Another very, very long post. Sorry! However, we believe it is essential for readers to appreciate some of what is going on within this council. In our view there are several possible interpretations:

  • Councillors are starting to feel the pressure from residents regarding development, and deciding to play the ‘populist game’. Surely it is not mere coincidence that the number of objections appears to be directly correlated with the final decision? That in itself, should be a clear message to residents.
  • The destruction of street after street is now apparent to all and sundry. Plus, with elections not too far away this only adds pressure to be at least ‘seen’ to be doing something.
  • Is the ‘doing’ however, consistent, well thought out, and will it result in anything ‘positive’ for residents? These are the central questions!

The following report on the Bent Street application is indeed a clue to answering all of the above. Please note that:

  • The existence of flat roofs had no impact whatsoever in October and December 2014, when councillors voted unanimously to allow one major development in Bent Street of 36 dwellings and another one of 55 dwellings where Lobo was the only councillor to vote against this application.Yet this current Bent Street attempt basically foundered on the fact that a ‘flat roof’ is not in keeping with ‘neighbourhood character’.
  • In the October decision not one councillor spoke of ‘neighbourhood character’. In fact, Delahunty even claimed that this building would ‘fit in nicely’ with the surrounds. Only Okotel and Delahunty spoke on the item that lasted about 5 minutes!
  • What is even more strange is that not one councillor mentioned these earlier decisions and the impact that they will have on ‘neighbourhood character’. Yet the current application is full of hand wringing about ‘neighbourhood character’ that has already been destroyed by these previous decisions!
  • Just so that readers know what we are referring to, here are the flat roof plans for both the previous Bent Street decisions.

Pages from October14-2014MINUTESPages from December16-2014-MINUTESSo, is anything changing for the betterment of residents and their amenity? All of these applications will end up at VCAT we predict and unless the planning scheme is reviewed, modified, and greater protection provided via the schedules, and a ‘preferred character statement’ for housing diversity that is made explicit, then we won’t be holding our breath. It is far too easy to blame state governments. Residents should be asking these councillors exactly what they have done in the past 6 months at least, to ‘reform’ the planning scheme. That is their duty, their obligation, and definitely within their powers. Thus far, they have done bugger all except talk of the need to do something! The time for positive action and not mere words is fast running out!

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Sounness moved to accept with some changes – setback for south rear side and site coverage to meet ResCode standards. Seconded by Pilling.

SOUNESS: started off by saying that development in Bent St has been ‘subject to a lot of discussion’. ‘Representations’ had been made to councillors about other developments in the street. Sounness did ‘recognise that this is quite a substantial building’ and that 31 dwellings do represent a ‘significant increase into the streetscape’. Said that the housing diversity policy does ‘speak about’ density and this is one of those sites. Went on to say that given the planning scheme and the ‘regulations’ council doesn’t have the ‘ability’ to say that this application should be ‘reshaped’. He thought that this was a ‘fairly acceptable application’ and the conditions are ‘quite reasonable’. Even though he is ‘uncomfortable’ to ‘go down the path of refusal’ wouldn’t ‘be appropriate’ mainly because of the ‘defense point of view at VCAT’. Claimed that there was some ‘difficulty’ with the way that the planning scheme ‘manifests expectations’ and what ‘neighbourhood character should be’. Wanted ‘further discussion’ with officers and councillors about how to address this. Stated that ‘evolving neighbourhood character’ is different to ‘existing neighbourhood character’ and that should be discussed.

PILLING: thought it fulfilled all the ‘boxes’ since it was one step back from McKinnon Road and close to the station. Also meets the 10.5 metre height limit. Said that it is slightly unusual ‘because of the slope’ so it will be part 3 and part 4 storey. ‘It does fit within our guidelines’ and the zone. It mightn’t be ‘perfect’ but ‘in this area’ which is close to transport and shopping ‘this is where we want development to go’. Thought that refusing the application is ‘going too far. It doesn’t warrant refusal’ since it ‘ticks all the boxes’. This is the ’emerging nature of this area’.

OKOTEL: said that her primary objection was that it ‘isn’t in keeping with neighborhood character’ and would like to see applications that ‘fit in more appropriately’ with the area. Referred to 2 previous VCAT decisions and said that neighbourhood character is also something that VCAT ‘considers to be important’ (one in Prince Edward Avenue and in Carnegie). So if VCAT considers something important then ‘so too should our council’. Policies should be ‘applied strictly’. Ended by saying that considering the ‘neighbourhood character in that street’ council should refuse the application.

ESAKOFF: this is ‘further away’ from the Bentleigh activity centre and it’s in the McKinnon Neighbourhood Centre where there should be ‘slightly lesser density’ than at the ‘other end of Bent St’. Supported the proposed conditions to ‘make right the site coverage’ and the ‘northern light’ but it doesn’t address neighborhood character and ‘we’re looking at a flat roof’ where pitched roofs dominate. ‘There are too many things against this’ to give a permit.

HYAMS: said that ‘our job’ isn’t to agree with everything that objectors bring up but to ‘listen to objectors’ and ‘weigh up for ourselves’. Said he understands about the sloping land and that therefore it isn’t really four storeys and ‘under normal conditions that wouldn’t be considered’. He is concerned about the ‘bulk’ and ‘neighbourhood character’. The 10.5 metre height limit was put in because they anticipated that this would give ‘scope for pitched’ roofs and flat roofs that go the whole length does ‘have an impact on neighbourhood character’. ‘There’s no other building in the area that has a flat roof except in the commercial area’ in McKinnon Road. So it’s completely ‘out of character’. Said that since there is this flat roof council can either ‘accept’ or refuse the application as the ‘only alternative’. Said that there were other problems such as site coverage, overshadowing, and setbacks but these have ‘been dealt with by conditions’ so aren’t ‘fatal’ to the application because conditions have seen to them. But ‘bulk and character are fundamental’ and ‘can’t be dealt with by conditions’. At the planning conference people were talking about the impact of the new zones but this has not got anything to do with the zones and Hyams gave the example of Lee St/Nicholson Streets which was ‘built before the zones’ came in. ‘The new zones have nothing to do with this’ and ‘it could have been built under the old zones’.

LIPSHUTZ: was in favour of the application. Thought that the ‘problems’ had been dealt with ‘by conditions’ and that the ‘only issue’ is about the roof. He ‘doesn’t see that as fatal’. He would be more concerned about setbacks and overshadowing. If one house is flat roofed then he doesn’t ‘see’ this as a problem. Said that the application ‘looks like a very reasonable design’ and not too bulky.

LOBO: said that Bent Street ‘all began’ when a real estate company ‘invited an overseas developer’ to invest and ‘big money’ paid for some houses. Plenty of other offers came in and other builders arrived like ‘ants’ after the sugar. They offered to buy mostly from people ready to go to ‘nursing homes’ and ‘necessity is the mother of virtue’.   Said that ‘greed’ is destructive and ‘destroys everything’. The application is another example of ‘being ripped open by developers’. Said that Tommy Bent is probably rolling ‘in his grave’ seeing all this destruction. Said that ‘no consideration’ is given to residents about parking, ‘loss of neighbourhood character’ and infrastructure ‘strain’ and schools. The street is ‘reaching a saturation point’ and he ‘hoped’ that the zones ‘would be looked at’ to care for the community. Labor has promised to review and he hoped that ‘they keep up to their promise’. Said he received an email late the previous night about developers trying to sell two bedroom apartments and thought that as a councillor ‘our loyalty should be to residents’ and if he stands for relection in 2016 he couldn’t do this with a ‘clear conscience’ if he isn’t loyal to residents. He stood for election on the promise to oppose overdevelopment so won’t break his pledge.

SOUNNESS: said the planning conference was ‘heated’ and that there needs to be a ‘conversation’ with community about the zones ‘we have at the moment’. In his view if there is going to be density then ‘you put it near a train station’. Said that the Mckinnon station is on a ‘fairly significant line’ even though if people are heading into the city at peak hour they ‘will be standing’ because of the crush. Said that council’s ‘capacity’ to refuse ‘is limited’ because ‘our zones don’t clearly say this is wrong’ and what they do say is ‘that this is the type of thing we want to have’. Said it’s up to councillors to ‘say what we want’. In this case the application is ‘good enough’ so he will support it. He had listened to objectors but thought that there wasn’t the capacity to refuse especially if it went to VCAT.

MOTION PUT AND LOST: voting against – Hyams, Esakoff, Okotel, Lobo, Delahunty. VOTING FOR: Sounness, Lipshutz, Pilling, Magee

Hyams moved motion to refuse permit on grounds of inconsistency with planning scheme; ‘excessive bulk’, neighbourhood character, setbacks, etc. Esakoff seconded.

HYAMS: said there are ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ elements with town planning. With the objective elements then the application with the conditions meets height limits, parking requirements but ‘where it falls down to me’ is on the subjective parts. Councillors have to look at the ‘subjective elements as well’ to do their ‘role’. Not a question of ‘right decision or wrong decision’ but for him ‘this does not meet neighbourhood character’ for the area. Referred to Bent as being the main property developer of his time.

ESAKOFF: said that she had already stated her objections to the application.

PILLING: ‘acknowledged’ Hyams’ points but that to refuse the application because of the roof was ‘going too far’. Claimed that there were ‘a lot of merits’ with this development . Referred to Lobo’s statements and that councillors ‘are here’ to ‘make sound planning decisions’ and whilst they ‘acknowledge’ residents’ concerns they also have to look at the ‘processes’.

DELAHUNTY: said that she hadn’t spoken previously because she was ‘undecided’ on how to vote and wanted to hear what others had to say first. Even though she often agrees with Sounness this time was prepared to err on the side of caution about neighbourhood character. This is ‘one of those areas where you wish for a different tool’ but the roof doesn’t fit into neighbourhood character. Said that it’s a ‘weird balance’ between ’emerging neighbourhood character and existing neighbourhood character’ and councillors need to ‘understand what our role is’ on this. Said the application shouldn’t ‘mirror’ the shops on McKinnon Road, but the houses in Bent Street. Said that it would be ‘fantastic’ to see applications coming in that are ‘sympathetic to neighbourhood character’. This is right for people to live and is ‘close to a train station’ but you ‘can’t have it all your own way’ and it needs to be ‘sympathetic to the existing neighbourhood character’. So because of the ‘contemporary architectural style’ she will ‘err on the side’ of caution.

SOUNNESS: said that the motions grounds of refusal have about three clauses that speak ‘to the debate’ on neighbourhood character and didn’t think that these are ‘well worded’ . Said that it’s like the councillors saying ‘we don’t like’ what has been put up. It is then ‘a mediation story’. If the motion is successful he hoped that the developer would ‘substantially redesign’ the building. Hoped for a ‘successful outcome with the minimum of risk’.

LOBO: said that ‘it is nice to see the softening of the heart’ and hoped that this could be ‘helped further by the present government’. Answering Pilling Lobo said that ‘we’re not planners but representatives of the residents’ and even if officers ‘recommend something’ that doesn’t ‘mean we have to agree’.

MOTION PUT AND CARRIED. Lobo called for a division.

Voting for the motion to refuse – Hyams, Esakoff, Okotel, Delahunty, Lobo

Voting against the motion – Pilling, Sounness, Magee, Lipshutz

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