7 July 2022

Precedent fears as Torrens dual occupancy overwhelms neighbours

| Ian Bushnell
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Torrens development

Too much? The view of the Torrens development from a neighbour’s property. Photos: Fiona Carrick.

The scale of a dual occupancy development on a former Mr Fluffy block in suburban Torrens is horrifying neighbours and stoking fears for the character of the neighbourhood and the precedent it would set.

The approved two-storey development at 18 Darke Street is under construction, but now the developers have lodged an amended DA for pools, decks and screens to be added, swallowing what was left of the backyards.

Neighbour and Woden Valley Community Council president Fiona Carrick has objected to the amendment but said no one in the area realised from the original plans just how tall the building would be.

“I didn’t put in a submission because I had no idea it would be a big fill instead of being built into the slope and sit up so high,” Ms Carrick told Region.

Before and after

These before and after photos show the sale of the development.

She said the project had obliterated the other neighbour’s view of Mt Taylor and that they now faced a five-metre wall of construction, including floor-to-ceiling windows, above the fenceline overlooking the property.

There were also concerns about how developers submit development applications, get them approved and then follow up with significant amendments.

Ms Carrick says in her submission that the pools and decks will be just 3 metres from fences and more than 1.8 metres above ground, which will now be the fence line.

She says the pools and decks will overlook the neighbours and impact their privacy and enjoyment of their properties.

The pools have replaced the private open space in the original proposal and the development now occupies practically the complete site, leaving no room for green space or deep-rooted trees, Ms Carrick says.

“The size of the development is overwhelming and out of character with the area,” the submission says.

“Sadly, the developer seeks to maximise the site coverage to extract every financial benefit from the block at the expense of the neighbours’ privacy and the benefits of the 30 per cent tree canopy and permeable space policy.

“There is no regard to the original pattern of subdivision (including backyards) and the density of dwellings. This is a situation where the community needs the government to protect them from the negative impacts of overdevelopment by rejecting this proposal.”

The amended proposal will max out the block.

The submission also criticises the lack of a plan for external facilities such as air conditioners, pool filters, clotheslines or dryers, and the potential for noise impacts on neighbours.

Ms Carrick told Region that she and the other neighbours welcomed sympathetic development, but these sorts of projects were setting precedents and changing residential neighbourhoods.

She also called for a review of developments on Mr Fluffy blocks where dual occupancies are allowed and planning rules relaxed to see their impact on their neighbours and suburbs.

The change to a new outcomes-based planning system also held concerns.

“If this is the outcome we’re getting under the current laws and 70 per cent infill policy, what’s going to happen when it goes to outcomes-focused planning?” Ms Carrick asked.

Comment closed on the amended DA on 6 July.

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Where do all the cars park? A general observation of this sort of suburban development is use of road space and nature strips for parking. I think this should be realistically reviewed and appropriate constraints identified where necessary in the approvals process.

Plant some Capital Ornamental pears on your fence line for privacy and the leaves can drop into their pool.

What is wrong with that, is if that is only two dwellings, they are each twice as large as the other houses in the area. I have nothing against many blocks having two dwellings, and sometimes even more, but they must not be oversized McMansions. We should be moving away from such buildings, not building more. There must be space left for things like a clothesline. Also sun access for neighbouring buildings. It’s not so bad if a building comes up against a fence it the neighbour is on the north, but should not be allowed for a southern neighbour.
These are monolithic. How the heck did these get passed.

Every time I see this monstrosity it frustrates me.
The ACT gov will bicker about whether a gum tree can be removed and yet allow completely selfish developments like this to take place.

The laws need to be ammended to allow a maximum of 1/3 of the block size to be built on.

Yes this will mean 100m2 houses on those puny 300m2 blocks in new suburbs.

purplevh, I used to live in a house smaller than that, but it had three bedrooms. I bought it from a family of five. People once did live in smaller houses. I read that in 1950 the average house size was 100 sq. metres.

A very unfortunate article for the owners of these homes as well as a misunderstanding of how planning rules work. I know the two brothers personally, they have worked hard their entire lives to be able to build homes for themselves.
Due to astronomical house prices it is far more affordable to purchase one Mr Fluffy block and build two houses than it is to buy two separate free standing houses. This is the point of the Mr Fluffy scheme. Instead of dumping over 1000 vacant blocks on the Canberra market, which would be very detrimental to house prices (where most Canberrans hold their wealth), the local government released blocks over a period of time and incentivised the purchases with sub division rules. This enables MORE housing (which Canberra desperately needs) in the older established areas of Canberra that people would have otherwise been priced out of.
The assertion that the owners want to “extract every financial benefit from the block” seems unfair as any normal person would want their own house prices to go up as much as possible. A quick all homes search shows that most of the “horrified neighbours” purchased their houses 15+ years ago for less than $500,000 – surely now worth 1.5mil +. They seem to begrudge these two young men of the same opportunity that one day they might sell and make a profit. Not to mention that better houses on a street makes that street more desirable.
As an owner of a building company, the planning rules are more simple than people like to make out. If these houses had been breaking any of the planning laws they would not be able to be approved. Comments from the public are considered, but if the planning rules say a blocks building envelope extends to a max height of 8.5m then those are the rules. A quick look at the other articles featuring Ms Carrick reveals that she also opposed high rise developments in Woden. Woden is changing and growing there needs to be opportunities for the next generation to improve what is already there, not for the region to grow stale and old with little revitalisation.

Nice on pal. Think you’ll find the neighbours bought their house only a few months ago.

Fiona Carrick12:32 am 09 Jul 22

I have not opposed development in Woden, I have asked that it be done well with a balance of homes, jobs, community facilities and public(green) spaces. I have asked that we plan for contemporary urban hub where we have meeting places for social and physical activity, a place that attracts people to it.
We have lost our recreation precinct (basketball stadium, bowling greens, tennis courts, pitch n putt, with the pool and ice skating rink the next to go). The Phillip Oval is locked to the public. The town square is zoned for 28 storeys around its perimeter and will be windy and overshadowed. After the release of our Master Plan in 2015, we still do not have one cafe or restaurant on the perimeter of the Town Square. I have advocated for a new Master Plan because our current one has failed us.
With respect to the two young men who have built the dual occupancy, I can confirm that they have not reached out to the neighbours, not once. We understand that they have no intention of joining our community, they will make their money and go. We all have a right to enjoy our properties too, and self-interest at the expense of others is not morally right, even if you can get away with it.

Mentioning the price the neighbouring houses are now worth is irrelevant, because unless the owners more out of Canberra and to a remote country town, even if they sell, they will need to buy another house and likely no profit. They have to live somewhere. Nothing wrong with building two (or in some cases more than two on existing blocks), but these are monolithic. The brothers did not need to build such large gigantic monstrosities.

So, Nic – are you saying that these guys are building the dual-occupancy development for themselves? Or is it purely a commercial undertaking?

There’s a big difference in being a home owner, and a member and contributor to a community, than being a developer who simply “builds-sells-moves to next project” without any consideration for the impact on the neighbours of the development.

Canberra has a target of 30% canopy cover – this cannot meet that. They are large houses which will take a lot of materials to build even if they are energy effcient to run. With climate change here, we need to build for the new climate and reduce our environmental impact. It doesn’t look like these houses do either. Plus they will really overlook there neigbours places.

The Mr Fluffy victims tried to warn the wider community that this is what would happen. But at the time you just thought we were whinging about having our houses and land taken away. Well, guess what – we were right. You can hardly expect any sympathy now. If you don’t like what has happened you can move. At least you will get a choice about the timing and will get full market value for your home.

Fiona Carrick1:31 pm 08 Jul 22

I had two great Mr Fluffy neighbours and felt their pain when they had to move from our community.

Fiona Carrick9:52 am 08 Jul 22

Joel, I would like to invite you to come and see where the two pools will be located in the air and the impact on the neighbours

Whether it’s new developments or some sort of infill this government does absolutely nothing to preserve the nature of a suburb or to encourage some green space and breathing room. All they are interested in is getting the maximum rates from every square meter of land. And making sure their developer/builder mates get a good pay off too.

The use of Mr Fluffy loose fill asbestos was sanctioned by the federal government. Katy Gallagher conveniently left this to be an issue for the ACT government while she made her way to the Senate. She made sure that all the costs and hardship were borne by us, the Mr Fluffy victims and the ACT community. She is now sitting pretty while we all suffer. Pity you didn’t think of this last time you voted – maybe you will next time.

HiddenDragon6:49 pm 07 Jul 22

“The pools have replaced the private open space in the original proposal and the development now occupies practically the complete site, leaving no room for green space or deep-rooted trees, Ms Carrick says.”

Yet another example of the utter hypocrisy of this government when it comes to its (supposedly) beloved urban forest and claimed distress at the loss of tree cover.

Convenient loopholes in planning rules allow developments like this at the same time as others (including, quite likely, people living nearby) who want to do something about dangerous, nuisance trees are refused permission because “we must protect our trees” – a double standard which here boils down to the old rule of privatising the profits and socialising the costs and all done with a gloss of environmental sanctimony.

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