20 February 2022

Serpents in the garden: DAs that clash with government's own green goals

| Ian Bushnell
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Deakin townhouse proposal

Four in a row: An artist’s impression of the Deakin proposal. Image: Cox Architecture.

Recent development applications for the redevelopment of single residential blocks in Canberra’s suburbs have again highlighted loopholes in the ACT’s broken planning system.

It seems the government’s review of the planning system can’t come soon enough with developers finding ways to do what they do best – maximising their investment – despite zonings and lease conditions.

Unfortunately, they and their representatives are very good at working within the existing rules to produce an outcome that, to most, may not look like it could pass muster but ticks all the boxes.

Resident groups fear that approvals for such projects will contribute to creeping densification across the residential zones, particularly RZ1, despite the government’s Living Infrastructure goals that aim for an average 30 per cent canopy cover and 30 per cent permeable surfaces across Canberra, and plot ratios that seek to preserve green space on blocks.

READ MORE Four-townhouse proposal on a 967 square metre block a disaster, says residents association

One DA in Lyons uses allowances for adaptable housing to propose three dwellings on an 896 square metre block with a plot ratio of 50 per cent instead of the 35 per cent required for normal residences.

Here it seems the proponent has used exemptions designed to support housing development for ageing in place and those with disabilities to max out the block.

Under the rules, the dwellings only need to be built ready to be adapted, not completed specifically for those with special needs.

Once sold, there is no guarantee that the residences will ever house people with a disability.

The neighbour acknowledges that the RZ2 site could take two dwellings but fears for his own trees, garden and privacy, as well parking issues on a quiet loop street with restricted parking, if this proposal goes ahead.

In a Deakin RZ1 zone, a former 867 square metre public housing site, known as a non-standard block, has been slotted for a two-storey, four townhouse development with basement parking.

Being a former public housing site, the lease does allow two dwellings. The Deakin Residents Association calls it an accident of history, but apparently, these legacy blocks are highly sought after.

The DRA, which has lodged a strong objection to the proposal, says the site also manages to escape some of the requirements of the multi-unit code, facilitating the push for four townhouses. The proponent still has to get the lease changed.

In both these instances, the objections aren’t based on opposition to infill per see, but how these sorts of proposals nibble away at the garden suburb fabric, set precedents, impact their neighbours and harden the urban landscape.

READ ALSO Hear the protesters out and you might agree with them

Apart from infill, they may be within the rules but not in the spirit of the government’s own planning goals.

The rules around adaptable housing should be tightened so they cannot be exploited and, in the end, frustrate their intent to have more accessible homes.

Loopholes such as the non-standard block should be closed to prevent over-development in RZ1 zones.

Draft Variation 350 to the Territory Plan was introduced in 2019 as a response to these very concerns about the suburban nature of RZ1 zones being compromised by denser development, with the support of the Planning Minister and the Chief Planner.

But it seems the proposals still come.

No one is saying there shouldn’t be any urban infill or more diverse housing, just that it should be appropriate to its location and comply with the policy goals designed to maintain the urban forest, the green cloak and keep our suburbs cool.

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HiddenDragon7:04 pm 21 Feb 22

“The rules around adaptable housing should be tightened so they cannot be exploited and, in the end, frustrate their intent to have more accessible homes.”

Exactly – and a very good way to do that would be to mandate single level dwellings with ground level parking for access to this loophole. The alternative is to rely on the bulldust assumption that a lift can easily and affordably be retrofitted to a multi-level dwelling, thus making it suitable for “ageing in place” or for people with mobility disabilities.

We have plenty of examples of this in the now highly sought-after single level dwellings which were built in this town, and across the border in Queanbeyan, in the latter decades of the last century.

Most of those would have been built on “green fields” sites, but there is the earlier precedent, in larger cities, such as Sydney, where modest single-level villas began replacing homes on large blocks in older suburbs in the 70s. They still would not have been popular with neighbours, but would have been far less intrusive than the greed-driven, multi-level structures we are seeing now.

Linda Seaniger3:11 pm 21 Feb 22

If the DA is approved on the basis that the homes are for the aged or disabled persons then the Crown lease should be changed accordingly.
But really while we have a labor Chief Minister nothing will change we will have more ugly concrete high rises, no quality maintained open space areas & more inefficient obsolete trams. Wake up Canberra it’s time for a change in government. ITS OUR ONLY HOPE.

Let’s be clear what’s happening here. It’s not about affordable housing or appropriate urban infill. That’s a furphy. The owners and developer have chosen this site to build 4 townhouses on because its surrounded by single dwellings which will mean they are more attractive for prospective purchasers and therefore the owners and developers can make a killing selling them. They want to use the amenity of the area to profit but are planning to detract from the character of the area. Note they could have chosen to build multi- unit developments in the areas zoned for them in Deakin as there are such blocks available but that won’t give them the same return. They need to remove trees and get exemptions from a number of planning rules to do it. They should not get the sought for lease variation to be allowed to do it.

ChrisinTurner1:12 pm 21 Feb 22

The government announces a 30% canopy cover however their bureaucrats approve developments where owners have have to choose between a clothes line or a single tree. Developers rule!

Exactly right. Development “should be appropriate to its location and comply with the policy goals designed to maintain the urban forest, the green cloak and keep our suburbs cool”. However the more densification there is and the bigger the houses that are built on normal sized blocks, the fewer the trees that can be planted, the smaller the shade canopy and the hotter we all get. This is what makes residents so hot under the collar. One of the tactics developers and their minions use against local residents and anyone else daring to oppose their DAs, is to label them Nimbys. But what is wrong with loving and protecting your home, your heritage and your ‘country’? The Greens were elected to defend our city environment but have joined forces with Labor and their developer mates to ruin it.

The Urban Forrest plan was destined to fail from day one. For as long as we continue to allow all every tree under 12 meters to be chopped down with zero approval required these targets, sadly, will never be achieved. The height for which approval needs to be sought prior to chopping down needs urgent review.

If we continue the current path for much longer we will become known as the bush IT Capital!

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