Apologies for another long post!
At last council meeting councillors voted to abandon Amendment C124 which proposed to rezone a disused industrial site in Clairmont Avenue to General Residential Zone 3 (ie three storey height limit). This was undoubtedly the ‘right’ decision, but it also raises innumerable questions regarding:
- Councillors’ due diligence and the needless expenditure of public monies
- an officer’s report (recommending adoption of the amendment) which is so selective in what is quoted that it is indeed laughable
- more ‘problems’ with the current planning scheme that Council seemingly refuses to address
We will go through each of the above points in turn.
Most of the arguments for rejecting the proposed amendment were known right from the start – ie traffic concerns, predominantly Neighbourhood Residential Zone area, lack of transport nearby or shopping strips. In the 6 months that it took to receive permission to advertise the amendment, receive submissions, go to a directions hearing and then a Panel Hearing, none of these factors CHANGED. So why did ratepayers have to fork out thousands and thousands of dollars for a panel, plus staff time, to propose something that was eventually overturned by councillors? Did councillors perform due diligence right from the start and investigate the area, and the proposed amendment thoroughly for themselves? If they did, then why didn’t they reject the proposed amendment much earlier in the process? Or was it that residents of Clairmont Avenue actually got together and started serious lobbying of councillors?
In the discussion for this item, (see below) several councillors made mention of the fact that they had received numerous calls from residents. We congratulate residents, but our argument remains constant. Councillor decisions should not be based on the number of complainants but on the facts of the matter. If all the arguments that appeared at the last minute and lead to the abandonment of the proposal were there right from the start, then the amendment should never have been entertained. It should have been rejected outright last July. It wasn’t, and so ratepayers find themselves funding another useless exercise in double-speak and bureaucratic bungling. Nor does this entire episode cover councillors in glory. For instance: why didn’t they listen to residents right from the beginning? Why did they merely blindly follow officer recommendations – not once, but twice, only to baulk at the final decision?
The Officer Report
Selective editing of important documents is not new to Glen Eira City Council. Unlike countless other councils, Panel Reports are rarely included (in full) in tabled minutes or agendas. Residents either have to physically go down to council to ‘inspect’ or wait until the Department places them up on their website. More worrying is that when decisions are made to adopt, reject, or amend, what is left out is often more telling than what is stated. There is much in this Planning Panel Report (uploaded in full HERE) that does not get a mention in the council minutes. Most of what is omitted is of course what council would like to keep out of the public domain. For example:
The Panel agrees that the application of the NRZ would be largely appropriate if it were not for the fact that that zone makes no proper allowance for development of redundant larger sites such as the subject site. (page 11) In other words, the current planning scheme is inadequate to deal with the two storey height limit imposed in NRZ for large sites.
And there’s more, including this explicit criticism of the ‘reformed’ zones –
While it might be possible for a multi‐unit development to be developed on the subject site by subdividing the land in advance of construction, in my view this would not be a practical approach to development of the site, especially if the development involved dwellings on more than one level. The provisions of the NRZ may well be have been designed to place stringent limits on the intensification of housing on prevailing standard sized house lots, but the absence of any provisions recognising the possible presence of larger sites within that zone with potential for redevelopment is a strange omission.
Accordingly, I agree with the Council that it is not reasonable in terms of making efficient use of the land for residential purposes to include the land in the NRZ. The GRZ3 is an appropriate choice – a zone specifically designed for in‐fill sites.
Conclusion? The Panel’s agreement to the rezoning of the land to GRZ3 is largely based on the fact that the current planning scheme has so many ‘omissions’, and is so inadequate to deal with this issue, that the only feasible solution is a GRZ3 zoning. The officer’s report naturally omitted this important paragraph and only included the final paragraph shown in the above quote.
What’s even more disconcerting is that the Panel has to recommend that Council to get off its backside and do something about traffic and parking issues in the street as well as ensuring that permits are adhered to.
The Panel noted the reasonably large amount on street parking occurring in the street at 4:15pm on the day of its inspection (more than 17 spaces were occupied) and that vehicles were being driven away around that time by persons apparently leaving work for the day. The Panel requested that Council particularly address this issue raised by submitters.
At the Hearing, Ms Pascoe advised that the Council’s engineers were aware of the parking and traffic issues in the street. She said that they were partly caused by the panel beating and motor repair businesses now operating on the site which have no planning permission. Enforcement proceedings have been initiated.
Again, this was not mentioned in the officer report! Nor was there any mention of the fact that the ‘accuracy’ of the applicant’s Traffic Report was seriously queried by Council’s Traffic Department. Yet, the amendment was still drafted and presented to councillors without spelling this out.
Finally, presented below is the ‘discussion’ on this item. We ask readers to pay careful attention to the various commendations of residents and keep in mind that ‘populist’ decisions do not equate with councillors performing due diligence and making sure they are fully acquainted with all the facts of the matter. Otherwise more and more money will be wasted on such enterprises whilst the real culprit, the planning scheme, remains untouched and unrevisited!
The Council ‘Discussion’
Hyams moved motion to abandon amendment and to notify applicant that council would be prepared to support an amendment to rezone to Neighbourhood Residential Zone. Seconded by Lobo.
HYAMS: said that there was ‘little doubt’ that the area should be rezoned for residential but the ‘question’ is whether this be NRZ or GRZ3. Said he would have liked to vote on the NRZ zoning now but ‘legal advice’ told him that they couldn’t do this without first abandoning the exhibited amendment and coming up with a new one. The choice is therefore to adopt ‘as proposed for GRZ3′ or to abandon. So ‘after consulting with residents’ he is prepared to ‘try and get a better result next time’ with a new amendment. He’s read the panel report, seen the site and talked with residents and thinks that GRZ is ‘inappropriate’ since it’s already a ‘narrow and busy street’ with a nearby school and an aged care facility that got approval for more beds up to 100+. There’s the questions then of whether the street ‘can handle’ all this traffic. GRZ zones are also ‘generally near shops and public transport’ and this doesn’t apply here. Once a GRZ zone is declared then it ‘limits our ability’ to control ‘what goes there’. Said it would be ‘ridiculous’ to limit ‘such a large block to 2 dwellings’ as applies in the NRZ but ‘that can be overcome through subdivision’. Thought there could be 8 blocks. Residents weren’t happy with the industrial zone because of ‘the noise that comes out of that’ but that they hope to get this right.
LOBO: said this is ‘most certainly not appropriate for our residents’ . Said that he and residents are ‘appalled that we are continuously giving in to the wishes of developers’. Said it is ‘shocking to see the opportunist’ wanting to ‘reap the benefit’ without ‘any concern for the residents’. Said that the spate of development has ‘drowned everyone including the best swimmers’. Residents told him last Sunday’ that they hadn’t got any letter from council inviting them to the panel hearing and the panel report then noted that no objector showed up. The aged care facility will see ‘another 101 residents’ and parking will be bad and bottlenecks for parents dropping kids off at school. ‘3 schools in the vicinity’. ‘The panel is out of touch with reality’ and that ‘they have no clue whatsoever compared to councillors’.
MAGEE interrupted and asked Lobo to ‘speak directly’ to the motion and to ‘leave the rhetoric and the stories out’.
LOBO: repeated the problems with the aged care facility and that the street is used as a thoroughfare through to Nepean Highway. Urged councillors to abandon amendment as this would ‘give a breather to the residents whom we are supposed to represent’.
MAGEE retorted that he thought that is what councillors do.
LIPSHUTZ: asked Torres about notice of the amendment. Torres responded that there was an ‘exhibition period’ and that residents ‘were informed of the amendment’. Also that it was the Planning Panel which notified submitters of their option to attend the hearings. Said that submitters did participate in the ‘directions hearing’ but that at the actual panel hearing ‘submitters chose not to attend’.
LIPSHUTZ: he ‘took umbrage’ at Lobo’s comments about council and developers. Said that ‘there is nothing wrong with profit’ and that the developer purchased this industrial site and now want to make a profit and that ‘this is a good thing’ because ‘that’s how we grow our society’. Besides, this developer hasn’t even put in a proposal yet so Lobo is ‘jumping the gun just a little’. At first he thought that there was ‘nothing wrong’ with the draft amendment. He then ‘went down the street’ and because it is a ‘narrow street’ and because of the nursing home a NRZ is the ‘preferred way to go’. ‘It’s not because of greed’ and councillors make decisions on what they ‘think is right’. They don’t ‘always do what residents want’ because ‘we are elected to make decisions’. They wouldn’t be doing ‘residents any favours at all’ if all they listened to was the ‘loudest’ voice. Said that ‘it’s all right to play the gallery’ but in the end councillors have to be ‘responsible’. Councillors have to ‘make the right decisions’ and if residents don’t agree then ‘that’s fine’ and residents can ‘vote us out’. In this instance applying a GRZ3 is not ‘appropriate’ because it will ‘allow too much development in this area’.
PILLING: agreed that Lobo’s comments ‘are inappropriate’ because ‘they misrepresent the process today’. His comments are ‘unnecessary, unfair and unwarranted’. Plus they ‘give the gallery the wrong view as well’. Thought that this was a ‘line ball decision’ since the panel recommended the GRZ3 zoning. The zones give a buffer area between RGZ, GRZ and NRZ which is normal across the municipality and he supports the motion because ‘there are special circumstances to this site’. He ‘appreciated’ all the calls from residents and even though he didn’t agree with all the comments he does agree that GRZ zones are generally close to transport hubs and this isn’t. So this is ‘probably on the perimeter of where a GRZ’ zone should be. So ‘it’s a line ball decision’ but he will support the motion.
ESAKOFF: agreed with Pilling and Lipshutz’s response to Lobo’s comments. Said that councillors had ‘received a lot of feedback’ from residents and that they had visited and ‘know the street pretty well now’. Street is small, ‘narrow and not close to public transport’. This area ‘is very different’ to other GRZ areas. Street is busy with nursing home, school, childcare, and ‘used by the staff who work along the highway’. Rezoning this to GRZ would ‘turn this busy street into an unsustainable one’. Hence it should be ‘zoned neighbourhood residential’.
DELAHUNTY: found it hard to accept Lipshutz saying that profit progresses society since ‘we stand here as a non-profit’ organisation that is in a ‘governance role’ is how ‘we progress society’ plus ‘other ways’ too. Because council doesn’t have the profit motive, that’s ‘how we ensure’ that decisions made are ‘transparent’ and ‘in the best interests of all the parties’. Thanked the residents who had ‘got themselves incredibly informed’ about ‘what was happening to their area’ and how they ‘imparted knowledge’ onto others and ‘helped us make this decision’. Said ‘there had been a volume of calls’ and she thanked residents. Supported abandonment and thought there were more ‘sophisticated’ ways of dealing with the area.
SOUNNESS: didn’t think it was a ‘bad amendment’ and that the ‘factors that speak for it are quite sound’ and a ‘couple of factors’ against. In favour was a major highway ‘right next to it’ and people drive cars. Didn’t think that traffic is ‘a big problem’ and on the narrow road, ‘there are other narrow roads’ in the municipality. Main problem was ‘transitioning story’. If transitioning from a ‘commercial 2 zone’ to a general residential to ‘something that’s got no height limit’ to something that ‘does have a height limit’. He ‘didn’t see the need for that transition to take place there’ since it’s all a ‘theoretical construct’. All in all, this amendment ‘has got too much growth that didn’t seem warranted’. Also didn’t ‘like the distance from public transport’. The application seems ‘reasonable’ and he has spent an hour in a recently opened coffee shop that seemed to be ‘doing gang busters’ so the ‘place is ready for urban renewal’. He looked forward to see this happening in a ‘measured way’.
OKOTEL: said that rezoning from industrial to residential is ‘far more appropriate’ use of the land. But having a general residential zone ‘might signal’ to the developer that council is ‘entertaining’ the idea of ‘more intense development’ for the site ‘which wouldn’t be appropriate’ because of the ‘existence of many one storey dwellings’ and the other factors that councillors have outlined. With the nursing home they ‘anticipate that traffic will increase quite a lot’. ‘Hoped that the developer takes up’ council’s ‘recommendation’ that this be rezoned to Neighbourhood Residential Zone and she ‘looks forward to that in the future’.
MOTION PUT AND CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY
As a postscript, we should mention that when it was decided to sent the amendment off to a panel, the ‘discussion’ took less than 2 minutes. Only Sounness who moved the motion spoke and basically said that he felt that the officer’s comments had largely ‘addressed’ resident concerns. No other councillor spoke to the motion and it was passed unanimously! Amazing, that in the space of three months there should be such a change of heart and such ‘garrulousness’ when previously there was utter silence from the vast majority of our elected representatives!