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28th March 2017

They’re Here! The Residential Zone Amendments Have Been Gazetted.

The proposed changes to the residential zone controls mooted by the State Government via Amendment VC110 were introduced yesterday. The amendment varies the provisions of the Neighbourhood Residential Zone, General Residential Zone, Residential Growth Zone and Mixed Use Zone generally in line with information previously released by Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) but with a few surprises now that the zone details have been confirmed.

Now that the zone changes are a known quantity, a clearer picture is beginning to emerge of how the new zones will impact on the residential development of land in these zones, or is it?

The key changes to the zone controls and what the changes mean are outlined as follows:

Neighbourhood Residential Zone Key Changes:

  • Removal of the previous restriction on the maximum number of dwellings per lot.
  • Amendment to the purpose of the zone to remove the previous references to limiting opportunities for increased residential development and the implementation of character policy/adopted guidelines. 
  • Requiring that the schedule to the zone must contain the neighbourhood, heritage, environment or landscape character objective for the area to be achieved.
  • The introduction of a mandatory minimum garden area requirement for lots greater than 400 square metres and above ranging from between 25 and 35 per cent of lot area (irrespective of whether a planning permit is required).
  • A mandatory maximum height of 9 metres and 2 storeys with potential to exceed this height only in particular circumstances including on sloping sites, land subject to flooding and existing/adjoining building heights.
  • Revised transitional provisions which amongst other things seeks to exempt planning permit applications for the construction or extension of a dwelling lodged before the VC110 approval date.

General Residential Zone Key Changes:

  • Change to the purpose of the zone to remove reference to implementing neighbourhood character policy/adopted guidelines with the removal of the reference to ‘moderate’ housing growth and encourage housing with good access to infrastructure.
  • Requiring that the schedule to the zone may contain neighbourhood character objectives.
  • The introduction of a mandatory minimum garden area requirement for lots greater than 400 square metres and above ranging from between 25 and 35 per cent of lot area (irrespective of whether a planning permit is required).
  • A mandatory maximum height of 11 metres and 3 storeys (irrespective of whether a permit is required), with potential to exceed this height only in particular circumstances including sloping sites, land subject to flooding and existing/adjoining building heights.
  • Revised transitional provisions which amongst other things seeks to exempt planning permit applications for the construction or extension of a dwelling or residential building lodged before the VC110 approval date.

Residential Growth Zone

The changes to the Residential Growth Zone are less extensive but include some minor changes to the purpose of the zone and a new provision outlining that the schedule to the zone must contain the design objectives to be achieved for the area.

Whilst no changes have been made to the existing preferred height of 13.5 metres and Council’s retain the ability to nominate a mandatory height in the schedule to the zone, there are revised exemptions allowing exceedance of the mandatory height in some particular circumstances including sloping sites, land subject to flooding and existing/adjoining building heights.

Garden area definition

The garden area definition has now been included at Clause 72 which is as follows:

‘An uncovered outdoor area of a dwelling or residential building normally associated with a garden. It includes open entertaining areas, decks, lawns, garden beds, swimming pools, tennis courts and the like. It does not include a driveway, any area set aside for car parking, any building or roofed area and any area that has a dimension of less than 1 metre.’

What do the changes mean?

The changes mainly impact proposed development within the Neighbourhood Residential Zone and General Residential Zone.  To our reading, there is a considerable blurring of the distinction between the Neighbourhood Residential Zone and the General Residential Zone with the 2 verses 3 storey height controls being the stand out difference, particularly unless Council’s amend their Schedules to include character policies and guidelines.

The changes to the Neighbourhood Residential Zone provisions through the removal of a mandatory maximum number of dwellings, the amendments to the purpose of the zone and the increase to mandatory height controls on the whole will provide more flexibility for the development particularly of larger NRZ zoned sites and allow for some sensible additional height.  This is not likely to be the case in inner Melbourne locations, such as the City of Yarra, where there is land extensively zoned Neighbourhood Residential with very high site coverage a characteristic of the local.

The changes to the General Residential Zone in removing purposes pertaining to neighbourhood character policy and ‘moderate’ growth with the encouragement of development with good access to infrastructure seems a sensible inclusion to take advantage to reasonable development opportunities.  However, such changes to the purposes are moderated by the inclusion of new mandatory height controls and, in particular, the mandatory minimum garden area requirement. In our opinion, this change has the potential to reduce development potential in GRZ areas, particularly in inner and middle urban locations.

In some strategic areas, the inclusion of a mandatory 11 metre and 3 storey height control has the potential to contradict existing controls.  Namely where policy earmarks GRZ land for more intensive growth or land is included within a Design and Development Overlay where the preferred heights are greater than the new mandatory 11 metre control of the GRZ.  It is our understanding that the Minister seeks to review this ‘unintended consequence’ as part of the smart planning review currently underway.

It is also our initial observation that, with the exception of the mandatory height controls, the difference in envisaged development intensity between the NRZ and GRZ is now less clear, particularly given that Council’s must place neighbourhood, heritage, environment or landscape character objectives for the area to be achieved into the Schedule to the Neighbourhood Residential Zone.  Until this occurs, which may take years to achieve, it is unclear how the zones will be interpreted.

The inclusion of the same mandatory minimum garden area requirement within both the GRZ and the NRZ indicates the appropriateness of the same overall development footprint/dwelling numbers irrespective of the zone.  In our opinion, the mandatory garden area requirement applied across all NRZ and GRZ land has the potential to limit the type of housing provided to the community, potentially preventing the development of reverse living style housing and more compact lower maintenance housing.  This has an impact on dwelling diversity and affordability.

The definition of garden area is also likely to be given a serious workout at both Council and VCAT over the coming months given the potential ambiguity over the definition provided.  We will expect to see some real pushing of the boundaries in the coming months over this definition

As expected. applications lodged prior to yesterday, the transitional provisions outline that they are exempt from the mandatory garden area and height requirements.  At this stage, it is not clear whether formally amending your existing application via section 50 or Section 57A of the Planning and Environment Act, such as the formal amending of plans, will void these transitional provisions. The lack of clarity in this respect provides for a level of uncertainty.

One the whole, given the widespread application of the Neighbourhood Residential Zone across well resourced regions of Melbourne with excellent access to public transport and other infrastructure, we consider that the reforms to the zones are a step in the right direction.   However, the inclusion of mandatory controls, particularly the garden area requirements in the General Residential Zone, has the potential to undermine the longer term outcome of the reforms.

Given the amount of uncertainty regarding various aspects of the drafting of the zones, it will be an interesting time ahead as interpretations and definitions are argued over.  As always, the team at ratio: will keep you abreast of these changes.

For any queries in relation to the new zone provisions please contact the planning team at ratio: on 03 9429 3111 or mail@ratio.com.au 

Images source: Pinterest & The Betoota Advocate.

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