23 April 2021

Fears rule change for demo housing project will put suburbs at risk

| Ian Bushnell
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Drawing of unit complex

An artist’s impression of the proposed Manor House in Griffith, south-west view. Image: Rob Henry Architects.

A one-off change to the Territory Plan could usher in a new wave of higher density development across Canberra’s suburbs, community representatives fear.

Draft Variation 375 would amend the Multi Unit Housing Development Code and change the Griffith Precinct Map and Code so a so-called Manor House – a two storey, 4 unit complex with nine car parks – could be built at 20 Blaxland Crescent, currently zoned RZ1, for residential low-rise, low-density housing.

It has been proposed by the owners under the umbrella of the government’s Demonstration Housing Project, which aims to test innovative forms of housing to address emerging needs.

The planning directorate website says it will work with proponents to deliver a handful of built homes that showcase different housing types such as co-housing and ageing in place homes to make for a more sustainable and inclusive future for Canberra.

It says the Manor House is a housing typology showcasing how infill development can be delivered within the same ‘footprint’ as a residential house.

But the Inner South Canberra Community Council, representing eight inner south organisations, believes that the proposal pre-empts the current review of the Territory Plan, is unnecessary and will create a precedent for similar development across Canberra’s suburbs.

Chair Gary Kent says the government should not change the residential planning regulations for one block, based on the pretext of running an architectural design project.

“If a four-unit Manor House can be built on this site, they can be built anywhere throughout the suburbs. Cramming a Manor House into an RZ1 zone is not high-quality living,” he says in the council’s objection to DV375.

He says there is no need to test a Manor House in the ACT because they have already been built in NSW, and it would be simpler to visit those sites.

Mr Kent says the government itself argues that off or site-specific Variations to the Territory Plan are not generally supported unless it can be demonstrated that there is an overriding public benefit or good and it is consistent with the planning objectives of the ACT Government.

“The only beneficiaries, if the Manor House were to be built, would appear to be the proponents, who live there already and could sell the units,” he says.

Drawing of units complex - North east view

A north-east view of the proposed Manor House in Griffith. Image: Rob Henry Architects.

Mr Kent says the project would only create planning uncertainty for residents.

“The largest investment for most families is the purchase of a home. It is crucial they know what could be built next to them,” he says.

“Families need certainty and trust in the planning system. They do not want the surprise of a four-unit, two-storey, apartment-style dwelling with nine car parks built next door and impacting on their privacy and amenity.”

Mr Kent says that in 2018 the Inner South already had the highest ratio of high-density dwellings of Canberra’s eight districts. Since then, more than 2,000 new dwellings are in the pipeline, excluding the developments at Kingston Foreshore.

“There is no need for more intensification,” he says.

Residents are also worried that changing the rules to allow for the construction of units will reduce the value of existing houses and increase noise, traffic and safety concerns.

Mr Kent says the project is supposed to “test the effectiveness of different housing types through real examples and future review through post-occupancy modelling”, but the government has not said when the testing will be done, what criteria will be used for evaluation or who will do it.

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George Watling8:06 pm 26 Apr 21

What is being proposed here is not a ‘manor house’ it is a multiunit dwelling development in an RZ1 street.
If this ‘demo’ gets up it will be the end of the Canberra as a green and livable garden city.
It’s a Trojan horse designed to get our current RZ1 building regulations that protect us from over development over turned.
If the proposed variation to the territory plan goes through home owners will lose their right to challenge and appeal Development Plans that will negatively impact themselves and their families. It will be the Mr Fluffy blocks all over again.
The sad fact is that suburban densification here in Canberra and elsewhere (Adelaide, Brisbane and Melbourne) comes at a very high cost that includes:
+ living in a sea of hard surfaces that has far fewer trees, green spaces, and cool surfaces then are needed to maintain good physical and mental health,
+ very high temperatures in summer that increase the risk of heat stroke and stress for residents as the hard surfaces around them absorb solar radiation and become very hot,
+ increased air conditioning costs and greenhouse emissions as people have to run their air-conditioners for longer to cope with higher temperatures,
+ increased noise and light pollution as hard surfaces replace trees and gardens,
+ reduced habitat food sources for local wildlife,
+ reduced air quality,
+ limited places for kids to play and adults to relax in,
+ reduced privacy and access to sunlight as higher density buildings over look and overshadow each other and existing homes,
+ increased congestion on local roads,
+ decreased quality of life for everyone in the densification zone as green gardens and open spaces disappear and already stretched local facilitates buckle under the weight of so many more additional households.

All of which overlooks the fact that the four dwellings will be inside a similar envelope as the surrounding single dwellings.

Vera Gerginn4:29 am 30 Apr 21

All of the above, esp. the noise is still valid in the current housing. Terrible dog’s barking, noises from the lawnmowers and leaf blowers; rental houses full of unknown, constantly changing tenants with up to 8 cars in the front yard. Actually, the noise is much bigger that way.
A what about the rental crisis?
Canberra should get out of its “idyllic” perception that all will be great if there is no change in the RZ1 zone plannings and regulations. Stop living in this perceptual “bubble.” No wonder why people pack and go as soon they decide that the career in Canberra is over and they can work from home permanenlty.

Capital Retro10:13 am 26 Apr 21

If these are a “fail” they could be salt and pepper for public housing. The new tenants would certainly feel inclusion.

Vera Gerginn8:18 am 26 Apr 21

It is 21st century &: “…Chair Gary Kent says the government should not change the residential planning regulations for one block, based on the pretext of running an architectural design project.”
Common ACT Planning”, it is time to say:

“Mister Gorbachov! Tear down this wall!” You cannot live in an ACT-covered cacoon! People need to use their opportunities, so Canberra to become a real capital city of the Australian Nation!

HiddenDragon7:56 pm 25 Apr 21

This proposed loophole could obviously be used for a range of purposes, but to the extent it is about “ageing in place” and/or about meeting the needs of people of all ages with mobility etc. issues, the idea of replacing single-level dwellings with multi-level dwellings (often now with parking under and two floors above ground) is a joke.

If the answer is that lifts can be installed, that might be an option for some, but it would be well beyond the budgets of many.

Single-level dual occupancies mightn’t squeeze as much profit for developers and revenue for government from every square metre of leased land, but they offer a far more realistic option for long-term ageing in place. They would also typically be less objectionable to neighbours who are willing to accept some change, but don’t want their amenity ruined for the profit of others.

Good point. I suppose some ground level parking and the occupation of the ground floor by the aged/infirm might go some way to addressing this.

Jordyn Gibson6:58 pm 25 Apr 21

Must be nice to be one of these people like Mr. Kent who live in the inner south and have the spare time to oppose anything that might threaten to reduce their property values – god forbid that people on lower incomes than them get the opportunity to have safe and stable housing in a well-serviced suburb! For people who didn’t have the good fortune to buy their houses 40 years ago, these developments are crucial for providing affordable housing in safe and well-connected locations. The natural flow of densification is always outwards from the CBD – if people don’t like the idea of sharing their streets with a few more neighbours, they can simply sell their high-value homes and move out to the outer suburbs or rural areas instead.

Mike of Canberra10:58 pm 25 Apr 21

What a load of self-serving, utterly resentful rubbish! People who bought their homes in inner areas 40 years ago have not realised a profit from their purchases. Like in any area, the houses have increased in value, but try spending a capital gain still tied up in bricks and mortar. Furthermore, those who bought these homes typically would now be in the 70+ age-group. The only ways in which their profits could be realised is through selling to pay for age-friendly living, aged care and/or through the inheritances bequeathed to the beneficiaries nominated in their wills. This stands in stark contrast to the Manor House investors, friends of the ACT Government, who have started a process that will lead to higher density living with far less surrounding open space and a profit to the tune of $4m NOW by our calculation. And no, these ugly constructions will not affect the value of properties in the area but, as stated, rather will demean its currently very appealing ambience, all for the purpose of producing immediate profits for very little effort. Oh and just another few words to “ricketyclik”. Contrary to your assertion, people living in Griffith do not all earn 7-figure incomes (ie $1m or more annually), as you seem to believe. We don’t, our upwardly mobile neighbours don’t, and then there’s the nurse living just a few doors from the Manor House site – she most certainly doesn’t. But so what if you did earn that sort of money – you would have worked damned hard for it in addition to the years you would have spent gaining the necessary professional qualifications. All these arguments are facile.

a lot is two words11:07 pm 25 Apr 21

Pretty sure these properties in Manor House won’t meet your definition of affordable.

How is your comment any less “self serving”?

There are numerous ways for people to take the windfall gains they have received from owning inner city properties for decades.

In fact, allowing densification of these inner cities areas would allow them to take their massive profits and still stay in the same areas through appropriate downsizing.

And sorry, but proposals like this Manor house would actually further increase land values in the areas because currently the redevelopment options in RZ1 spaces are very limited.

Whilst I’m not necessarily supportive of this particular proposal, there seems to be a lot of opposition to any type of develipment of this nature that is clearly driven by pure self interest and NIMBYism of nearby residents. Residents who mostly are extremely well off and seemingly want to prevent others from enjoying the same types of amenity that they do. The median house price in Griffith is $1.7 million. No matter how you want to try and spin it, the owners of these houses are well off by definition.

With the cost of housing (land) so high, I’ve gotta say as a parent of four children a decade from retirement, a solution like this looks ideal to me. I had a look at the ppt on the ACT government’s website (https://www.planning.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/1385947/manor-house-griffith-presentation.pdf) and from the look of slide 4 it’ll blend right in with the streetscape.

I think Gary Kent and the Inner South Canberra Community Council are being a trifle precious here. If we’re going to have an increase in density, doing it in this way where the actual size of the building envelope is no bigger than surrounding houses is ideal! Yes, a bit more traffic, and maybe some of the neighbours won’t be on 7 figure incomes, but if it means less high rise I say bring it on!

Mike of Canberra5:00 pm 25 Apr 21

So you think 4 boxes arranged in 2 blocks of dwellings with a common garden is innovative and attractive? I guess by the standards of Soviet architecture they may be. For most other people who favour actual homes with backyards in which their children and pets can play, it wouldn’t be all that attractive. But let’s face it, this sort of approach to urban management is what you’d expect from a tired old government well past its use-by date.

I guess, Mike, that building styles can be a matter of personal taste. The style of this development is similar to many modern homes, often large free-standing ones so I don’t think the style of the dwellings is particularly relevant in this case. If it is the number of dwellings on the block, then that’ s a different issue. I’m not sure whether the issue of a common garden would bother a lot of people either. Nor, for that matter, a large backyard as there is a very adequate expanse of public land nearby with plenty of play space. Whilst you may think that the government is “tired, old and well past its use-by date” it appears that in the last election, a majority of Canberrans didn’t agree with you. The main issue appears to be the change of zoning for the project.

Amanda Kiley1:27 pm 25 Apr 21

Honestly, there’s no point in writing in to disagree. The government will have already made up it’s mind to approve this and have been proven time and again they don’t take into account the opinions of the people who didn’t vote them in or even those who did.

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