VCAT WATCH

There was only one decision in this item – 21-25 Nicholson St., Bentleigh. Council refused a permit and VCAT granted the permit. Here’s what our luminaries had to say on this –

LIPSHUTZ: ‘true to form VCAT knocked it back’. Called this ‘infrastructure stupid’ because both the government and VCAT are ‘allowing infrastructure to grow when there is no infrastructure’. It’s okay that ‘Bentleigh Station is there’ and there is a car park, but when people visit there is ‘insufficient car parking’ and even on a Sunday along Glen Eira road there are ‘traffic jams’ and the government and VCAT ‘allows for high rise development’. Here there is one high rise but ‘what happens’ is that ‘the next one comes along’ and ‘VCAT says because you’ve got one’ the rest are okay and ‘suddenly the whole character of the street changes’. Said that Bent Street is the perfect example of this and ‘this is happening in this street as well’. So there are large developments without infrastructure and ‘not complying with our own policies’. Asks why bother having policy when ‘VCAT simply over-rules us’? Councillors are at ‘the coal face’ and ‘we are the ones who know what is going on’ and VCAT doesn’t.

MAGEE: said this was ‘an important decision by VCAT’. Permit was refused by Manager meaning that it didn’t get to first base of a Delegated Planning Committee or even a Planning Conference but was knocked out straight away. ‘It failed the very first time’ it was looked at. ‘It was fundamentally flawed’ and did not meet planning scheme requirements. ‘Our planning scheme is your planning scheme’ and the ‘Minister actually approved it’ but ‘when it goes to VCAT, VCAT ignore it’. When manager’s refuse it, it is ‘so flawed there is not point’ in going on to a council meeting. So VCAT ‘can come in over the top of 144,000 residents’ and ‘that’s a bloody disgrace’.

COMMENT

Once again the Lipshutz and Magee comments should be revealed for what they are – playing the blame game and utter, unadorned bullshit! Add this to council incompetence, the zoning and the lack of any decent and clear preferred character statements in the planning scheme and it’s no wonder that VCAT overturns so many Council refusals.

For starters, one of councils grounds for refusal was that this site is in the General Residential Zone and therefore doesn’t respect the ‘neighbourhood character’. Well, surprise, surprise! It is NOT in the General Residential Zone as the refusal stated, but in the RESIDENTIAL GROWTH ZONE. Obviously council planners don’t even know their own planning scheme! Here is what the member said on this monumental blooper –

Mr O’Leary advised as a preliminary matter that Council would not pursue its first ground of refusal as clause 32.08 refers to the General Residential Zone that is not applicable and the purposes of the Residential Growth Zone do not refer to existing neighbourhood character.

Then there’s this statement which becomes even more significant when the planning scheme has no preferred character statements for housing diversity, except to say that there will be change expected. Whooppeeee!

The site and adjoining and nearby land are included in the Residential Growth Zone. The purposes of the zone and planning policy encourage the area to be redeveloped more intensively than the prevailing built form, hence the prevailing character of the area is not a constraint.

AND AGAIN –

Neither the purposes of the RGZ or clause 22.05 refer to the character of the neighbourhood as a benchmark for the way a development might fit into the area. The Tribunal has consistently found that land within the Urban Villages is encouraged to be developed more intensively than the prevailing housing that is in garden settings. New development is to be measured by reference to a preferred or emerging character rather than the existing neighbourhood character. The extent of change between the existing and the new built form can be substantial rather than a gently nuanced transition.

Turning to the development before me, the responsible authority accepts the site is unconstrained, is an opportunity site and is close to the core of the urban village. It accepts it is suitable for higher density housing and it has no criticism of the height of the building.

As for arguing for greater setbacks the member simply has to state – No guidance is provided in the schedule to the zone or local policy to support greater setbacks.

Further, since this is such a tree loving council and they want the street tree retained, then why oh why does their Landscape ‘expert’ differ in his opinion – An existing mature street tree has to be removed for the access to the basement. Council opposes its removal. I am not persuaded by Council’s view because its own Park Services department commented that the tree is inconsistent with Council’s street tree strategy and says it is recommended for removal and replacement…..Furthermore, retaining the tree would require the basement, the access ramp and the ground floor to be redesigned, with uncertain results in terms of dwelling yield, appearance and internal amenity. Requiring this to be done to retain a tree of no particular value, in an area and streetscape where substantial change is encouraged by policy, would be an example of the landscape tail wagging the policy dog. I consider retaining the tree to be an unnecessary constraint on a development that implements many planning objectives.

Maybe if council had some tree protection ‘policy’ in its planning scheme this poor old tree might have survived. But of course, Lipshutz has argued against every move to protect trees in Glen Eira, hasn’t he?

There’s even more on landscaping, that makes one wonder exactly how much preparation and the collection of ‘evidence’ this council is prepared to undertake to have any chance of getting their refusal accepted. Again the member points out –

The basement would be set back 2 metres on the south boundary and 2.55 metres from the other boundaries. The responsible authority thought these setbacks would not be satisfactory because the inground areas could not support taller trees. The landscape officer prefers a 3 metre setback, but his referral advice does not specify the basis for a larger setback.The landscape plan prepared by Memla Pty Ltd proposes Ornamental Pears, Chinese Elms and Crepe Myrtles, all to heights of 5 metres and that more be planted in these setback areas. No evidence was introduced by any party regarding the likelihood that such plantings could not be successful in the setbacks provided……In the absence of any specific directions such as an urban design framework or the like, I consider it is reasonable to accept that buildings in an Urban Village are likely to have less landscaping around building compared to buildings in areas of less intensive development.

On traffic – Clause 22.05 says that development is to take account of established traffic characteristics and not add to identified traffic conflicts. No parties had concerns with traffic generation or congestion and I concur with their views.

On ResCode overshadowing – The responsible authority says the development complies with the standards in clause 55 regarding amenity impacts on neighbours. No walls are proposed on boundaries. It meets the standards regarding daylight to existing windows and solar access for north facing windows. Overshadowing complies with Standard B21 and overlooking of ground level habitable rooms and secluded open space comply with Standard B22. The responsible authority advises the proposed development has a high level of compliance with Standard B17.

On internal amenity – The responsible authority and the Applicant agree the development would provide acceptable amenity for its residents, except for some matters of design detail. All habitable rooms would have access to natural light. All dwellings would be provided with acceptable areas of secluded open space located adjacent to living rooms. Only a small number of dwellings would be located on the south side of the building and so have less solar access than other dwellings. This is acceptable in a larger development.

COMMENT

Lipshutz and Magee really need to find another scapegoat. They also need to ensure that the planning department does not continue to stuff up and should read its own planning scheme before it writes up its grounds for refusal. It should also consider carefully WHY something that meets almost every single ResCode ‘standard’ gets a refusal. Isn’t this simply a waste of ratepayers’ money in order to create the illusion that all council’s problems can be laid at the feet of VCAT?

Most importantly, Lipshutz and Magee need to explain to residents why Glen Eira does not have:

  • Any preferred character statements for housing diversity areas
  • Any design overlays for these sites
  • Any urban design frameworks for its urban villages
  • Exactly what specific ‘policies’ does Glen Eira have about anything to do with housing diversity areas
  • Why Glen Eira does not have a Development Contributions Levy
  • Why Glen Eira does not have a levy imposed on every car parking waiver granted
  • And why oh why the zones are such a complete disaster!

That is the issue and NOT VCAT – especially in this judgement.

Advertisements