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Feature article

Malvern Hill_ Photograph Jaime Diaz-Berrio

Institute supports calls for review of Zoning Reforms

In early May this year a group of industry planning professionals made a submission to the Residential Zones Standing Advisory Committee, expressing their concerns that the changes being proposed to residential zoning will result in large areas of inner and middle Melbourne being ‘locked up’. The Institute, while not a signatory to the letter, sent a follow up letter of support. The Institute believes that the proposed zoning changes, if implemented in the form requested by local councils, will be a huge step backwards for planning and design in Melbourne.

The Institute supports the core concept of the government reforms: to give greater clarity to residents, developers and the wider community about where increased development could occur while providing additional protections in some limited special areas. Unfortunately, some councils have seized the opportunity to roll out much more restrictive controls across vast areas that do not warrant such tight restrictions.

In particular we note the widespread misapplication of mandated height limits, which will become a focus of planning policy. This will significantly undermine the ability to design and build in many residential areas, including many places where the existing buildings already exceed the newly proposed height limits.

It is clear that these changes will have a very significant impact on the future of the city if they are implemented. Large areas of Melbourne will effectively be quarantined from any sort of change, disproportionately in its most accessible locations within inner and middle suburbs. At stake is Melbourne’s hard won reputation as the world’s most liveable city that supports innovation as well as design quality in residential neighbourhoods.

The risks faced are very real:

Reduced housing affordability

Reduced diversity of housing for aged and low income households

Difficulty for small-medium scale developers to find suitable sites.

Institute is calling on the Government to take careful note of the concerns being expressed by a wide range of community and industry bodies, and ensure that reforms do not jeopardise our world reputation for both liveability and affordability.

The following examples demonstrate two recently award-winning residential projects in highly accessible locations that would not have been possible if the changes sought by the local councils were already fully implemented.

Malvern Hill_ Photograph Jaime Diaz-Berrio

Malvern Hill – SJB Architects

The Malvern Hill development provides opportunities for high quality, medium density and low maintenance living. It meets the needs of the Malvern community that is aging but does not want to sever social and family networks by moving out of the area.  Built in 2013, the development is on the site of the former MECWA aged care facility. The project received a Commendation for Residential Architecture – Multiple Housing – in the 2013 Victorian Architecture Awards.

The size of the site allows for a carefully considered response to the local context. The development, abutting commercially zoned land and 2-3 storey apartments on adjoining residential sites, is up to five storeys high in places but has large setbacks and scales down to three levels adjacent to existing residences. The 1ha site is in a highly accessible location immediately adjoining the 72 tram connecting to the city and Camberwell, very near to shops, medical and community services.

The City of Stonnington has proposed to apply General Residential zoning to the area. Superficially this is consistent with its previous Residential 1 zoning, however Council is applying a mandatory maximum height limit of 9m in place of the existing preferred height limit. Whilst a mandatory height limit may be appropriate in some highly constrained locations, the issue clearly demonstrated here is that it allows no scope to respond to sites with special opportunities.

This project demonstrates the way medium density developments in accessible locations can provide genuine choice for the local communities and encourages diversity. The zoning changes directly restrict the ability of retirees to maintain their lifestyles and remain engaged with the community when car travel might not be feasible.

Pyrmont Rooming House Redevelopment, St Kilda – Michael McKenna Architecture & Interiors

Pyrmont is a Victorian-era mansion with noted heritage significance located on Barkly Street in St Kilda. In 2009 the mansion was extensively renovated and the grounds redeveloped to provide 25 units of affordable housing managed by Port Philip Housing Association. The contemporary extension was built over two and three storeys to complement the scale of the existing heritage property. The project won an Award in the 2009 Australian Institute of Architects Award for Residential Architecture – Multiple Housing (VIC).

The Neighbourhood Residential zoning that is proposed for this area would apply a maximum height limit of 8m. While the zoning allows for extensions to the existing building at a similar height to the heritage building, the limit would affect the ability to place any new buildings on the site. This would have made the redevelopment of this site for community housing much less viable, directly reducing the amount of community housing available in the area.

The choice of zoning runs directly contrary to the support given to Port Phillip Housing Association by the City of Port Phillip over many years. It also ignores the close access to trams along Nepean Highway and the 15 plus storey apartment development immediately abutting the site.

The new zones will restrict access to affordable housing and will directly affect the wider distribution of opportunities to live close to transport and services.