Property Development: Can Effective Communication Produce Dividends?

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
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Recently, I attended council meetings at three different councils, for three different clients and three different planning applications.

Two of the clients had overpaid at auction and the third had an application for seven units prepared by a different company refused. According to a few people, the delegate report gave his application no chance of success at VCAT. A total new design was required.

Meeting A was a Request for Further Information (RFI) meeting for a client who wanted to maximise yield.

The planning officer was unwelcoming, her body language showed little interest in meeting and her responses were short and vague, using terms like “scale” and “bulk”.

I explained that the application was just for three double storey townhouses, two of which were only three bedrooms and the third two. The site coverage was a mere 40 per cent and each unit-even the two bedder had 75 square metres of open space. The proposed buildings had recessed upper floors and tiled roofs in keeping with the neighbourhood character and in full compliance of the standards.

We proposed generous setbacks to boundaries, the built form had no adverse impact on the amenities of neighbours, parking was behind the street.

I felt the list of positives was compelling, but the answer was still “scale and bulk,” so I asked what changes could be made to meet her expectations. The planning officer simply replied “I’m not here to design for you.”

That seemed to mean “I don’t know what I want and my textbook uses different language which cannot be communicated across.” I said my courteous goodbyes and we are still slogging away. The planning officer knows when the 60 days are up I’ll be forced to go to VCAT if things don’t hurry along. A last minute RFI will likely be the next step to delay VCAT.

Meeting B, where I was aiming to rescue a refused application for seven units, was a gem. The planner had been around for a while. Over the phone you could feel the frost coming through the blaster, but in person she couldn’t be warmer. As it turns out, the previous applicant had lost the plot and ignored all the help she offered – architects can be stubborn! We are moving forward in this case with hope.

Meeting C was a pre-application to see how I could maximise the yield with the least amount of resistance. The planning officer appeared to know it all…and it turns out she did! But she acknowledged that she does not particularly enjoy refusing applications, so it was best to collaborate and cross the line together.

She advised “think of your client’s neighbours. If the proposed design appears to be a monster, you’ll bring the monster out of the street who will oppose everything you propose. And I know the consequence when objectors number over 80 and some of them don’t even live in the neighbourhood but yet turn up at VCAT only to lose!

In my opinion, if one cannot explain the problem or quantify it then it is more efficient to not raise the problem in the first instance. A bit of good communication saves Council’s time in their under-resourced departments, saves developers costs and time and help occupants move into their homes faster.

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