 apartments. We are already past this figure with this application and still have the Smith Street Precinct to go which will include at least 20 to 22 storeys!

Even more outrageous is that the Incorporated Plan states that if any of the site is to be listed as ‘student accommodation’ then third party objection rights would come into play. Nothing in this current application designates this as ‘student housing’. Yet it is a stone’s throw from Monash Uni and with dog boxes (studios and single bedroom) the majority, how can they be anything but student housing?

This is simply another application in the long history of the Caulfield Village fiasco and a council that has aided and abetted the developer at every step of the way.

EAST VILLAGE

The Planning Panel for Amendment C155 has now concluded. In an attempt to possibly placate residents councillors resolved for the following in their updated Comprehensive Development Plan and Schedule in October 2019.

  • Mandatory heights of 8 storeys
  • Mandatory 3000 maximum apartments
  • Mandatory setbacks
  • Mandatory overshadowing conditions, especially at the winter solstice

In private discussions between the developer team and council’s team we now have the possibility of:

  • NO MANDATORY HEIGHT LIMITS
  • NO MANDATORY SET BACKS
  • NO MANDATORY OVERSHADOWING CONDITIONS FOR THE WINTER SOLSTICE
  • 4 storey podium along Central Park instead of 3 storeys
  • Trigger points for road construction relaxed and/or removed entirely

The only mandatory condition that council maintained was 3000 apartments when the vast majority of residents stated this was an ‘over development’.

Whilst there is no guarantee that the panel will accept these compromises, our guess is that when the two major stakeholders reach agreement it is unlikely that the panel will adjudicate differently.

Plenty of questions come out of this episode, namely:

  • Were councillors informed of this change of heart by officers? Judging by Hyams’ comment on social media they certainly weren’t!
  • Since this was a formal council resolution and has not been rescinded then it still stands
  • Given that we are now dealing with an entirely different amendment to what was put out for comment, shouldn’t this be readvertised to the public?
  • What legal authority is granted under delegation for officers to change/alter a council resolution, especially without consultation and further decision making?

Both of these examples illustrate completely how ineffectual our councillors are when it comes to representing the community. It also illustrates who runs the show at this council and that all important decisions are made by officers, regardless of whether or not they have the power to do so. Councillors can change this via their voting on delegations. The fact that they continually cede more and more power to officers is against the public interest and certainly shows an inability to either understand what is happening or the will to change it. Either way, these councillors are failing the community!

 

The East Village Planning Panel has now been going for over a week and will continue until this Friday. Barristers, solicitors, expert witnesses abound. There are also reps from the VPA, Council, and landowners. The most disappointing aspect is that only 4 residents have decided to show up and present their submissions directly to the Panel. It is admittedly an onerous task given that people would be required to give up a working day, plus plough through at least 6000 pages of documentation.

What is clear thus far is:

  • The developer/landowners do not want MANDATORY conditions placed upon them which would prevent more than 3000 dwellings. They also do not agree with mandatory shadow conditions that would impact on the height(s) of the buildings
  • The developer/landowners want a reduction in the infrastructure costs potentially saving them millions (bearing in mind that the 1.2 hectare school site has been paid for by the State Government). A great windfall we say. So money comes in and the developer is still arguing to pay less.
  • Council on the other hand appears to be quite happy with 3000 apartments as a mandatory condition despite the lack of public transport and the already congested surrounding arterial roads.

The Panel Report will definitely make for interesting reading!

Wynne’s letter to Council that features in the current agenda is interesting to say the least. It raises innumerable questions, the foremost being:

  • Why has council published only this letter? Could it possibly be that it fits in oh so nicely with the current mantra of ‘it’s not our fault. It’s all the Minister’s and/or Government’s fault? Perhaps residents would have far more faith if our council happened to be a little more transparent and published ALL DOCUMENTATION that surrounds the proposed amendment? For example: we now learn that there are two documents that council submitted to the Department that have never been made public. These were cited in the documentation for the East Village amendment. The documents are named as:

Urban Form Analysis – Carnegie (December 2018) prepared by Glen Eira City Council;
Urban Form Analysis – Bentleigh (December 2018) prepared by Glen Eira City Council

These documents would be essential to determine the rationale of why council first wanted only 6 and 7 storeys in Carnegie for the first iteration of the interim amendment, and then decided that 12 storeys was just as good to stop ‘inappropriate development’ in the second interim amendment.

  • Council claims that the proposed amendment was submitted in January 2019. Ten months have therefore elapsed and still no public exhibition. What has council been doing in those 10 months? What other meetings, discussions, emails, research have gone on throughout this period? Why haven’t residents been informed as to the true reasons for the delay? And why hasn’t council been screaming blue murder if all their recommendations are being rejected by the Minister or Department?
  • Wynne basically chastises Council for its failure to have any definitive Housing Strategy. We quote: …the amendment is not underpinned by an adopted municipal wide housing strategy. Wynne is correct. Council’s Amendment C25 which was gazetted in 2004 and established the Minimal Change/Housing Diversity split up of the municipality was based on data from the late nineties. It has not been touched since! This of course is another example of how out of step our council is when compared to all other metropolitan councils alone. Others such as Port Phillip have had such a policy since 2007; Maryibyrnong in 2011 and updated in 2015; Brimbank 2012 etc. We could go on and on with dates for the various councils. The point is that Glen Eira has again done nothing to provide a comprehensive and valid housing strategy across its entire municipality.
  • Hyams recently stated that Glen Eira has to meet housing growth expectations for the next 50 years! There is nothing in Wynne’s letter that even comes close to this number. If Plan Melbourne is the ‘guideline’ then that stretches out to 2051 and NOT 2069 as Hyams would have us believe.(see: https://gleneira.blog/2019/10/20/hyams-the-spin-maestro/)
  • Wynne’s letter is of course nothing more than mumbo jumbo as well. NO clear criteria is provided, no clear definitions, no inkling of set in concrete housing figures. If major urban renewal sites are not to be used in the arguments against developing the existing activity centres areas in Glen Eira, then all this reveals is that Glen Eira will well and truly be EXCEEDING by thousands the various prognostications for 2051. To ignore what’s on the cards such as East Village, Caulfield Village and Elsternwick, is ludicrous given, for example, that the documentation for East Village nominates a 15 to 20 year time span for completion. Well and truly within the time frame set by Plan Melbourne Refresh.
  • Wynne’s conflation of ‘density’ and ‘diversity’ is a joke. A joke that is swallowed whole by council.
  • One is left to wonder whether Wynne is really happy with council’s expansion of its activity centres. Such centres are supposed to incorporate the commercial/mixed use areas and the immediately surrounding residential areas. They are not supposed to double in size and incorporate countless NRZ streets. This is what council has done in its attempt to argue that reducing streets that are zoned RGZ (4 storeys) to now GRZ (3 storeys) and upgrading NRZ (2 storeys) to three storeys is the answer. In this respect council has not followed state government VPP that occurs in all planning schemes. The irony of course is that by doing this, council is admitting what an absolute failure the secret introduction of the residential zones in 2013 really were and that the doyen of planning (Akehurst) got it all wrong! Sadly, current and future residents will be paying for the incompetence and indifference of councillors in 2013.

The outcome of all this will undoubtedly be more high rise and more RGZ in Bentleigh and Carnegie and probably elsewhere. The most disappointing aspect is that this council has not offered a single, prolonged public outcry. It continues to ignore resident views. It continues to operate in secrecy. It continues to plan abysmally, without justification and without concern for its residents.

Here’s the Wynne letter in full. There’s much, much more that could be said about this letter. We will return to it in a later post.

The VCAT decision for the 9 storey (reduced to 7 storeys) at 377 Hawthorn Road, has finally been handed down. A permit was refused. Not because of council’s planning scheme, but primarily because of the developer’s ‘urban design’ in regard to the configuration of the towers and its impact on neighbouring homes. Needless to say, the lack of controls in council’s planning scheme was noted several times (see extracts below).

It is simply a tragedy that residents have to expend all this time, money and energy to fight what they consider to be inappropriate development, largely because of this council’s refusal and failure to undertake some decent strategic planning. We remind readers that our neighbourhood centres remain unprotected and that nothing will happen until at least 2022 and then will take years to finalise and gazette. In the meantime, there are more developments to fight in close proximity to this application (ie Godfreys and the indoor bowling club). We also expect the current applicants to come back with a revised plan.

Residents need some answers from this council, namely:

  • How much did this VCAT case cost ratepayers?
  • Why is council spending a fortune on consultation after consultation on projects that won’t start for eons, and refuse to assign funding for proper planning in our neighbourhood centres?
  • Why when countless other councils have ‘preferred neighbourhood character’ statements for their entire municipality, has Glen Eira done nothing since 2004 for its housing diversity areas?
  • How many more times must VCAT point out the deficiencies in council’s planning scheme before something is addressed?

The VCAT extracts are presented below:

The most difficult aspect of this proposal and the key reason why we have decided to refuse this proposal is the design of the upper levels. There is an absence of any guidance in the planning scheme about how this neighbourhood centre, including this site, should change. Hence, it is necessary to consider the existing physical and strategic planning policy contexts and the design of this proposal relative to other recent developments in this and other activity centres. The applicant’s urban design witness, Mr Blades, has utilised the urban design approach taken in the City of Yarra to Bridge Road and Johnston Street. Having considered all of these matters together with the concerns raised about the amenity impacts on the residential area to the east, we have decided the design of the upper levels is not acceptable.

The neighbours acknowledge that ‘to earmark an area for change but then insist that the prevailing scale remain the same is nonsensical’. We agree, but the question then arises as to what change, including what building scale is acceptably sensitive and respectful. This is where the key issue in this case about the upper levels comes to the fore. Mr Glossop and Mr Blades agree there is no specific guidance in the planning scheme about the envisaged or preferred extent of change in the neighbourhood centres

the planning scheme provides no guidance as to the extent of change envisaged in its neighbourhood centres, including in this centre. The other approved or constructed developments in Glen Huntly Road and in other neighbourhood centres referred to during the hearing provide for building heights of five to seven storeys. However, their existence does not persuade us that that means such a height is automatically acceptable on this site.

Source: https://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/cases/vic/VCAT//2019/1819.html

From today’s Age newspaper:

Developer paid millions into the accounts of local councillors: corruption probe

Companies linked to Ferrari-driving property developer John Woodman paid two councillors at Casey $1.2 million in what a lawyer for the Victorian anti-corruption commission said was an attempt to win favourable planning decisions worth up to $100 million in one case.

The payments were revealed as public hearings got under way in IBAC’s Operation Sandon, the most significant probe into alleged planning-related corruption in Victoria in decades.

On Monday morning, counsel assisting the hearing, Michael Tovey, QC, outlined the focus of Operation Sandon into matters that he said may amount to serious corruption of planning. Key issues of interest were central to stories in The Sunday Age in October and November last year, including the proposed rezoning of land in Cranbourne West owned by construction giant Leighton, and council decisions favourable to Woodman-linked company Wolfdene, including the Pavilion housing development and the construction of an intersection at Hall’s Road in Cranbourne.

Mr Tovey said the attempted rezoning of the Cranbourne West precinct from industrial to residential uses would have “increased its value by well over $100 million”.

Mr Tovey explained how IBAC had found payments of $900,000 by Mr Woodman’s company, Watsons Pty Ltd, into bank accounts linked to former mayor and Liberal Party activist councillor Sam Aziz, who had repeatedly argued and voted for planning decisions favouring Watsons-linked projects.

Former mayor and one-time aspiring Liberal MP Geoff Ablett received payments into his bank account of $300,000. He had also received tens of thousands of dollars from Watsons when he unsuccessfully contested the state election in 2014.

Cr Aziz will not appear before the hearing. He left the country on extended leave weeks ago, as Operation Sandon stepped up and homes and offices were raided. Mr Tovey told the hearing that shortly after IBAC raided his house, Cr Aziz sold his home and left Australia for Egypt. IBAC subsequently froze the proceeds of the sale.

On Sunday, Cr Aziz told The Age he was in Dubai. It’s unclear when or if he plans to return to Melbourne. Mr Tovey also detailed the repeated failure by Cr Aziz to declare conflicts of interest at council meetings.

In his opening statement, Mr Tovey detailed how Woodman and related companies used financial payments into councillors’ bank accounts, political donations and other gifts to “curry favour” with councillors in an attempt to win favourable planning decisions.

Included were payments to $25,000 a month to Cr Aziz for supposed consultancy work on a grand scheme for a satellite city at Little River west of Melbourne. Cr Aziz was to be paid $600,000 for the consultancy work. Under questioning, Mr Woodman confirmed that Cr Aziz had not delivered the work he been commissioned to do.

Watsons Pty Ltd has long prided itself on winning unlikely planning approvals, especially rezonings in farming and green-wedge areas. Donations and in-kind support to councillors and MPs is an important part of the Watsons strategy for planning success.

Mr Woodman’s client list or business partners have included, or include, the Fox, Ansett and Baillieu-Myer clans, as well as Tony Madafferi, the man police have alleged to be Melbourne’s mafia boss.

The public hearing comes weeks after IBAC raided the homes and offices of Mr Woodman and other key figures of interest including councillors, lobbyists and former Liberal MPs. While the hearings will focus on Casey, IBAC’s public comments make it clear Operation Sandon is far wider in scope and will look at systemic problems in planning decisions statewide.

Casey, which takes in swelling suburbs such as Cranbourne, Berwick, Clyde and Hallam, is one of the fastest-growing municipalities in Australia.

In a written statement earlier this month, Mr Woodman said: “Having worked in the City of Casey for more than 30 years, I have become really attached to the communities that I have helped build … relationships have been developed with many councillors.

“I am a trusting and caring person, and I have trusted that each councillor I worked with would make the right decisions.”

Source: https://www.theage.com.au/politics/victoria/developer-paid-millions-into-the-accounts-of-local-councillors-corruption-probe-20191118-p53bkb.html

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