For the second consecutive time, Theme 1 (Municipal Strategic Statement & Local Policies) contained in the ‘Discussion Paper’ for the review of the planning scheme has been neatly side-stepped and no discussion permitted. We therefore wonder how Council can ‘know’ what residents suggest, or want, if they haven’t even bothered to ask. What comments council officers have made in previous forums on this theme has been far from satisfactory. Torres simply admitted that the Municipal Strategic Statement (MSS) is well and truly outdated and will need to be ‘revised’. That’s it!

Given that the MSS and its associated Local Policies are perhaps the most important components of any planning scheme, it is unforgiveable that residents have not been provided with (a) enough information on these sections, and (b) that ‘discussion’ has been literally ‘censored’. That of course leads to the very obvious questions of:

  • Is this another Clayton’s consultation where ‘changes’ have already been predetermined but residents are kept in the dark like mushrooms?
  • Who decided to discard discussion on Theme 1? Was Ms Turner given her orders to do so or was it her decision alone?

Below is a screen dump from the Discussion Paper. Please note how bereft of detail this really is, yet how this Theme contains all the vital policies and which, of course, ultimately lead onto the zones and their schedules. From our perspective, it appears that council has done everything it can to avoid any discussion on the most contentious issue in Glen Eira – ie a review of the zones and their respective schedules.

Pages from Pages from april05-2016-agendaPS: also worthy of note – the only councillor to front last night was Lobo. No sign of Lipshutz at any of these ‘forums’ and Magee’s 5 minute appearance at the first one! Delahunty has also been a noticeable absentee.

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The lack of public open space in Glen Eira has been known for decades. It was acknowledged in 1987, again in the open space strategy of the nineties and once more in 2013. Residents were lead to believe in the 1996 strategy that 50% of revenue raised would be used to purchase NEW open space. In 2013/14 ratepayers were promised even more (via council resolutions) – ie that all monies raised from the levy would be put towards the purchase of NEW open space and not used for ‘development’ of existing open space. Thus twice residents have been dudded and promises literally thrown out the window.

Council’s record on dealing with this issue is appalling. Monies have been frittered away on lawyers, pavilion developments that come in double the original monetary proposals, always late, and inevitably turn parks into more concrete and parking at more expense. Even when council had the opportunity to purchase land they removed the public acquisition overlay on Magnolia Road Gardenvale only to re-impose it 8 years later and pay the then current market price! Their largesse to the MRC has thus far garnered a paltry $575,000 for 463 units on over a hectare of land which at today’s prices will not even buy half a suburban block!

The result? Instead of increasing public open space through proper planning and budgeting, residents are now bequeathed less public open space per individual given the population increase. To add insult to injury there is now the Request for a Report to consider whether council should be seeking a higher levy when objectors argued this point years ago. When other councils can exact levies of 8% and even more for some of their areas, this council has always been unwilling to impose anything that may be seen as an impediment to more and more development.  Present and future residents are ultimately paying the cost for such generosity.

One item reported in the minutes from last council meeting is certain to have major financial repercussions in the years ahead. The timing, rationale, and the potential risks this decision embraces, says much about council’s decision making of the past, and the state of its current finances.

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Council borrowed $25 million at the astronomical FIXED RATE of 8.04% for 15 years under Newton. There is still a decade to go on this loan. Comments made in chamber over the past year or so indicated that council could not afford to get out of this arrangement without paying some hefty penalties (we believe in the order of $4 million). According to the draft Strategic Resource Plan (page 11) it will cost council $2.88 million in principal and interest repayments for 2016/17 and council would still owe at the end of the next financial year $18.71 million.

Countless questions arise:

  • Is negotiating another fixed rate contract nothing more than a long term gamble?
  • What does this resolution say about council’s current financial situation?
  • Will council be attempting to borrow another $6+ million to bring it back up to the original $25 million?
  • Will council be paying interest on the interest?
  • What penalty rates will the bank impose?
  • If repaying the loan early is so vital, then why wasn’t this undertaken years ago? Could it in fact be related to the departure of Newton? Or is council so cash strapped that it has to do this now?
  • Why is the Chief Financial Officer ALONE ‘authorised’ to ‘negotiate’ and sign off on the massive deal? Where is the full council in any such decision making?

The history of council’s financial dealings are nothing to write home about. Readers should also remember that as a result of the $25 million loan for GESAC, council was unable to borrow (as other councils did at a much lower interest rate) to repay the $7.1 million Superannuation costs and thus were paying 7.5% instead of a far reduced interest rate if they could have borrowed this money.

Ratepayers deserve nothing less than a full and comprehensive account of what is happening and why.

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Last night’s community forum had a good turnout of residents. We estimate that 50+ people attended. Many new ideas were proffered as well as some old perennials – ie community gardens; tree register and protection, traffic, etc.

Whilst there are undoubtedly time limits and such meetings cannot go on all night, we were very surprised by the fact that Theme 1 of the Discussion Paper (ie the Municipal Strategic Statement (MSS)and all council’s Local Policies) did not get a guernsy. In fact, the ‘discussion’ went immediately to Theme 2. Given that the MSS is arguably Council’s most significant document since it sets the framework for all land use together with the Local Policies, and has not had a revamp for well over a decade, it is disappointing that residents were not provided with the opportunity to voice their views on this important component of the planning scheme. It should also be noted that only two councillors were in attendance – Sounness and Lobo.

Below is a ‘snapshot’ summarising the feedback on the Environmental Sustainable Design theme as it went up on the overhead projector. (apologies for the poor quality!)

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A sample of the other feedback provided throughout the evening was:

  • Review Urban Design for Racecourse, Caulfield Station, Monash Uni
  • Rubbish bins on roads
  • More family sized apartments
  • Open space levy increase to purchase land
  • More permeable surfaces for footpaths
  • One way streets to reduce congestion
  • All new dwellings to have solar power and green roofs
  • Significant tree register
  • Increased permeability for developments via schedules
  • Population density has impact on resources
  • Bicycles for short distance travel

Opening comments from some residents were also informative –

  • Heritage Update 2002 is not part of the Planning Scheme and that’s why VCAT does not have to consider it.
  • What is the capacity of population growth for Glen Eira and what does this say about density and all that follows from this?
  • As one commentator has said in our previous post, residents appeared to favour a 4 storey height limit for commercial dwellings/zonings.

Residents need to consider carefully the following from last night’s council meeting. In our view it encapsulates fully the hypocrisy, inconsistency, and decision making that has already been determined, despite the ongoing planning scheme review.

Item 9.1 was an application for a 7 storey and 24 dwellings in Centre Road, Bentleigh. Officers recommended 6 storeys and 22 dwellings. True to form, councillors decided that they would lop off another storey and a handful of units so that the motion was for 5 storeys and 19 dwellings. This was moved by Hyams and seconded by Lipshutz.

HYAMS: started off by saying that objectors did not attend the planning conference. Said that there is a ‘quandary’ here because ‘we have our beliefs’ about what is appropriate for Centre Road and ‘on the other hand’ there is the recent VCAT decision for 8 storeys up the road. If it wasn’t for this decision then ‘5 storeys would be pretty much a lay down misere’. So the questions is ‘do we change our opinion’ because of the VCAT decision and make a further decision based on this ‘which we think is wrong’ and ‘hope’ that VCAT ‘gets it right this time’. His motion is because he thinks that ‘five storeys is appropriate’ in Centre Road. ‘Currently’, the ‘tallest building in Centre Road is 5 storeys’. Didn’t think ‘that we should compound the mistakes made by VCAT’  which they ‘would be doing’ if a permit was granted for 7 storeys. Spoke about setbacks and car stackers and that ‘they are accepted by the government’. Thought that ‘5 storeys is reasonable’ since it ‘backs onto 4 storeys’.

LIPSHUTZ: Centre Road has got ‘3 and 4 storeys’ and even though this might look like a 3 storey from the ‘street, it is nevertheless a 7 storey building’. “I think that’s wrong’. ‘I think the appropriate level is 5 storeys’. Didn’t think that they should say that because VCAT ‘will approve it’ that they should change their minds. Thought that ‘we have to stand up for our principles and residents’ since ‘we know what we want’. ‘This council has policies and I think we have to maintain our position’ and if ‘vcat overrules us, well so be it’. ‘We have principles and we have to stand by them’ and that he thinks that ‘5 storeys is the appropriate level’.

LOBO: give the developer ‘an inch’ and he will ‘take large square metres’ to build ‘inappropriate’ buildings. Said that Mavho ‘has a uniformity of 4 storeys’ and giving this 5, then with VCAT, there is the possibility of ‘giving 9 or 10’ storeys. Residents ‘have said’ that Bentleigh is ‘completely destroyed’. Said that since the Minister ‘has asked us to review’ the planning scheme he thinks that the commercial zones shouldn’t change until the review is done. Said that ‘I have never accepted anything over 3 storeys’ and apart from the General Residential Zone, the ‘new zones don’t say that’. After ‘the destruction of Bent St and Mavho Street’, Loranne and Campbell street are now the ‘targets’ and developers have also ‘encroached East Bentleigh where there is no public transport’. This has ‘created chaos as far as traffic is concerned’. Gave examples of residents who could not get out of their driveways and ambulances could not get in. Said that councillors ‘have to look after the residents’ and that they are ‘elected not for any political party’. ‘If we are not doing this, then we had better stay home’.

PILLING: said that Hyams motion is for a main road, in a commercial zone and not residential. Thought that the ‘five storeys’ is ‘appropriate’.

HYAMS: said that Lobo implied that there weren’t 4 storey developments before the zones came in, but there were, especially in Carnegie and Murrumbeena. So he ‘hoped that people don’t draw that parallel because it wouldn’t be true’. Said that the ‘problem’ is that ‘we have policies in place’ to protect Centre Road, but VCAT ‘has suddenly started interpreting it as if we don’t’. thus ‘our policies haven’t changed but VCAT’s interpretation has changed’.  Didn’t think that ‘under planning law’ council can put a ‘hold on developments’ waiting for the review. Repeated that he thought that 5 storeys ‘in commercial zones is appropriate’.

MOTION PUT AND PASSED. LOBO VOTED AGAINST

COMMENTS

The hypocrisy and inconsistency of both Hyams and Lipshutz is simply mind-boggling. Truth, consistency, and above all, integrity, goes out the window when it comes to getting their motions up. Here are some quotes that these two individuals have said in the not too distant past. Please compare their above comments with what follows –

HYAMS

 

  • ‘it’s not as if you will get a six storey building in a row of shops’. (https://gleneira.wordpress.com/2013/06/19/hyams-can-we-believe-him/).
  • HYAMS: Said that a problem was that if you set height limits then ‘people will build up to that height and you can’t stop them’ but if you don’t have height limits and let each application be ‘judged on its merits’ then you could get ‘better outcomes’. (6/2/2013 – ie on application for Glen Huntly Road – 6 storeys and 45 dwellings which got a permit from council.) Then post zones we get this diametrically opposed statement – Hyams – ‘The new zones are limiting development’ because of the height limits and that ‘anyone who tells you otherwise doesn’t know what they are talking about’ or ‘is deliberately seeking to mislead you’.(25/9/2014)

LIPSHUTZ

  • LIPSHUTZ: He also needs to be ‘practical’ in that he could ‘easily reject’ this but it will go to VCAT and they will say that ‘I haven’t turned my mind to it properly’ since he has to sit here in a ‘quasi judicial’ position and ‘working on planning laws’. These laws ‘allow this building to happen’. (on 7 storeys for Glen Huntly Road, Elsternwick – 26/11/2014)
  • LIPSHUTZ: said he was ‘in two minds’ on this application. First he thought ‘no’ because ‘it goes against our policy’ but after looking at the site he thinks that ‘we have policy but policy is not law’….’I don’t think we want to be hard bound by policy’. All policy does is ‘gives us a framework’ and ‘you have to look at each site individually’ (on double storey application for rear in Bolinda St., Bentleigh East – 15/11/2013)
  • LIPSHUTZ – Glen Eira is the first council to ‘adopt these plans’ and that’s because they have ‘vision’ and that’s because years ago Akehurst and ‘his team’ saw that ‘we neeed to have distinct areas to protect our suburbs’. Because these plans already exist they were ‘able to translate very quickly’ into the new zones ‘and that’s a credit to our officers’….The zones are ‘protecting our neighbourhood, we are protecting our municipality and that’s important’. (30/12/2014)

There are literally countless other statements we could have included in the above. Some simple questions will suffice –

  1. How much longer will these councillors continue the sham of blaming VCAT for their inaction and lack of sound strategic planning?
  2. How many more times will Lipshutz get up and try to warn off objectors from going to VCAT?
  3. How many more times will half-truths be portrayed as gospel in the chamber?
  4. And how much longer will residents put up with such self-serving incompetence, especially from these two councillors?

We’ve received the following email that was sent to all councillors. It is also worth pointing out that less than half of these ‘representatives’ responded to the email. To emphasise what is happening and the shambles that is the current planning scheme, VCAT has just granted a permit for 4 storeys and 39 units at the corner of Jersey Parade/Elliott Avenue, Carnegie.

Here is the email –

“It seems that the final death blow to Claire St is about to be dealt, with the application for a permit for a huge development covering 5 of the 6 blocks on the western side of Claire St. The scale of this proposed development is totally out of all proportion to the street, and is a perfect reflection of the total failure of Glen Eira’s Planning Scheme. We are sure that even the most diehard supporters of this scheme are now realising what a disaster it has become; a free-for-all where the developers are falling over themselves to get in and create the most cost effective yet least attractive, environmentally insensitive and unsustainable housing possible, with the inherent destruction of all existing vegetation.  We would like to think that none of the councillors in their wildest dreams ever envisaged that this is what would become of the planning scheme – development so rapacious and insatiable that it is ripping the heart out of what was once an attractive, charming and very liveable suburb. It seems to us that in recent months the councillors have finally seen this for the total disaster that it is and are starting to reject some of the most inappropriate development proposals such as 6-10 Claire St. However, this gives us very little comfort, as we know that the developer will proceed straight to VCAT, which, operating within the parameters of Glen Eira’s own planning scheme, must still approve these developments as they comply with the requirements for this zone.

Our only hope now is that the upcoming review of the planning scheme will recognise how wrong Glen Eira got it and will make some serious changes to what can be allowed in a GRZ. This is the only way to allow both Council and VCAT to have some control over what is built in these areas. Can you please give us a commitment that you will agree to making major changes to the planning scheme to help protect  our residential areas from this tsunami of inappropriate development. It is OK for councillors to admit they got it wrong and try to do something about it; we sense a huge groundswell of anger from local residents who are now seeing what is happening all around them, and know that any councillor still trying to cling to this disastrous policy will face electoral oblivion at the upcoming council elections.

Yours sincerely,

XXXXXXX”