This afternoon’s LARGE Community Forum had a terrific turnout and very informative speakers. Apparently all Glen Eira councillors and some senior planning staff were invited. To their credit the only councillors to show up were Lobo, Delahunty and Magee. No officer turned up and no other councillors.

Since the afternoon was videotaped we’re assuming that LARGE will upload a full record of the formal presentation on their website (http://www.largeinc.com.au) so we won’t comment on this aspect of the event. Instead we will focus on some of the questions or comments that members of the audience made and the remarks made by the above councillors in response.

One resident asked that the map of the new zones be put up on the screen. He was from Wheeler St., Ormond which is a ‘purple area’ (4 storeys). He expressed ‘sorrow’ for anyone who lived in such areas because they were ‘high density zones’. His problem was that it was also a ‘flooding zone’ and there had been some progress with melbourne Water and council about upgrading drains but ‘without upgrades of infrastructure’ council is ‘still approving development’. They went to VCAT opposing a 3 storey development and they won. But that was several months ago, before the introduction of the zones, so the resident wanted to know what this means for the new development now – ie could there be another application and a permit granted because this is now a higher density zone. The resident asked if ‘council is stronger than VCAT?’

Professor Buxton explained that there are other forms of control via layers of overlays and if there is one he felt that VCAT would uphold it – although he didn’t know the extent of Glen Eira’s overlays. Delahunty then said that council is continuing to ‘look for new areas to apply neighbourhood character overlays’ and these are ‘primarily in the green section of the map’ (minimal change). Said that with permeability controls, height controls and other things that ‘we are quite proud of’ and that ‘VCAT cannot overturn’. She didn’t forsee any change to the current flooding zone.

Another member of the audience then began her question by saying that the data that the residential zones are based on comes from figures of the nineties. Things have changed a lot since then and the floods of 2011 impacted on a huge area near her. Yet council still grants permits and hasn’t taken into account ‘greater surface’ for buildings which means ‘greater flooding’ and all this whilst there’s been ‘limited infrastructure upgrades’. Said that she lived in the ‘purple zone’ and that council has been ‘quite remiss’ in blocking themselves off from the community. (applause). ‘there is definitely no regard for us living in this area’. Claimed that she had spoken with planners at council and asked what consideration was given to ‘infrastructure’ and their response was ‘oh, we looked at it in 2000’ and that she should take it to council. Mentioned ‘schools bursting at the seams’ and whilst a state responsibility, council still has to advocate but it ‘seems that our rights in Glen Eira have been overlooked’. Schools and kindergartens are ‘bursting at the seams’ and whilst there is a train station there is no bus service’. Talked about traffic and that ‘yes’ 3 storey limit is great’ but it’s not enough.

Another speaker then said that she finds the ‘of right uses’ (ie no permit required) ‘abhorrent’ since it removes her rights as a resident to object, ‘voice my concern, to be heard’. Asked if this is in fact an abuse of administrative and legal power as well as a ‘denial of natural justice’ (applause). Buxton answered that the government has justified this by granting ‘certainty’ and removing delays therefore saving money for everyone. Said irony of all this is that there are heaps of Section 2 uses (service stations etc.) that can then get permits. Government hasn’t prohibited anything and there are no height controls for commercial areas and will be a huge problem because these of right uses don’t have height limits applied to them.

Buxton also stated that the criteria to assess these uses in residential areas are ‘very vague’ so anything could go into a residential street. Said that these ‘criteria’ are supposed to be ‘performance measures’ but they are anything but performance measures – ie will they cause ‘detriment’ to someone. These are vague and all subjective. Buxton then went on to say that a planning scheme is a legal document and people’s rights are either ‘given’ or ‘taken away’ via the planning scheme.

Several residents then gave examples of battles they had won elsewhere and the call was for ‘people power’.

Another residents asked whether VCAT could still ignore ResCode standards if councils simply defaulted to these in its schedules since VCAT often ignored ResCode in the past. Buxton responded that if specified in the schedules such as height then this was mandatory but it was vital that councils apply ‘the maximum powers they have under the schedules’. Gave the example that council could have stipulated one dwelling per lot but Glen Eira didn’t – they’ve allowed 2 dwellings per lot. Where there is medium or high density and there is no specifications by council then they will be assessed under ResCode. Problem is that ResCode only applies to 3 storeys so applications for 4 or more storeys  in Residential Growth Zones won’t even have these ‘standards’. ‘No developer in his or her right mind is going to apply for a 3 storey development in a commercial zone when there’s no height control’. Also the guide that assesses higher density is ‘even less strict than ResCode’. So ‘not only do you get an incentive to go over 3 storeys but you’re being assessed against a weaker code’…’you’d have to be nuts not to do it’.

One ‘brown zone’ resident said she was ‘shocked’ by what has been said. Asked if it’s true that those living in these areas have no rights and no protection and that the lovely heritage places around her have no value whatwoever except for developers. Buxton said that ‘you lose rights if application relates to Section 1 uses’ otherwise people can still go to VCAT. (SECTION 1 INCLUDES ‘food and drink premises’ within 100 metres of commercial zones; shops, medical centres, places of worship etc.) Many of these are ‘high impact’ that people won’t be able to do anything about. The other problem here is that there are no height limits on such uses so a hypothetical could be a 9 storey application with no rights to objection next door to a single storey.

Comments from Backlash about population growth and no planning for infrastructure – transport. Buxton claimed that no government is confronting the planning for a city of 6.5 million people by 2050 because it will cost 25 to 50 billion just in transport.

LOBO then spoke saying that ‘it’s a pity the other 6 councillors did not turn up’. Said that Labor lost ‘because of Justin Madden’ at the last election and now we’ve got Matthew Guy ‘who became mad’ and is ‘on his way out’. Told residents that they should ‘go to the State Member of Parliament’ and that when councillors promise to stop development so that the ‘next time’ they come to ‘your house’ asking for your vote ‘throw a bucket of water on their face’. He then said that ‘personally I have to go with the council decision’ and that he doesn’t ‘agree’  and that ‘I made that very clear’ and as he’s already said that ‘Melbourne is going to be like Calcutta’.

After a few more questions and comments on community activism and networking Magee spoke.

MAGEE: said he wanted to bring the discussion back to ‘some basic’ facts. Said that previously they only had ‘policies’ and not ‘zones’ and the former weren’t ‘enforceable’. This meant that ‘quite often’ at VCAT the ‘developer would win’. Claimed that ‘now’ the green areas were about ‘78% of Glen Eira’ and that developers therefore know that 2 dwellings is the maximum and that 2 storeys is the maximum. ‘that is not arguable through VCAT’. The blue zones are ‘a maximum of 3 storeys’ and the light blue is also 3 storeys and has ‘the greatest setback between the light blue and the green’. Brown is another zone with 4 storey maximum. Said that even with permitted uses in Glen Eira ‘not a lot has changed’. Said that in 2010 there was ‘quite significant’ consultation althought people might disagree with this. So all that’s happened is that the policies have ‘been changed over to zones’.

Another resident then stated that the spin doctors were outin force because the zones were rushed through and therefore they didn’t have time to consult with residents. Said that previously there were transition areas between the brown and blue zones and now there isn’t any. Asked if you own a house in a green zone and next door in the brown zone someone builds a 4 storey and blocks your solar panels what rights do residents have?

MAGEE: conceded that buildings could be 4 storeys but that ‘have to set back from 4 to 3 to 2’ and said this was a ‘natural setback’ and even in the growth zones (brown) these are ‘bordered by general residential zone’ (light blue)

DELAHUNTY: said that council had tried to have ‘transition zones in the past. Now we actually have transition zones’ and that ResCode could be applied to 4 storey buildings and council was trying to make transition zones enforceable whereas before they weren’t and now they are.

One resident got up and asked that those councillors who are present take back to their groups the community feeling that community consultation is what is needed and that rather than having the plans ‘left at the library where someone has to go with a magnifying glass’ to make head or tails out of it.

MAGEE: said that Glen Eira has the least amount of open space and that ‘there is no way that we are looking to encroach on open space’. The white areas on the maps are open space but ‘predominantly commercial zones’. Said that the first test is ‘about to come up’ in regards to the Virginia Park industrial site. Claimed that the Minister was approached by the developer to rezone without public consultation. Said that MP Miller had written to council and ‘endorsed’ the Minister’s  position ‘not to go to public consultation’. Said that ‘council has actually fought that’ and will be putting it out under normal amendment processes which means public consultation. ‘These things are not debatable in council’. Said that council and ‘i’m one of them, I’m very proud of these zones’. Said that nothing has changed except that they have ‘guaranteed’ ‘maximum height limits’ in 98%’ of the municipality.

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