IT’S a popular misconception in Inverloch that there’s a “height limit” on residential development of seven metres.
In fact, the Bass Coast Shire Council regularly processes applications where property owners in the town have submitted housing plans around the 6.9 metre mark, just so that they don’t exceed the “limit”.
But the so-called height limit is actually only a “trigger point” for a planning permit application and, as a recent decision by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) proves, council is actually powerless to stop houses and unit developments from reaching up to 10 metres in height.
Could a recent VCAT decision, relating to a medium density project at 8 Beilby Avenue Inverloch, open the floodgates to 9m high and 10m high developments?
Yes, that’s certainly a danger, according to Dave Sutton, the President of the Inverloch Ratepayers and Residents Association.
The ‘Inverloch Ratepayers’ were among 19 objectors to the residential development which provides for four units to be built on the site, three of them three storeys and reaching up to 9.1 metres in height, plus a communal swimming pool.
However, while the Bass Coast Council bowed to the objectors at its meeting on Wednesday, November 19 last year, and refused to issue a permit, VCAT overturned the council’s refusal notice on appeal and ordered that a planning permit be issued without even questioning the height.
That was game over for the shire. The project can go ahead.
“It wasn’t an unexpected result,” Mr Sutton said this week.
“There’s a conflict in the shire’s planning scheme where they have a trigger point of seven metres but in the framework, they allow for three and four storey structures.
“It’s something that needs to be addressed,” he said.
“Our submission mainly focused on the look of the building, facing Beilby Avenue, and I see they have addressed that in the conditions but it certainly exposes the truth about the height limit.
“I don’t believe the strategic planning for Inverloch, as it stands, protects the village character of the place.
“What we are doing shows very little respect for the coastal location we live in and the character of the town.
“They’re just allowing it to become like every other coastal town in Australia. A perfect example of an opportunity lost was the residential development in the Screw Creek area.
“In my view, what we have going on there is just another boring housing estate that could have been so much more than that.
‘Positives’, Cr Crugnale
Inverloch councillor, Jordan Crugnale, who moved the motion back in November last year, not to accept the shire officer’s recommendation to grant the permit application with conditions, claimed this week there were some positives in the VCAT decision.
“The panel member agreed with Council in relation to our concerns about visual bulk. To this effect, there are required changes to the design including separation between the balconies, set back from the boundaries, built form articulation and that the colours and materials be more muted so as to better integrate into the natural surrounds,” Cr Crugnale said.
“From my reading of the report and the outcome, I believe council now has to prepare a DDO (Design and Development Overlay) schedule as recommended in the Inverloch design framework to provide more specific requirements for dwelling design in the medium density land.
“I am organising a round table discussion with our CEO and planning team to dissect the panel report and discuss ‘where to’ from here.
“The good news is that there is a plethora of strategic work already completed and I believe we now have to integrate such work with an appropriate schedule into the planning scheme to give clarity and guidance for future coastline developments.”
Meaning, there isn’t sufficient protection for property owners at the moment.
Not a height limit
The shire’s development services manager, Rebecca Mouy, agreed there was a popular misconception that seven metres was a “height limit” rather than a planning permit trigger.
Under the state Rescode, she said nine metres was allowable on flat ground and up to 10m on sloping blocks.
“VCAT has resolved to issue a permit so it doesn’t need to go back to council. It will however be reported to council as part of the ‘Watching Bass Coast’ report.”
Ms Mouy said most of the conditions suggested by council officers when they made their recommendation to issue the permit back in November have subsequently been taken up by VCAT.
She said the decision could only be appealed at Supreme Court level, and in the absence of an obvious point of law, this was unlikely to occur.
Reduced front impact
VCAT ruled that while a permit would be issued for the development, changes to the project plans would have to be made to “the satisfaction of the responsible authority” before it could go ahead.
One of the objections addressed by the panel was the impact on other residents in Beilby Avenue:
“Council and Ms Taylor (Town Planning Consultant of Devcon Planning Services for the objectors) submitted that the proposal “turns its back” on Beilby Avenue and that the presentation of the garages to the street, together with the reduced front setback would result in a poor streetscape outcome. In contrast, Mr Crawford (solicitor for the applicant – IS Holdings Pty Ltd) submitted that the proposal does have a strong orientation towards the foreshore (as sought in policy at 20.10) and that this is consistent with the focus of existing dwellings. Mr Crawford noted the timber treatment of the garage roller doors.
“I find that the front setback is acceptable, given the angle of the street, the retention of the setback in the northeast corner of the site and the setback of the existing dwelling. I also find that the visibility of the garages is consistent with the approach to many of the traditional dwellings in the area,” said the panel member, Megan Carew.
“However, I share the concerns of residents that the three double garages together with the extent of hard surface paving is a poor outcome. At the hearing, the possibility of reducing the extent of paving between Units 1 and 2 was discussed. This would allow additional landscaping in front of the garages. I have required this by permit condition.”
Concessions were also made to concerns that existing homes would be overlooked by the new units.
However concerns about the location of the communal pool, the height of the development and the impact on existing sea views were largely dismissed.
Ms Carew said “no provision in the planning scheme… confers a right to the whole of the view over other properties in perpetuity. There can be no expectation that there will be no change to a view shed”.