People tend to love timeless architecture, be it a street lined with Victorian era homes or an inner city road dotted with clever contemporary architecture, some of which achieve high quality yields on postage stamp sized lots.
In dealing with many councils across Melbourne, you’re likely to find that many of the planning officers have travelled widely and perhaps even learned to appreciate modern architecture.
But when they return to Melbourne most of them get locked into the status quo – the textbook planning standards. It’s not necessarily even because they want to; it’s probably more because their managers instruct them to do so and many of these senior officers have been around doing the same thing for far too long.
Here are a few textbook examples of the neighbourhood character issue in action:
A tree lined street in a mid-circle Greater Melbourne Council has seen no development for over 50 years. It is close to shops, schools, parks and other amenities. The houses are attractive for its era – well-built and often attractive. It is an “up market” street where homes sell well in excess of a a million dollars.
Unfortunately, this was the first Council to adopt the new Residential Zones which blanketed almost 80 per cent of the municipality with the dreaded no-go zone (the Neighbourhood Residential Zone.) As many know, the New Residential Zones backfired as the legislation surrounding them was not well drafted and open to challenges and wins at the VCAT by Councils.
An owner purchased a large block on this street. Despite its 16-metre frontage, only 85 per cent of the land was developable as the main stormwater drain ran sort of almost diagonally across the land. The owner wanted to build two very large dual occupancy homes, both facing the street.
A while ago, his immediate neighbour had applied for a pair of duplexes which were extremely large, built from boundary to boundary and designed by well-established architects. The design was super-contemporary. As expected, the residents of the very well established street were up in arms with this piece of ego driven architecture.
Council too was against it for two primary reasons: for failing to respect neighbourhood character both from the public realm and from the “backyard character” view. This council, like a growing number of councils, limited dwellings in the rear yard to single storey.
However, being a duplex, there were no dwellings in the backyard. Council refused the application.
The owner and architect recently submitted a new application. The new design is a very conservative, incorporating simple hipped roofs with one double-storey home in the front and a single-storey home in the backyard. By all accounts, this new spplication is progressing well at council.
The first owner mentioned is understandably nervous. His motivation to purchase his site to build two large dream homes duplex style in a side-by-side arrangement is shattered.
After much persuasion, the client (a pair of friends partnering up to develop the land) agreed not to design boundary to boundary with two double garages, and to limit the upper floors to be more conservative.
Many owners think developing 60 per cent of the site – if allowed by policy – should be acceptable to council. Unfortunately, council and the VCAT may think otherwise.
Another case of very contemporary design by a young designer – quite smart and very appealing – was refused by council. The applicant wanted to know how to “tweak” the application to make it more likely to be approved. The advice given to the designer was simple: if he was designing one home on the land (which he owned) the size of the land would exempt him from applying to council. He could deal directly with an independent building surveyor, who would just go by the Standards of Rescode and not the interpretation of these standards which councils go by. As a result, he could build a very contemporary home and no one could really stop him as long as the building surveyor signed off.
A third and final example is a design and town planning application for a small triangular block by the seaside. The street was typical of the area: modest homes with hipped roofs and poorly designed windows which failed to capture the splendid views.
After some design work for the tiny site, an application was submitted that called for a triangular home with an inverted gable roof which looked like a gull winged Concorde airplane. The residents of the street revolted, as did the manager. Council refused the application. At a VCAT appeal, the member thought the design was appropriate for this small site and approved the application. The member agreed the gull winged roof opened up the views for the neighbours behind the site.