In December 2010 the elected councillors of the Town of Victoria Park met to decide whether to accept or refuse our proposal. You can imagine that it was a nervous moment for us. The future of our development was in the hands of the elected Councillors. This is what we had worked hard on for the past year. Would we be sent back to the drawing board?
We had a report from the town planning staff which was not favourable and their recommendation was: Refusal. However, we had spoken to a number of Councillors about our project. Although, it was hard to gauge their position, we had found them to be (on the whole) encouraging.
At the meeting, several Councillors spoke in favour of the development, even to the point of questioning why it seemed so difficult for developments with such noble goals to gain approval. The Council gave their overwhelming support and affirmed that the streetscape policies for the Town of Victoria Park should undergo a review. With some minor changes our proposed development was approved!
The road to planning approval was not smooth. We would like to share with you the main issues for our development. Some of the issues we faced are related to combining townhouses and apartments into one and the same development. Others were related to weighing up between outcomes for sustainability and adhering to other policy requirements. Current planning policies do not cater for this. In fact, the sustainability assessment for our proposed development made no mention of the credentials but simply stated: "No impact".
The main planning approval hurdles
- What are we allowed to build?
- Common versus exclusive use areas
- Parking requirements
- Streetscape policy
- Do we fit in?
We've also included links to some important planning documents for you to start your own research.
Our block is 837m2 and zoned R40/60. We are allowed to build up to R60 if we own 2 adjacent blocks. We only have one block and therefore zoning of R40 applies.
Under R40 we needed:
- 220m2 for a Grouped Dwelling
- 250m2 for a Multiple Dwelling
- 166m2 for a Single Bedroom Dwelling
Note that a townhouse style residence is a Grouped Dwelling and an apartment style residence is a Multiple Dwelling.
To increase diversity and affordability our preference was to have two townhouses and to divide the third building into two apartments, one downstairs and one upstairs. This made sense to us, we never thought it would be a problem. But it was.
The first issue that we encountered was that noone seemed to know how the minimum site requirements should apply to a lot that contained both group dwelling style housing and multiple dwelling style housing. The end result was an interpretation that all the dwellings on the lot are multiple dwellings if the lot contains a set of apartments: If any part of one dwelling is above another, then all are categorised as multiple dwellings and require 250sqm each. The dispensation for single bedroom dwellings (166sqm) is unaffected.
Our original design had two townhouses which now required 250sqm; a 2-bedroom apartment (250sqm); and a single-bedroom apartment (166sqm). The total of 916sqm exceeds the area of the block (837sqm) rendering our design non-compliant.
If we wished to have four residences, they had to be all detached housing (with no residence above another) or both apartments could only be single bedroom and have a maximum floor space of 60sqm. This essentially means that we could have covered much more of the land in buildings, but to place two residences above one another to preserve common green space was being penalised.
Below is a summary of compliant and non-compliant alternatives.
|Compliant Alternatives||Non Compliant Alternatives|
|3 Grouped Dwellings||2 Grouped Dwellings and 2 Multiple Dwellings|
|3 Multiple Dwellings||2 Grouped Dwellings, 1 Multiple Dwelling and 1 Single Bedroom Dwelling|
|3 Grouped Dwellings and 1 Single Bedroom Dwelling|
|2 Multiple Dwellings and 2 Single Bedroom Dwellings|
We discussed our options. Obviously only having one bedroom is not as attractive as having two and we struggled with the requirement that a single bedroom apartment could not be bigger than 60sqm. However, we decided not to give up on the idea of having two apartments. The alternative of having three townhouses did not allow us to specifically cater for diversity and affordability. These goals were simply too important to the community that we were trying to create. But it did mean having to go back to the drawing board to change the size and layout of the dwellings somewhat.
On 22 November 2010 the R-codes were updated. In this updated version the minimum site area requirements for multiple dwellings were removed. Had we been able to apply under this new version of the R-codes we would not have run into this particular issue. However, you cannot always afford to wait...
Our next hurdle was related to the miminum site area requirements. The R-codes state the following:
"The minimum site area set out in table 1 is calculated as follows: (...) in the case of a grouped dwelling, the area of land occupied by the dwelling together with all other areas whether contiguous or not, designated for the exclusive use of the occupants of that dwelling".
For our proposal it meant that each grouped dwelling was to be provided with an exclusive use site area of a minimum of 200m2 which does not include common property areas. We were told by the council that regardless of whether or not the dwellings were to be strata titled, we needed to demonstrate that compliance with this requirement could be achieved.
The reason that this requirement was an issue for us is that for our development we want all outdoor space to be commonly owned, except for a small private courtyard or balcony for each dwelling. We do not want to divide the block into seperate lots or build fences. We clearly did not want to have to designate areas for the exclusive use of occupants of one of the dwellings, but until we figured out how we could get around this requirement, the project was on hold...
We contacted the Department of Planning to discuss the issue and were that, as long as the overall development adhered to the total site requirements and that each townhouse had a private courtyard of minimum 20 sqm, we complied. We thought that meant the issue was resolved.
But the council staff still wanted us to demonstrate that we could comply with the requirement, they wanted to see the lines on the map, which areas could be for the exclusive use of certain occupants. In the end we just produced the map that the council wanted so that the staff could tick that box and we were able to move on. But we will not strata title our development according to the map that was submitted to the council for planning approval.
Have you ever wondered why almost every new house has a double garage? Well, it is a requirement under WA State Planning Policy, the famous R-Codes! Every single, grouped or multiple dwelling is required to have two parking spaces. I guess when people are talking about planning for car dependency, this is a great example!
As per the R-Codes, our development is required to have 6 parking bays. This is calculated as follows:
Example of typical townhouse development with open space mainly consisting of driveways.
The above already takes into account some concessions that we received for parking requirements for the multiple dwellings with our development being located within within 800 metres from a railway station.
Council staff did mention to us that in limited cases (being large scale development in redevelopment areas) Council has supported a reduction in the on-site parking requirements and has required a minimum of 1.5 instead of 2. However concern was raised that if the Council were to accept a reduced on-site parking provision in this instance, it would set a precedent for other developments in the Town which are close to train stations. It was kindly flagged with us that we may wish to review the adequacy of on-site car parking proposed particularly in relation to future sale of the units and market demand. Their experience is that developers often provide more parking than is required because of market demand.
It was a real eye opener for us the extent to which we plan for cars. We discussed the option to request reduced parking requirements for our development based on the fact that we are within 800 meters from a train station, have a communal bike store for 10-15 bikes and our aim is to promote sustainable living. In the end we decided not to request for reduced parking requirements, but comply with the required six parking bays. There were enough other issues to deal with. A possible reduction from six to an expected five bays would not make much difference to the design.
So, our plans show six parking bays: two double garages and two visitor bays. The two visitor bays are not under cover and located in the set back area. The bays will be incorporated in the landscape design; the amount of hardpaving will be kept to a minimum. The four remaining bays are accommodated in two double garages. These two garages will be shared between the four dwellings, everyone will have one bays. According to the town planners this was 'highly unusual'. They had never seen anyone propose such an arrangement and believed it was sub-standard.
Location of the front door
The Council's streetscape policy requires that front doors be highly visible from the street to address security concerns. It was commented that in our proposed development the front doors were not obvious and easily identified from the street.
In our design it had been a conscious decision to have all front doors facing a communal courtyard area to increase community feel. The front door to each dwelling is easily identified from the point of pedestrian access. We feel that there will be good cross-surveillance between the buildings, giving the required security to the occupants. In addition, the entry to the communal bike store is highly visible from the street, there are several windows that face the street and the balcony of the upstairs apartment has full view of the street.
Location of garages
The location of car parking being at the front or our development is fundamental to our design. First, it is crucial for the dwellings to work from a solar passive design perspective. Second, our aim is to keep vehicle access to the property restricted to the road side and to have only pedestrian traffic in the common area between the units to increase the communal asect of the development and to enhance pedestrian safety (especially for children). It has resulted in a reduced amount of space dedicated to cars. In traditional townhouse developments most open space is taken up by driveways. Instead most of our open space will consist of waterwise and productive garden space.
According to the Council's streetscape policy however, garages should only project a maximum of 1.0m forward of the facade of the dwelling. In our design the garage of the apartment building (unit 1/1A) was 1.5m forward of the facade, unit 2 was 5.0 forward and unit 3 would have to walk a whole 17 meters to their front door. It had been commented that: "the fact that people have to park their vehicles and then walk some distance to the entry of their unit is poor and is again highly unusual for a typical residential unit development".
Various measures have been adopted to reduce the visual impact of the garages and make them look like inhabited spaces:
- Facing the garages inwards;
- Having windows in the roadside face;
- Use of eaves and gables (and design of roofline generally);
- Bring balcony of upstairs apartment forward
We also discussed the possibility of extending the first floor of the townhouse over the garages to bring it within the 1.0m projection, however felt that it was in the interest of our neighbour on number 94 (which is a single storey house) to not increase the bulk of the townhouse and have the garage remain as single storey which is less imposing.
In our view, the only way issues like this can really be avoided is to reduce car dependency in Perth and reduce the parking requirements.
According to the Council's planning officer our development: is inconsistent with the residential character of the area; is not in keeping with the residential amenities of the area; is out of context with the character of the surrounding residential area; will negatively impact and does not positively contribute to the area; and will set a precent for other similar situations in the future.
We totally agree that our development is unlike the other homes and recent developments in the area. We sincerely hope that it will set a precedent for future developments.
In our view recent developments in our area are generally very typical, comprising of two storey townhouses constructed down one boundary of the block (regardless of sun orientation) with a drievway running down the opposite boundary (or down the middle in the case of two adjoining blocks). The developments have no usuable communal area and no gardens. We believe that makes for a development that is hostile and isolating rather than communal and friendly; extremely unattractive, unimaginatie and bland; and environmentally insensitive and unsustainable.
We encourage anyone to, like us, be inspired by the revolutionary development of Christie Walk in Adelaide and lead the way in sustainable, medium-density, inner-city development that enhances lifestyle and community.
The main documents that helped us during planning approval were:
Town of Victoria Park
The main planning issues
- Combination of Grouped and Multiple dwellings on the same site
- Common areas versus 'exclusive use' areas
- Parking requirements
- Streetscape requirements
- Sustainability - no impact :-)