Recently I came across a property owner who purchased a site with the hope of building five or six homes on it. The property was close to transport and shops. One would think this large property with two street frontages was ideal for subdivision.
Unfortunately for the owner, the local council had other ideas. The property was destined to be rezoned from the old Residential 1 zone which allowed more than two dwellings on the land, to Neighbourhood Residential Zone (NRZ) - the "no go" zone.
While some councils have schedules which allow more than two dwellings in land zoned NRZ, in this case the maximum allowed would be two dwellings.
Being so close to the train station and shops and offices, which are usually close to strong infrastructure, one would have expected the property to be zoned Residential Growth Zone (RGZ) – the "go go" zone – or General Residential Zone (RGZ) which is still a "go" zone as far as property subdivision is concerned.
So, coming back to what should we look out for when buying the ideal property suitable for subdivision, what are some of the criteria we should look out for? There are a myriad of planning policies and design factors to consider, but the following are general ones to note:
Zoning, schedule and overlays
The zoning will determine what type of development is allowed. You are safe under the GRZ and RGZ when it comes to developing property for multi-lot subdivision. Under the NRZ, the common rule is two dwellings on a block, subject to meeting minimum lot sizes if prescribed in the schedule.
Some councils allow more than two dwellings, subject to satisfying minimum lot sizes. Overlay burdens control items such as vegetation, whether you are allowed to excavate or whether the built form should follow the topography, protection of vegetation on and off site, building height, protection of views, neighbourhood character to name a few criteria. A heritage overlay may control the design of the building.
The ultimate property for subdivision should be zoned RGZ or GRZ with no overlay burdens!
Size and width
Size of land is the ultimate deciding factor as to whether the property is good for subdivision. If one is doing a dual occupancy, then the amount of land behind the existing home will determine if one will generate a two or three or more bedroom dwelling.
In middle ring suburbs, 300 square metres per lot is a general rule of thumb, while outer ring suburbs may require larger lot sizes. Properties with over 17 metres of street frontage may be ideal for duplex style developments, which can command higher sale prices as each dwelling has its own street frontage and address and in some cases there may be no common property.
Many councils are against duplex style developments as they feel the presence of two garages and two driveways is unsightly and reduces landscaping opportunities. Some councils reason that crossovers limit on-street parking. In a recent VCAT decision, that policy was overruled as the council in question was close to the CBD. The width is helpful in designing traffic swept paths within the property. The wider the site, the easier it is to design for vehicle movements.
The ultimate property would be over 750 square metres with a 16-metre-plus street frontage.
Title and easements
Always check the title for correct property boundaries, easements and whether it contains any covenants or Section 173 which may restrict further development.
The ultimate property would have no easements or covenants restricting development.
The location of services and easy access to them will save you on connection costs. Identify the location and size of sewers, manholes and where you connect your stormwater.
The ultimate property would have the sewer outside the property and stormwater discharge point should be kerbside.
Open space requirements
While your property maybe zoned GRZ, the open space requirement might be too generous. Generally speaking, each dwelling should contain 40 square metres of open space with one parcel of 25 square metres having a minimum width of three metres.
Some councils may require you provide all 40 square metres in one parcel, some may allow the 40 square metres to be separate but within the same lot the dwelling sits on, while others still require 75 square metres or more of open space on the ground.
The other form of open space is above ground which can be eight square metres of balcony or 10 square metres of roof garden accessible from a living area.
The ultimate property for a good subdivision would feature 40 square metres of open space, of which 25 square metres can be in a separate parcel or should allow the balcony and roof garden options.
Which side is north? This is a key criteria to consider as orientation determines how the shadows of the proposed dwellings impact on neighbouring properties. There are rules and formulas to consider.
The ultimate property would have a rear or side facing north.
Slope determines traffic design, cost of building and design complexities, all of which will add costs to develop the property.
The ultimate property would be relatively flat.
Trees on the property and on abutting properties determine the building footprint. If the property is burdened with a vegetation overlay, then one may face challenges when setting out the building pads. An arborist will identify the root protection zones and how much encroachment is allowed.
The ultimate property would have no large trees on site or within five to eight metres of common boundaries.
Councils are quite protective of their streetscape and how any proposed building sits within that streetscape. While some councils are quite inflexible, others may be more lenient as long as some of the prevailing building elements are incorporated in the design. A property with a neighbourhood character overlay is restricted to how much variation in design will be allowed.
The ultimate property for subdivision would be on a street where there is development precedence and built forms vary.