GE Council Meeting(s)


Last night’s council meeting was another marathon of posturing, self congratulations, and inconsistency from one item to the next. Developers of course had a field day!

Below is our report on one of these items – a six storey building, 12 units and one shop of 37 square metres at Kokarrib Road, Carnegie. We are highlighting this decision since it features all of the negatives outlined above. Surely after 6 months as councillors we should expect a far better ‘performance’ than what is currently being dished up?

Hyams moved motion to grant permit with added conditions regarding screening and visitor and shop car parking. Seconded by Athanasopoulos.

HYAMS: said that the recently approved interim height guidelines ‘allows’ for a 6 storey building. Claimed that ‘it does fit in’ with recent developments in Rosstown Road and issues of ‘overshadowing’ are within ResCode provisions because the overshadowing basically occurs across a ‘driveway’.  Didn’t want a waiving of visitor car parking because he was there on Sunday and it was ‘certainly all parked out’ in the area. Said that the additional car space could be accommodated within the plans so ‘it wouldn’t be like we’re knocking back’ an apartment. There’s a ‘small shop’ so that ‘fits with the commercial area’ but doesn’t divert shopping from Koornang Road. Overlooking is an ‘issue’ because the building next door is ‘actually screened’ and the applicant himself asked for screening to prevent overlooking so ‘that’s what we’ve done’. Admitted that traffic is ‘onerous’ but 12 apartments is ‘unlikely to be significant’ impact on the roads. Thought it was a ‘reasonable application’.

ATHANASOPOULOS: asked Torres whether there will be ‘consideration’ given to road changes with the structure plan work they are currently doing?

TORRES: said that the ‘accessibility of our centres’ would be looked at as well as ‘pedestrianisation’ and ‘safety’.

ATHANASOPOULOS: thought it ‘was great’ that there is enough area to ‘squeeze’ the visitor car parking into the plans. Said that they need to understand ‘how these places actually work’ and how they might work in the future. He asked Torres the question because residents need to ‘understand’ that there might be some changes. If you can’t house people 100 or 200 metres ‘away from a train station I don’t know where you’re going to house them’. ‘Is 6 storeys too tall? – I don’t know’. Currently ‘I can’t say it is too tall’ based on ‘policies in place at the moment’. ‘It fits all the other aspects reasonably well’. Said that on the issue of the commercial area, people have ‘complained’ to him about the amount of housing they’ve also said that there ‘isn’t enough work, whether it be service or retail’ but you ‘can’t have growth’ by increasing population and not increasing commercial zone. Chapel Street ‘died’ over time because ‘there was no increase in amenities’ despite huge increase in population and ‘rentals went through the roof’. All of these things ‘have to be taken into consideration’. So the plan fits into the zone but will ‘hopefully’ help the ‘amenity as well’.

ESAKOFF: started by saying she is ‘struggling with this one’. To the north there’s another apartment block and the residents there said they would be ‘impacted severely’. They will be ‘virtually walled in’. ‘It’s a 6 storey building. It’s a large edifice’. Said she ‘understands’ that setbacks ‘have been applied’ and that the open space isn’t ‘considered as private open space’ and ‘I just can’t fathom that’. ‘They are not going to get any light’ into ‘their properties’. Even that block of flats will probably also be redeveloped. because it’s in the same zone. ‘I am struggling with the amenity issues around this’ and the ‘transition’ of more residential further down Rosstown Road. This ‘sits close to the edge of the zone’. Finished by saying she will listen to the ‘debate’ and decide.

SZTRAJT: agreed with Esakoff and said ‘I too am torn’. Said there’s an issue with zoning in ‘allowing a 6 storey building’ to occur in ‘places like this’. Said that looking at all the items on the agenda tonight that as a council ‘we are providing guidance to developers’ by ‘changing some subtle things in the plan’ by allowing a ‘visitor spot that they asked an exemption for’ yet ‘we couldn’t do it for another development’. Therefore ‘what we are teaching developers’ is that if they want to build in Glen Eira and don’t want to ‘fork out the extra’ for a car parking spot then all they have to do is ‘make sure they’ve got a stacker system’. Said he would have been against the application if council went with the waiver but they’ve now got the ‘additional parking spot. We managed to fit it in’. ‘This applicant was unlucky that we managed to fit that in’ by putting the shop car parking spot into the stacker thereby ‘creating this spot’. Said he is leaning towards approval because the ‘overall amenity’ isn’t going to be ‘too bad’. ‘I shudder to think how developers will learn from out actions’. They will realise that there is a simple way to ‘lead council by the nose’ by telling them that in every application they put in ‘there is no additional space’ for car parking so ‘I need a waiver for additional car parking’. ‘And we’re now so frightened about what VCAT will say that we are approving’ such applications.

DELAHUNTY: said she was conscious that ‘we have been veering off in our discussions tonight’. Council makes decisions and ‘tries to be consistent’ but applications are decided on the individual merits of the ‘application in front of us’ and ‘sometimes those decisions can seem to be in constrast to one another’. They look at the transport ‘around’ and ‘it’s always taken in context’. She takes the point that maybe they are giving developers a message but there are also other instances where council says ‘it’s not good enough’ and they ‘redesign’. Also going to VCAT has an ‘imposte’ on residents in terms of money spent and officer’s time so ‘there’s an element of that that needs to be taken into consideration’. Said she was in favour of the motion.

HYAMS: said he wouldn’t have done what Sztrajt did by ‘pointing out’ to developers what they might do. Disagreed with this anyway because ‘the site is the size that it is’ and developers ‘aren’t going to buy a site’ thinking ‘oh I can’t fit’ car spots in. Esakoff’s concerns were with amenity impacts but at the planning conference it was clear that these residents weren’t ‘going to be overshadowed’ because they were over on the ‘other side of the driveway’. They ‘will be looking at a unit in front of them’ but there will be other development ‘anyway’. Admitted that this is a concern he didn’t think it was a ‘reasonable’ concern to refuse.

MOTION PUT AND CARRIED. Esakoff voted against.

COMMENTS

  • When 5 of the current councillors decided WITHOUT CONSULTATION that 6 (preferred height) storeys in this spot was okay, surely it is a bit late to start wondering whether or not 6 storeys is too big?
  • 95% of discussion avoids planning issues per se and certainly any intelligent commentary on the application itself. Credit to Esakoff here as the only councillor to even attempt to enunciate what ‘amenity’ impacts are likely to be.
  • An officer’s report that is devoid of all detail, including how many 1, 2, or 3 bedroom apartments nor detail as to how this accords or doesn’t accord with ResCode and the planning scheme.

This is what should happen if a council is determined to be transparent and accountable in its planning decisions – a simple table outlining all the issues and whether or not the application is compliant. Maybe then we could also get councillors to speak to the application rather than regurgitate the nonsensical officer’s report or simply enjoy the sound of their own voices!

There is an extraordinary officer’s report for a planning application at tonight’s council meeting. The application is for Kambrook Road, Caulfield North. It proposes a 5 storey and 61 unit development. The problem with this, is that the site is zoned as Residential Growth Zone (RGZ) – ie a mandatory 4 storey height limit!

So what does our wonderful council do? Simple – the Camera report recommends that a storey be lopped off to bring the development down to 4 storeys with a height of 14.5 metres due to the slope of the land.

A multitude of questions arise from this –

  • Since the application was ‘illegal’ to begin with, why wasn’t this rejected outright at the start when the application first landed on council’s desk in December 2016 – and we are sure in the countless earlier pre-application meetings with the developer?
  • Why is council doing the developer’s job? – ie instead of forcing the developer to come up with an entirely new application, it is council, and council’s officers’ time that are doing the work of the developer. That of course means that ratepayers are again subsidising developers
  • No mention is made of the number of apartments that council is now willing to grant a permit for. The Camera report is silent on the repercussions of deleting one storey.
  • The use of the word ‘generally’ occurs 7 times in this officer report. In other words, planning scheme conditions are not FULLY met, but only ‘generally’ met. We have to again ask why on earth have standards and guidelines when they can be so easily overlooked?
  • The final important question is – how far will council go to accommodate developers?

Council is wonderful in producing stats that sound scary and ostensibly support their case. More often than not, these stats tell only half the story. For example this paragraph from the Activity Centre Strategy  –

State Government statistics indicate that over the last five years (2011–2016), Glen Eira has experienced significant change with a population increase of 11,233 and 4,300 new dwellings constructed (page 147)

Or this effort –

Recent statistics released by State Government (Victoria in Future 2016) indicate that Glen Eira’s population is likely to increase by a further 15 per cent over the next 15 years, resulting in the need for an additional 9,000 dwellings.(page 159 and repeated in the glossy section at page 22).

So exactly what do these figures mean? 9000 new dwellings sounds like a hell of a lot and is meant to – but this is over a projected 15 year period. Hence all Glen Eira requires to meet its population growth according to these figures is a measly 600 net new dwellings per year! Hardly enough to justify the strategy and its ambition to hand over more and more land to developers.

Nor do these figures take into account what has been happening in Glen Eira for the past 5 to 6 years. Australian Bureau of Statistics data on building approvals provides a window into the rampant development that has already occurred. Building approvals are development applications that have already received their permits and have been given the green light to begin construction. Here are the ABS figures for new dwellings –

2011/12 – 912

2012/13 – 957

2013/14 – 1,231

2014/15 – 1,786

2015/16 – 1,680

2016/17 – 1520 (end of March 2017)

TOTAL – 8086

This figure of 8086 new dwellings DOES NOT INCLUDE:

  • The 1200+ new dwellings for Caulfield Village which have already been granted their ‘permits’ via the approved Incorporated Plan and various Development Plans
  • Another, 2000, 3000, 4000(?) potential apartments for Virginia Estate.
  • Nor does this figure of 8086 include all the permits which have been granted but are yet to be taken up and construction started (and hence are still awaiting their building permits)
  • Set down for decision Tuesday night, we get the recommendation for another 87 new dwellings! The meeting before, 18 new dwellings plus refusal for 169 which will end up at VCAT and in all likelihood get at least half of this number. These would not have been added to building or planning permit state registers as yet. Thus, in two council meetings we have just under another 200 net new dwellings in Glen Eira. Go back a couple of more council meetings and the picture is the same.

So what is the take home message for residents?

  • At the current rate of development, Glen Eira will be able to cater for projected population growth NOT IN 2031 BUT BY 2021!
  • 600 net new dwellings is the required ‘quota’ per year according to all recent projections. Glen Eira is averaging close to triple this amount per year.
  • Given the above, WHY IS THIS STRATEGY DETERMINED TO INCREASE DEVELOPMENT AND WHY THE SECRECY ON HOW RESIDENTIAL AMENITY IS TO BE PROTECTED?

By way of summary, here is what the strategy wants to happen in order to facilitate further development. This may sound innocuous and to be merely repeating the current mantra of housing diversity versus minimal change and thus directing development to ‘appropriate’ spots. It is the extent of expansion, the vague references to ‘strategic sites’ plus ‘arterial roads’ and the upgrading of local centres to neighbourhood centres, or neighbourhood centres to major activity centres that is the concern.

CLICK TO ENLARGE – Couldn’t council have produced a far more legible document that could be read clearly without the need for a magnifying glass?

Council has finally released its draft Activity Centre Strategy. We are left speechless at both the quality and the deliberate camouflage of council’s intentions. Not only is the document a vapid, repetitious , and totally uninformative vision of the future but it lacks everything that an Activity Centre Strategy should include. For example:

  • No detail on proposed height limits
  • No detail on proposed building form
  • No detail on proposed open space requirements
  • No definition as to what ‘urban renewal’ really means
  • Plenty of promises that largely repeat the promises made in 2003/4 but without any timelines
  • Statistics that are wrong, wrong, wrong!

Worse still is the tone! Lack of detail is one thing, but when a strategic document of this importance includes the following rubbish it is totally unacceptable. We quote directly from the strategy and invite ‘interpretations’ as to the true meaning of any of these sentences –

As our local centres become more affected by globalised and mobilised markets, it becomes more and more important to create community rich experiences within these centres that cannot be bought online

Explore opportunities to facilitate local flexible working opportunities such as co-working spaces or expanded library areas.

Strategically locate future parcel pick-up stations and other digital transactions facilities within activity centres that encourage community interaction

Strengthen the heart of the community

Foster ‘bottom-up’ change through a focus on place-making.

Ensure key community needs are provided in each centre (such as banks, post office, grocers, butchers and bakers). (Please remember that council has no control over banks, post offices, nor private retail!!!)

Housing capacity and building scale can be separated from activity centre hierarchy by clearly identifying housing typologies that can accommodate growth in strategic locations that respond to their immediate context and neighbourhood character, and also reduce impacts on amenity.

We also have succinct vision statements for each centre that belong to the world of Forrest Gump or the Wizard of Oz, rather than a local government strategic document. Here is the ‘summary’

We acknowledge that Plan Melbourne has foisted some conditions onto council – ie Caulfield Junction as a Major Activity Centre, plus Moorabbin, etc. However, this does not excuse the production of a document that is full of meaningless waffle and motherhood statements, plus similar promises to what has been made and not been acted upon in the past 15 years! It is surely time that council comes clean and informs its residents in a straight forward and honest manner exactly what it proposes! We would also welcome a submission period of longer than the 3 weeks indicated.

Finally, by way of contrast, we have to again bemoan the fact why  other councils can do things so much better and with so much more clarity, and dare way say, honesty! Here are a couple of Activity Centre Strategies from other councils. Please compare and contrast!

STONNINGTON – UPLOADED HERE

MORELAND – UPLOADED HERE

For once it appears that common sense has prevailed! Councillors voted unanimously to reinstate the 2 hour parking restrictions on both sides of the streets surrounding the Caulfield Hospital and the townhall. That this could have dragged on for so many months is unacceptable. What is also unacceptable is the inconsistency with which council handles all the parking issues – ie Phillip Street for example where exactly the same thing happened over a year ago and nothing has changed. It should not take a concerted and consistent effort by residents to ensure that something is done to address problems. Nor should it take countless thousands of dollars to initiate a traffic survey that ends up reporting that there is no parking problem, or that cars are parking safely, when countless residents report the exact opposite.  This is bureaucracy and bloody mindedness gone mad.

Here is the discussion on the issue –

Silver moved motion to reinstate 2 hour parking on both sides of the street, plus continued monitoring and in future that before any changes to parking restrictions are made that the matter be referred to a full council meeting. Seconded by Sztrajt.

SILVER: thanked residents and apologised for ‘it taking so long as it has’ to restore the previous parking restrictions. Said these are narrow streets and when people park ‘close and opposite’ to driveways it makes it hard for people to ‘get out’ of their driveways. History involves hospital introducing parking costs and that council made a ‘decision internally’ to change the restrictions to all day parking on one side of the street. ‘That has caused problems’. Said he has visited and ‘saw the problems there’. Said it’s ‘not about parking availability’ but the ‘impact of parking’ and the problems caused. Residents have told council that they want their ‘legitimate concerns’ taken into account. It is ‘challenging’ because there are 2 major employers in the area – council and the hospital. ‘We can’t deny that there is a need for staff parking’ in both areas and in the ‘future’ there will be ‘challenges’ for both institutions. So this definitely will be an issue for ‘future consideration’. He hoped to hear that ‘residents’ lives have improved by next week’.

SZTRAJT: asked what the cost is for staff parking at the hospital. Delahunty responded that staff pay $2 per day and visitors $6. Sztrajt then queried whether staff could claim this as a tax deduction and Delahunty replied that it comes out of their ‘pre-tax salary’. Sztrajt then said that his question was to determine whether staff who can spend roughly $1.20- $1.30 a day refuse to park in the onsite car park and use the gate to get to the hospital to ‘save $1.30 a day’ so they park in ‘narrow residential streets’. This has ‘created an unfair circumstance’ for residents. The hospital had to ‘take the matter all the way to the CEO’ of Southern Health about whether to close a gate or not. Said that ‘with the best of intent’ by council, residents have been ‘upset’ and council’s attempts to find a solution by closing the gate ‘have just been delayed’ and residents have ‘been put out’ by the time lag. He now thinks that ‘we are not in a position to wait for the hospital’. ‘We are now in the situation where we will do what our residents asked us to do’. Residents ‘have spoken’ and ‘spoken loudly’. They’ve emailed all councillors, and he ‘commends’ them for taking up the issue and ‘using local government’ in the way it was intended – ie letting residents have ‘an avenue’ to ‘contest issues’. Council can change the restrictions and he is regretting that ‘it has taken us a long time’ to ‘do the right thing here’.

DELAHUNTY: said that council ‘shouldn’t have taken the decision to remove parking restrictions without consultation’. Even though it ‘wasn’t in contravention of our policy, it is not in keeping with the spirit of it’. Said the report stated that there is ‘sufficient on street parking’ and changing will force cars into nearby streets but ‘I don’t think you can have both of those positions’. If ‘reinstating the original conditions will reinstate the original complaints we had’ then council would get zero complaints. Didn’t think there would be any issues with reinstating ‘while officers continue to work on the closure’. Said that it is ‘mindboggling’ that this ‘very minor’ issue has to go all the way to the CEO of Southern Health.

SILVER: said that he is also amazed at the protocols and still feels the decision by the hospital could have been ‘made faster’. The hospital is a ‘neighbour’ and would want a ‘good working relationship’ with everyone.

MOTION PUT AND VOTED IN UNANIMOUSLY

PS – AND JUST A REMINDER ABOUT PHILLIP STREET THAT SURELY FALLS INTO THE SAME CATEGORY OF LACK OF CONSULTATION AND LACK OF JUSTIFICATION?

Item 9.10 features the ongoing saga of parking around the town hall and Caulfield Hospital. After months of supposed ‘negotiation’ with the hospital to close a gate, there is still no outcome. Councillors have thus been offered 3 choices. They are:

  1. Continue With The Current Restrictions – since (a) there is plenty of available parking in the streets and (b) that time should be given for council to complete its ‘municipal wide’ parking strategy in order to reach a ‘more balanced and consistent framework’.
  • Reinstate The Previous Restrictions (pre-June 2016) – this would however force cars to park in nearby streets so the ‘problem’ would only be passed on to surrounding areas. One paragraph from this option deserves citing in full –

Community criticism over the lack of consultation in the recent parking restriction changes is acknowledged. Given the potential for increased parking demands on Glencoe Street, Garrell Street, and Dunbar Avenue, it is recommended that the residents of these streets be consulted prior to any decision to remove unrestricted parking from: Hillside Avenue, Harcourt Avenue, Gerard Street, Hartley Avenue, Sylverly Grove, and Alfred Street.

  • The third option involves having small sections of the street (ie 4 car spots) earmarked for unrestricted parking – but this also requires consultation.

The upshot of all this is, let’s do nothing, or let’s delay some more. Council keeps presenting the argument that it is working on a ‘precinct wide’ traffic management plan. The Planning Scheme review stated that parking precinct plans would be introduced for its activity centres. The streets mentioned above ARE NOT included in any major activity centre, nor are they part of any neighbourhood centre. All council comments related to parking apply only to their ‘structure planning’ – ie As part of the structure planning process, parking and traffic movement will be reviewed with the potential for new traffic measures and controls to be introduced. (April, Glen Eira News).

No specific timelines are provided. Since only structure plans for Bentleigh, Carnegie, Elsternwick, and now Virginia Estate will be done in the next 18 months we have little confidence that parking will get a look in elsewhere – especially since council is now not promising structure plans for its other districts but an ‘Activity Centre Strategy’!

Residents are being given short shrift in our view. Council needs to be upfront and inform residents exactly what it plans to do about parking everywhere. Timelines are required as is a waterproof policy that is up-to-date and which initiates action now and not years down the track.

A short post alerting residents to the fact that council has published its draft budget, community plan and also included plenty of planning applications in the current agenda – a massive 555 pages!

We will report on the first two in much greater detail once we have had the time to fully digest the documents. What follows are simply some overall first impressions:

  • The community plan is presented in a different format completely. The old ‘faults’ are still there however – ie. very little correlation between ‘objectives’ and assessment of these objectives. For example: on the theme of ‘informed and engaged’ one of the criteria for evaluating ‘success’ is recorded as “Rates per assessment will remain at the second lowest level of all metropolitan municipalities”.
  • If council is truly concerned about ‘transparency’ then we have to question why on page 101 of the draft budget council insists on highlighting the percentage increase for bins, rather than the actual cost increase – ie. “240 Litre Bin 1.95 per cent Increase” etc. Residents shouldn’t have to plough through hundreds of pages to be able to work out how much charges have increased. This is the first time we believe that this kind of presentation has been done.
  • For all the talk about open space expenditure, there appears to be zero allocated for the 2017/18 financial year according to the Strategic Resource Plan!
  • Rates of course are going up, as is every other single charge. Council has however stated that it will not be seeking a higher rate (mandated 2% increase) via an appeal to the Essential Services Commission.

On other matters –

  • Parking restrictions around the hospital will not change – despite protest after protest and nothing really forthcoming from the proposed ‘advocacy’ to Caulfield Hospital
  • More applications in for extended heights – Neerim Road going for 4 storeys when a previous permit application was successful for 3 storeys. Officer recommendation? – permit. We are also mightily amused by this argument in favour of the permit – The new top floor balcony is proposed to be setback approximately 6 metres from the street. It is considered that this setback is appropriate having regard to the approved setback of the fourth storey of the building to the east (253 Neerim Road) at approximately 6 metres.
  • For another application council officers see nothing wrong in waiving 5 car parking spaces for shops!

Watch this space!

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