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Amendment C309 to the Melbourne Planning Scheme seeks to implement the West Melbourne Structure Plan. As part of this, the amendment looks to create a new local high street for West Melbourne on Spencer Street. Additionally, the exhibited documents also seek to:
- Rezone the majority of the area to a Special Use Zone (SUZ) to help support a genuine mix of uses.
- Implement minimum employment floorspace requirements within the SUZ.
- Provide for a 6% affordable housing target.
- Implement a new Parking Overlay to encourage sustainable transport.
- Apply preferred maximum building heights for the nominated precincts.
- Include floor area ratios to ensure built form responds appropriately to the defined precinct character.
The Panel Report has recently issued and recommends that the amendment be adopted, subject to recommended changes. In relation to some of the key matters as outlined above.
USE OF THE SPECIAL USE ZONE
There were queries about whether the Special Use Zone (SUZ) was the correct ‘tool’ to achieve the creation of a true mixed use area with a significant focus on employment. Ultimately, the Panel found it was appropriate to provide a SUZ to an entire Structure Plan area/suburb given the alternatives were not suitable. The Panel also stated:
Nevertheless, the Panel strongly encourages DELWP to consider developing a commercially focused mixed use zone, that is not part of the residential suite of zones, to better cater for situations such as West Melbourne where a true mix of uses with a significant commercial or employment generating component is sought.
The Commercial 3 Zone (C3Z) was introduced in October 2018 to represent a true mixed use zone, with a lesser focus on residential uses (unlike the current Mixed Use Zone). Schedules to the zone are able to nominate a maximum allowable percentage (not exceeding 50%) of the combined gross floor area of all buildings on a lot for dwelling, and residential building uses, with the default under the zone being 35%. Interestingly, the proposed SUZ includes a minimum percentage of gross floor area (varied between the various precincts) dedicated to uses other than accommodation, which is not a mandatory requirement.
If the C3Z is not seen as being capable of creating a commercially focused mixed use zone, then is it really fit for purpose, or does it need to be fine-tuned?
MINIMUM NON ACCOMMODATION FLOOR AREAS
The exhibited SUZ included a mandatory requirement that a permit could not be granted for accommodation unless a minimum % of non accommodation uses was provided, with requirements varying per precinct (Spencer: 25%, Flagstaff: 16.6%, Adderley: 16.6%, Station: 20%). This rationale was to ensure West Melbourne maintained employment generating uses, which are currently being lost through residential development of previous industrial/commercial land.
The Panel agreed with the inclusion of this requirement but had issues with the nominated percentages and the mandatory nature of the control. The issues with the percentages stemmed from differences between the locational, transport access, existing use and built form character of the precincts. The Panel found that Flagstaff should have the highest non-accommodation use requirement, followed by Station, Spencer and Adderley.
Having regard to the mandatory nature of the control, the Panel agreed with experts that this was too blunt a tool to achieve the outcomes and lacked flexibility. In turn, there was a concern that this may ultimately discourage investment in these areas. They recommended that the control be changed to a discretionary requirement, but with additional application requirements and decision guidelines to ensure that strong justification would be required to vary the requirement.
FLOOR AREA RATIOS
The various DDOs include mandatory floor area ratios. The floor area ratios cannot be varied unless bonus floor area is achieved through retention of a special character building. The special character buildings are designated within the DDOs but are not affected by Heritage Overlays. The purpose of implementing the floor area ratio requirements was meant to enable development to respond better to the varying characteristics of specific sites and delivering different building typologies.
The Panel found that the floor area ratios were strategically justified and should remain mandatory, despite some testing indicating that some sites would not be able to develop to their preferred maximum height. A number of experts undertook built form testing and Council undertook capacity modelling based on forecast population. Ultimately, the Panel found that the exhibited floor area ratios for each precinct were appropriate, with a second rate to be introduced for the Spencer precinct for properties within the Spencer Street activity centre, and along King Street between Roden and Dudley Streets:
- Flagstaff (DDO33): 6:1
- Spencer(DDO72): 4:1
- Spencer(DDO72): 5:1 as outlined above
- Adderley (DDO29): 3:1
- Station (DDO28): 5:1
The West Melbourne Structure Plan seeks to help deliver affordable housing in West Melbourne. The SUZ includes a requirement that a minimum of 6% of dwellings within the Flagstaff, Spencer and Station precincts should be an affordable housing dwelling, unless otherwise agreed by the Council. If affordable housing is not provided (or to the extent required), a report is required to be submitted outlining that delivering 6% affordable housing will render the project financially unviable.
It also requires the housing to be provided to a Housing Provider at no cost or to be held in an affordable housing Trust and managed for the sole purpose of affordable housing. The Panel makes the distinction in that ‘gifting’ the dwellings to a Housing Provider effectively makes them social housing, as opposed to affordable housing.
The Council argued that strategic justification for the affordable housing requirement is within the Planning and Environment Act, Plan Melbourne and Homes for Victorians. The Panel agreed with the strategic justification and noted that the 6% was consistent with the requirement for Fishermans Bend but increased the threshold to developments of over 10 dwellings. They also had concerns with the requirement to demonstrate that affordable housing provision would result in a project being unviable and recommended that this be deleted with other decision guidelines for Council recommended.
While the Panel found that the affordable housing requirement is not mandatory, it felt Council’s discretion was constrained in relation to contemplating other forms of affordable housing. As a result, they recommended that reference to both social housing and affordable housing be contained within the SUZ.
The exhibited DDOs saw building heights increase from a range of 4 storeys/14m and 40m for those areas currently affected by DDOs, to preferred maximum heights in the order of:
- 2-4 storeys for the Adderley Precinct (DDO29)
- 8 storeys for Station Precinct (DDO28)
- 16 storeys for Flagstaff Precinct (DDO33)
- Spencer Precinct (DDO72) varies between 6 storeys generally, 10 storeys to Dudley Street and 8 storeys to Spencer and King Streets.
The Panel found these heights appropriate, subject to 6 storeys being increased to 7 storeys for the Spencer Precinct. As detailed previously, the maximum heights are not necessarily achievable on all sites as a result of the floor area ratio control.
Council will now likely consider the Panel Report at a Council meeting in February 2020.
Author: Alice Maloney, Senior Associate: Planning