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As the population ages in Australia, there is a growing demand for people to stay in their current homes for as long as possible or downsize. For many baby-boomers who are leading a more active retirement, there is a push to live closer to the inner city in locations that offer high-quality amenities, public transport and other services.
Housing in the form of medium to high density ‘vertical’ retirement living is evolving in a number of Australia’s largest urban areas.
These new forms of retirement living offer potential to provide a higher level of amenity including a range of in-house services such as ‘health and well-being centres’, and entertainment options that create a sense of community with more opportunities for interaction between its residents.
ratio: recently had the pleasure of assisting Stockland Development before VCAT with a major proposal in Brighton East to replace an existing development of 110 single-storey and double-storey living units with a new retirement village comprising 210 living units in a series of 3-5 storey buildings over a basement car park (Stockland Development Pty Ltd v Bayside CC  VCAT 147).
The application was notable because the site is situated in a Neighbourhood Residential Zone where 1-2 storey development and minimal change is encouraged by the planning scheme.
Retirement villages are not subject to the mandatory garden area and building height requirements of the Neighbourhood Residential Zone. This, when combined with the substantial size of the site (nearly 1.7ha), its multiple road abuttals (including Hawthorn Road), and its abuttal to a tram line / PPTN, all enabled the contemplation of greater height and intensity than might otherwise be the case.
The proposal also raised broad strategic issues regarding the ‘need’ to provide additional accommodation for an ageing population, including in established inner and middle-ring urban areas where many existing residents want to down-size and ‘age in place’. The Tribunal accepted that:
- Along with an absolute increase in population, the anticipated increase in the aged population will lead to a significant demand for housing tailored to our senior citizens. This includes retirement villages and aged care facilities.
- There are significant social benefits in providing this accommodation where people have traditionally lived, which is sometimes referred to as ‘ageing in place’.
- Providing suitable accommodation for an ageing population in areas where it is most desired, represents one of the significant challenges currently facing town planning, particularly in established urban areas.
Notwithstanding this, the proposal still needed to be ‘respectful’ of its context. This was achieved through high quality and skilfully designed architecture (by Bates Smart) that adopted lower building profiles (2-4 storeys) with regular breaks at the varied edges of the site and the taller buildings (4-5 storeys) contained within the centre of the site.
In forming its decision on the suitability of the proposal, including the introduction of a higher scale of built form, the Tribunal found:
- A vertical retirement village in a suburban setting is no longer an ‘alien’ built form where (by way of an example) a single storey retirement village is increasingly unlikely given the lack of large sites and the competing development pressures for well-located large sites in strategic locations.
- In relation to housing policy for minimal residential growth, that ‘minimal ... growth’ does not necessarily equate with ‘no’ or ‘minimal’ change.
- Given the differences between retirement village and dwelling (as defined by the scheme), the preferred character of an area had little relevance to the proposal because character policy focused on a character comprised of dwellings particularly low-rise dwellings.
- The maximum building height requirements and minimum garden area requirements of the NRZ did not apply as the proposal didn’t contain dwellings. This meant the objectives and standards for two or more dwelling developments or for apartment developments also did not apply.
- As a result, a higher scale built form could be contemplated.
- The Bayside Planning Scheme specifically encourages greater housing density and diversity, including aged and affordable housing in activity centres and that the supply of retirement villages is well below current and projected demand for the municipality.
- The proposal balanced the various competing policy objectives in favour of net community benefit and sustainable development.
Whilst most reasonable people would agree there needs to be more quality accommodation options for the elderly in areas where they have traditionally lived, any proposals for ‘change’ in existing urban areas are invariably controversial and potentially end up before VCAT.
Ratio: has substantial experience with retirement villages and aged care facilities in a variety of urban contexts and would be pleased to provide expert assistance to you in the fields of town planning, traffic engineering, urban design and waste.