Council’s current agenda includes the Design & Development Overlay (DDO) for Caulfield North. This follows the previous ‘consultation’ on the Built Form Frameworks for Caulfield North, Caulfield South and Bentleigh East. We have previously commented on the value of the ‘consultation’ and its drawbacks.  (See: https://gleneira.blog/2021/05/12/is-this-fair-dinkum-consultation/)

There are very few changes from the originally advertised documents. So much for ‘listening’ to residents. Worth noting that the officer’s report, as is typical, fails to even make mention of the feedback, and how this has ‘influenced’ or not, council’s current version.

In summary, the DDO will:

  • NOT have mandatory height limits except for the sites in a heritage overlay. The majority of the precinct will have 6 storeys discretionary. The City Plan has 5 storeys. No explanation provided in anything we’ve seen as to why these Neighbourhood Centres should be 6 AND NOT THE 5 STOREYS recommended in the City Plan.
  • Overshadowing to the public domain relies only on the summer solstice – no consideration given for the winter solstice. Plus, overshadowing is said to be avoided for the most ‘active’ parts of the day. For one area this is equated to 10am to 12 pm!!!!!
  • Rear laneways of 3m are deemed appropriate for egress and ingress! This means that two cars travelling in opposite directions cannot pass each other.

We’ve highlighted some of the paragraphs from the officer’s report and ask readers to consider them carefully – as this, presumably, is supposed to be the rationale and justification for the proposed DDO.

Proposed DDO12 will apply to all commercially zoned land within the centre. The introduction of these planning controls will ensure Council can regulate growth and change at an appropriate rate and manage the competing priorities of the community, and the development industry. The proposed controls are not seeking to increase the rate of development within the centre, rather they introduce standards to manage development when it does occur.

COMMENT: What does ‘appropriate rate’ mean? 100 new apartments per annum? Or 200 per annum? The use of the word ‘rate’ is a neat sleight of hand designed to avoid the conclusion that once you raise the allowable height of a building, then it becomes more tempting and profitable for a developer. It has very little to do with the ‘rate’ or presumably ‘speed’ of development which council has no control over anyway.

Mandatory controls are not considered necessary for street walls along this section of Balaclava Road and may even be to the detriment of good development outcomes (for example, preventing on-site outdoor dining terrace areas at the front of cafés). No heritage or character overlay controls affect this section of Balaclava Road and the mandatory requirement has therefore been changed to a preferred setback requirement. This will make it consistent with the Caulfield South Activity Centre DDO.

COMMENT: Since when does a mandatory street wall height prevent ‘outdoor dining terrace areas’? and how will a discretionary height which could allow a four storey wall height contribute to ‘good development outcomes’? Here are some quotes from the original Urban Design doc:

A two to three storey building height at the street is recommended for the Caulfield Park NAC, which will maintain a scale that is both compatible with existing heritage and non heritage shopfronts, and does not overwhelm the streetscape. This has been evidenced with recent developments in the NAC that provide a three storey street wall.

As for the proposition that this is fine given it is ‘consistent’ with what has already been approved for Caulfield South is not a justification. Each Neighbourhood Centre is unique, as admitted even by council. There is no demand for ‘consistency’. Instead each area should be evaluated for what it is, rather than how it can fit into the ‘one size fits all’ model so preferred by this council.

The proposed planning controls only focus on the commercial zones within the centre, a key growth area which places less pressure on our residential areas where tree retention/planting and maintaining site permeability is important.

COMMENT:  if the objective is to protect the surrounding residential environment as claimed above, then perhaps council needs to explain why the Housing Strategy is advocating the removal of the mandatory garden requirement, reducing permeability, and doing nothing specific about tree retention.  The entire area surrounding the commercial land is zoned GRZ, where all of the above changes will impact directly on these properties. Coupled with the impacts of these changes, we will now have a minimum of 6 storeys abutting a mandatory 3 storey zone. And that’s okay for this council.

Here’s a map of the current zoning. Please note the extent of GRZ (3 storeys) and their connection to the commercial sites.

CONCLUSION

Once again we find that council has failed to live up to its so called ‘engagement strategy’. We do not know:

  • How and where community feedback influenced the final decision
  • Why the heights are increased despite the approved council City Plan
  • And finally, ‘consultation’ in name only given the pathetic survey questions

We have to continually scratch our heads and ponder exactly what this administration is doing in terms of open space purchases. Are they simply wasting the monies set aside for open space, or are their purchases really adding anything to the municipality’s desperate need for more usable and effective open space?

We ask, because in the latest agenda we are told that Council has purchased the commercial property at 751 Centre Road, East Bentleigh. Sounds great, but once people delve into this purchase, there appears to be no valid and cost benefit justification for this purchase.  

Here are the details:

Site Area – 237 square metres

Sold – 27th October, 2021

PRICE – $2,227,500

Surely this is a massive overspend on a property of this size? Will we again learn that this property will be leased out for another 2 to 3 years before anything happens? Why this position anyway? When we look at the map (below), surely there is already existing open space well and truly within 400 -500 metres of this site.

Other questions come to mind. Since the 1988 Open Space review, council has known that the areas of open space deficiency are in Camden Ward, as well as in the major activity centres of Carnegie, Bentleigh and Elsternwick. Glen Huntly and Gardenvale are also fairing very badly. So why on earth spend this amount of money for a site that doesn’t add to already existing major deficiencies?

Council will no doubt argue that this is in one of the gap areas identified in the latest Open Space Strategy (OSS). This still doesn’t justify the purchase and the neglect of the areas which need it most. The OSS even has this comment on page 48 –

This table highlights the difference that urban density can make to overall provision of open space. For example, Bentleigh East has less open space relative to the overall suburb area (3.8 per cent) but a higher proportion of open space relative to population density than Carnegie and Caulfield South

So, in terms of ‘need’, East Bentleigh is behind other suburbs.

Next on page 135 we find this recommendation: Provide a new Local Open Space close to, but not facing Centre Road. The purchased property faces Centre Road!!!!!! In addition the OSS’s definition of Local Open Space is: from 0.26 hectares to 1 hectare (page 34). This purchase doesn’t even come close to the recommended size! More illuminating are the examples provided for the purchase of Local Open Space. We quote: Examples include Gardenvale Park, Memorial Park Caulfield North and Springthorpe Gardens Murrumbeena. Each of these examples are triple the size of what has been purchased.

Summing it all up, we seriously question how this council is spending money on open space. Why aren’t they targeting the areas that are continually identified as having shortages or have the highest population density? If the OSS is the gospel, then why ignore its major recommendations? Why spend a fortune on a block of land that you couldn’t swing a cat on? Who makes these decisions?

Readers should find the following cut and paste from the council website both laughable and illuminating.  Laughable, because this is an example of the emptiness of all council promises. Illuminating since it illustrates again and again that what goes into the public domain is nothing more than an exercise in public relations spin. In Glen Eira, the chasm between words and actions would challenge the Grand Canyon!

We quote verbatim from the second half  of the webpage found here: https://www.gleneira.vic.gov.au/services/planning-and-building/planning-scheme-and-amendments/glen-eira-planning-scheme-review-2018

During this wide ranging program of consultation a number of issues and opportunities were raised which have been grouped into themes below. These issues and opportunities are generally the same as those identified in the 2016 Review. Our ongoing engagement with the community has reinforced initial community feedback rather than revealed anything new. In light of this, it was not considered necessary to consult the community again for the specific purpose of this 2018 Review.

Work plan

The work plan adopted by Council includes projects that will cover:

  • Loss of neighbourhood character, more specifically:
    • The need for additional design guidelines within zones
    • More landscaping opportunities and vegetation
    • Better transition between developments
    • Curb the rate of growth
    • Reduce basement encroachments
    • Improve garden character
    • Protect backyards
    • Reduce hard surfaces in private open space areas
    • Front fencing
    • Streetscape integration
    • Better quality architecture
    • Greater front setbacks
    • Reduce building heights
  • Overdevelopment in Activity Centres
  • Development transition between zones
  • Protection of heritage
  • Traffic and parking
  • Lack of open space
  • Developer contribution to infrastructure
  • MSS and Local Policy framework
  • Loss of trees
  • Environmentally Sustainable Design

The Planning Scheme Review report and work plan has been submitted to the Minister for Planning, with work commencing immediately.

COMMENTS

The above quotes relate to the 2018 so called Review Of the Planning Scheme which, as stated, did not involve any community consultation. It is now 4 years since the updated work plan from 2016. We were promised another update for this year. We are still waiting. Nor have we heard anything about another Planning Scheme Review which is also required – unless of course, officers have applied for another extension!

But what is particularly frustrating is the stated ‘commitment’ of this council to undertake all of the things so important to residents – ie height controls, tree protection; open space, traffic, etc. We have bolded and underlined all of council’s promises which relate to these issues in the above. So, how is it possible that the current draft Housing Strategy flies in the face of all these promises?

How on earth can you:

  • ‘Curb growth’ and at the same time rezone at least 10,699 properties for more development when you already admit to a capacity for 50,000 net new dwellings and only need 13,000 out to 2036?
  • ‘improve garden character’ by removing the mandatory garden requirement in over 7000 sites?
  • ‘protect backyards’ when rear setbacks are mooted to be removed in GRZ2 and reduced in NRZ?
  • ‘reduce hard surfaces’ when you intend to decrease permeability requirements in several zones?
  • Have ‘developer contribution’ still absent after 6 years?

What the Housing Strategy proposes is completely at odds with resident views and council promises. Add to this the fact that so little has been achieved in six and a half years and the results are shameful and incompetent.

How much longer will council officers be allowed to fudge the facts and get away with it? Statement after statement made by these officers at Thursday night’s webinar was not only incorrect, but it was selective, misleading, and failed to provide participants with the full picture. Either these planners are not acquainted with the relevant legislation, or they are misrepresenting what is written in order to support the decisions they have already made. Either way, they need to be called out and held to account. This is the purpose of this post.

Two officers claimed that the Planning Practice Notes only require councils to ‘consider’ neighbourhood character in the General Residential Zone. The major quote was:

The General Residential Zone is a zone that allows up to three storey development and the Practice Note associated with the Residential zone says that the purpose of the zone is that it is to consider neighbourhood character as opposed to the Neighbourhood Residential Zone which is to respect existing neighbourhood character….

COMMENTS

The Planning Practice Notes are basically there to ‘explain’ and expand on the Victorian Planning Provisions that are in every single planning scheme.

The word ‘consider’ does not feature anywhere in the Practice Notes in relation to the General Residential Zone. What is stated is this (from Planning Practice Note 91):

While the purpose of the GRZ includes ‘To encourage development that respects the neighbourhood character of the area’, it is unlikely that neighbourhood character can be respected if existing development is single and double storey. However, the GRZ may be the appropriate zone to apply to areas with existing three-storey development.

Council should then have to explain why they have ear marked countless streets that contain only single and double storey buildings to now become 3 and 4 storey given the above paragraph. Clearly, the intent is for increased density and nothing else as explained in another quote from this practice note:

…. it may be appropriate to exempt the minimum garden area requirement in the GRZ where a planning authority is seeking to recognise existing development conditions or to promote a denser urban form of housing than currently exists to achieve other housing objectives

From the following image taken from the Housing Strategy, it appears that Council would have us believe that removing the garden requirement is primarily so that the Urban Forest Strategy and sustainability can be ‘improved’.

The Housing Capacity document is far more forthcoming when it states: Garden area requirements appear to be a constraint on development take-up and density in both the GRZ and NRZ (page ix)

And then from the very same document we also find: The GRZ zones have relatively high average development densities, as most developments in this zone are three storey apartment buildings rather than townhouses or villa developments. (page 48)

And from page 68: With the proposed changes …..the current extent of the general residential zone limits the take-up rate, and so applying this zone to more land will provide a greater supply of potential sites to developers and increase the development rate.

Finally this statement from page 69 – A further increase in development rates in areas formerly zoned GRZ2 of 50% will occur reflecting the reduction or removal of rear setback requirements to facilitate development.

If the argument as presented by council is that what is required is townhouses and ‘medium density’, then the above quotes illustrate completely, that the real objective is to cram as many new apartment blocks as possible into our suburbs. How on earth this council even has the gall to argue that removing the garden requirement in the GRZ will facilitate better ‘sustainability’ and landscaping outcomes is simply mind boggling, or that what will eventuate are townhouses!

There is absolutely no way that last night’s webinar could be construed as ‘consultation’. It was nothing more than an officer talk fest, carefully designed to limit community participation and for this administration to fully control every aspect. We elaborate:

  1. The only voices (and faces) that were seen and heard, were those of the four officers in attendance and the facilitator
  2. The number of participants was not revealed and nor could they read out their questions.
  3. Questions contributed during the evening only went to the officers and were not revealed to participants. We have no idea how many questions were submitted.
  4. Many of the questions were paraphrased by Torres, rather than read out verbatim
  5. Responses were general and more than half did not specifically answer the question. For example, the rationale for height increases was simply put down to ‘urban design’ recommendations. Responses on ‘sustainability’ were frankly abysmal.
  6. Specifics were totally absent – ie no mention of the removal of the garden requirement; no mention of the proposed new nrz which would increase site coverage, reduce setbacks, etc.
  7. Responses to questions submitted prior to the evening lasted precisely 13 minutes. We then had another 13 minutes of ward ‘explanations’ that again refused to mention the most important aspects of the proposed changes.

More disappointing is that only four councillors were announced as being present – Esakoff, Magee, Szmood and Zyngier – although they could not be seen and nor were they given the opportunity to say anything.

What happened last night is nothing short of disgraceful. We would even go as far as stating that there has literally been NO CONSULTATION whatsoever on the housing strategy. When residents are denied the opportunity to speak, to hear/or read what other residents think, and to be continually fobbed off with double speak and weasel words, this is the opposite of ‘consultation’. At best, this was nothing more than another ‘information’ evening – and even that failed to reveal the full facts to participants. Providing skewed and misleading information is NOT consultation. At no point in anything that has happened thus far have residents been asked the most important question that genuinely seeks their views – namely:

  • What do you think of our proposed changes to zones, garden requirements, sustainability, etc?

For those readers who wish to hear what occurred last night we have uploaded the full audio. The audio starts after about 40 seconds. Apologies for the quality of the sound. Council couldn’t even get this right it seems!

Also worth mentioning that the evening finished 10 minutes early.  Does this mean that all questions were dealt with, or it was simply decided to cut the evening short?

PS: BY WAY OF CONTRAST HERE IS WHAT KINGSTON COUNCIL DID IN TERMS OF CONSULTATION WITH THEIR COMMUNITY.

Source: https://www.kingston.vic.gov.au/Property-and-Development/Planning-for-our-future/Housing-Strategy-and-Neighbourhood-Character-Study

Council has now provided the Zoom link for tomorrow nights Housing Strategy Webinar. They have also included an agenda, presented below.

Judging by the published agenda, ‘presentations’ by officers will dominate most of the 90 minute scheduled meeting. Unacceptable!!!!!!!

Furthermore, why is the program divided into wards? Does this mean that comments made by Tucker Ward residents will not be admissable if the program is at the Rosstown ward section? Again, unacceptable!!!!!!

Furthermore, a Housing Strategy, is NOT about wards. It is about the entire municipality, and the principles embedded in the strategy that will shape land use. For example: the general residential zoning exists in all wards. What if some residents wish to comment on the proposed removal of the mandatory garden requirement, as a concept, and not necessarily how it relates to either Rosstown, Tucker, or Camden? Will they be told ‘this isn’t a question’ as stated in the agenda?

All in all, the deliberate and calculated machinations of this council to avoid anything resembling genuine consultation is quite literally unbelievable. Either those in charge have no idea of what consultation means, or they are simply doing everything possible to negate and undermine the expected flood of negative responses. But, and a big but, the URL is now available. We again urge all residents to log on and to tell this council administration, planners, and some councillors, exactly what they think of their strategic planning and continued failure to represent community views.

Criticism after criticism has for ages now been directed at council’s ‘consultation’ methods. Countless comments have highlighted:

  • The failure to incorporate, or even acknowledge resident feedback in officer reports
  • The absence of Discussion Papers that provide a complete and accurate overview of what is proposed in an accessible, short summary format. Instead residents are expected to plough through hundreds upon hundreds of pages instead of simply being told: this is what we are planning to introduce.
  • Survey questions that are anything but open ended or are geared to gaining genuine and relevant feedback
  • Drop in sessions that are mostly set down for times that are unsuitable for many residents.
  • The failure to implement councillor resolutions – ie on the Housing Strategy both councillors and the Consultation Committee were to be part of vetting the survey questions. We have been informed that the Consultation committee received the draft questions late Friday afternoon and were told to provide feedback by the coming Sunday. In order to provide any decent feedback, this meant that the committee members had to have read 589 pages of associated documentation – all on a weekend! We doubt that any changes occurred as a result of any feedback that did come in.

Adding further insult to injury, this coming Thursday, (24th March @ 6.30-8pm) council has scheduled a ‘webinar’ on the Housing Strategy. Registration is essential. The blurb states: Our independently-facilitated webinar will include a presentation by our planning officers, followed by a Q&A session. What this actually means is:

  • Probably one third to half of the 90 minutes will be taken up by officers
  • A Q & A session is not designed to hear what residents really think. It would come under the rubric of an ‘information session’ and not a ‘feedback session’.
  • In the past very few councillors attended. Will this be the same on Thursday?
  • For the past few ‘webinars’ residents were unable to copy items from the chat feature. This must be changed so that all attendees can see and respond to what others have said.

If council is really serious in receiving feedback from its residents then the following should happen:

  • No officer introductions. Immediate hand over to residents to state their views on various aspects of the Housing Strategy.
  • No registration required. If someone wants to log in at any stage they should be able to do so.
  • The evening be recorded and uploaded on council’s website for all to see/listen
  • Full zoom features to be available to all participants.
  • Councillors free to comment without being gagged.

For too many years now, this council has been allowed to get away with a ‘tick the box’ consultation methodology, that is anything but genuine consultation.  If residents, and councillors, really care about what is happening to the municipality, then it is vital that resident voices are heard loudly and clearly. Please attend this Thursday evening.

PS: We’ve just received the following from Save Glen Eira which is being distributed to all streets impacted by the proposed changes in the Housing Strategy.

PPS: please have a read and listen to the following. Another example of the depths this council can stoop to. Remember that twice this application was unanimously rejected. Now decisions are made in secret by what constitutes a minority of councillors.

Council has decided to cave in on the 10-16 Selwyn Street application for two 10 storey towers, and a major supermarket. All done in secret at the last council meeting. The minutes did not record the vote. This decision flies in the face of what has been determined over the past few years. Please note:

  1. 2 unanimous councillor decisions to refuse the permit
  2. VCAT refusing the first permit
  3. Council’s refusal to employ anything ‘higher’ than a solicitor for this second VCAT hearing
  4. May street status still left uncertain and council unwilling to share their legal advice on this issue
  5. For all the talk about the Jewish Cultural Centre, and access to this ‘pedestrian’ mall, council has (deliberately?) dragged its feet in its stated objective of closing off part of the street. Two years down the track, we still have the same traffic conditions.

As far as we know, the only ‘concessions’ made by the applicant are to remove one storey from the proposed 10 storey tower, and to increase setbacks for this tower. At best this is likely to be nothing more than a 3 metre reduction. Nothing has been stated on traffic, the objective of pedestrianising Selwyn Street when there is an admitted potential for 5,000 additional cars in the street, the loading bay directly opposite a primary school level crossing, etc. etc. etc.

The end result is that objectors will be fighting both council and the applicant at the upcoming VCAT hearing. Why these new plans were agreed to by council remains secret. We can only conjecture what occurred last Tuesday night, but it is worth remembering that:

  • Only 7 councillors were in attendance – Zhang and Pilling were absent
  • We very much doubt that the decision was unanimous. Hence a minority of Glen Eira councillors decided council’s position on this application.
  • What arguments were used by the pro permit lobby – ie costs involved for council? Heritage can be ‘sacrificed’ as has happened plenty of times before? Some secret deals involving May Street – maybe a section 173 agreement where council is paid off?

Whatever the reasons and the arguments, we maintain that the lack of transparency and accountability by this council is unconscionable – as is their responsibility to ensure that ‘net community benefit’ is the result of all major planning decisions. This cave in benefits no-one except the developer and those parties who were provided with a so-called ‘discount’ of millions by supporting the application.

The following audio is from last night’s council meeting where one resident addressed council basically telling them how inadequate strategic planning has been and the consistent refusal to incorporate years of community feedback into the draft housing strategy. Please listen carefully:

Residents must really wonder what is the point of council creating and endorsing policy and strategy documents, when these are all ignored when it comes to development. Either we have policy or we don’t! The latest example of this is an application for 93-101 Poath Road, Murrumbeena. The applicant wants 8 storeys, 77 apartments, and a reduction in onsite car parking as well as some upper level setbacks of a miniscule 3 metres. There will be 6 shops, and the apartments are designated as: 29 one bedroom; 40 two bedroom and 8 three bedroom. That’s a ratio of 90% one and two bedroom apartments and the majority of these apartments will be less than 60 square metres in size.

More disturbing is the fact that in the past we have been told ad nauseum that if a policy is not enshrined in the planning scheme, then it bears little or no weight in the final recommendation. Whilst this officer report does repeat this mantra in reference to the proposed Planning Scheme Rewrite (C220) by stating: Council can have regard to the amendment as part of the assessment of this application but can only give it limited weight –   we then have a full 2 pages and a bit, itemising what this amendment proposes as justification for recommending a permit! We repeat: this proposed Amendment is yet to go through a planning panel. It is yet to be independently assessed and reported on. Yet, we have an officer’s report which bases much of the argument for a permit on something which does not as yet exist in the planning scheme.

There is much to challenge in this report. Some examples:

Neighbourhood centres are areas where substantial built form change is anticipated. Really? That’s not what the various versions of City Plan state, nor the Urban Design Guidelines!!!!

The subject site and broader commercial areas of the Hughesdale activity centre are not subject to specific building height controls within the Scheme, nor are there any proposed by way of overlay controls such as a Design and Development Overlay as can be seen in other centres across the municipality.

Thus the truth (inadvertently, we suspect) comes out. Council has absolutely no intention of ensuring that all commercial centres have appropriate height limits assigned to them. What does this augur for Ormond, McKinnon, Patterson, Gardenvale, etc. just to name a few neighbourhood centres currently without any controls in the commercial areas?

And since when does any report include such garbage as found in the Urban Design report:

Try to redesign the top edge of the building…….

Try to design the western side of the building…..

Try to prevent overlooking…..

Try to ensure that no additional service cabinets…..

Why ‘try’? Either the recommendation is that something doesn’t comply with current planning controls or it does, or whether these aspects of non-compliance may be addressed by conditions. Yet, none of this has occurred. Who is to ‘try’? and what if they don’t?

The bottom line, as we read things, is that council will bend over backwards, to ensure that developers get their permits – regardless of existing council policy, and what the current planning scheme states.