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Government should re-assess the neighbourhood planning zones

It’s been just over two years since the Victorian Government’s controversial Neighbourhood Residential Zones were gazetted, which restricted new apartment development to certain ‘zones’ within each suburb, thus limiting development on side streets and other designated areas to single-lot dwellings.

The planning amendment was one long fought for by the residents of some of Melbourne’s most affluent suburbs like those surrounding Marshall White’s four offices through Boroondara, Stonnington and Bayside, as they strove to protect their leafy-green streetscapes from new apartment buildings.

Many would say it’s been a win for the residents, however something incredibly interesting and unprecedented is now occurring as a result.

For the first time in recent memory, the same demographic which once vehemently opposed new developments - baby boomers and empty nesters - are looking to sell the family home and purchase a large, bespoke apartment in the same neighbourhood they know and love. It’s an extraordinary shift in sentiment from say two or three years ago when this particular demographic wouldn’t even consider living in an apartment.

On the contrary, now they have wholeheartedly embraced it, but there’s just one problem – the type of apartments they are seeking; boutique projects located on quiet side streets away from the hustle-and-bustle of the main road traffic, don’t actually exist anymore due to the flow on effects of the new planning regulations which have severely restricted new apartment growth in these suburbs.

Developers are now adjusting to the new regulations by purchasing what properties they can on main roads, and redeveloping them into large-scale new apartment buildings. Some landowners are even now cashing in by combining their sites and selling multiple adjoining parcels for a huge profit.

But, with development opportunities now so restricted, developers simply can’t keep up with the demand for more boutique developments of say 10 luxury apartments in quiet neighbourhood streets.

As baby boomers and empty nesters continue to flood the market, there is simply not enough new product coming to market in Melbourne’s inner east and northern suburbs to keep up with demand. With the rapidly changing market, the time is now to reassess the neighbourhood planning guidelines in order to free up the pipeline of new apartment developments in order to adequately satiate demand.

A market as dynamic as Melbourne’s demands flexible planning schemes that provide clarity, are nimbly changed and evolved to keep up with constantly changing market needs.

This new wave of apartment-embracing downsizers will just continue to grow as more and more people seek to trade in their family home for something more manageable, yet still with the luxury finishes and amenity to which they have become accustomed.

Our planning regulations are behind the times and we urgently need reform in order to better serve the market in the future.

Leonard Teplin is Director of Marshall White Projects.

Lead image courtesy Trust Advocate

18 comments

theboynoodle's picture

So the rules should change because the short-sighted and self-interested NIMBY's who cheered them on have had a change of heart?

At best, that's the right answer for the wrong reason.

If rules are changed because there is suddenly some support from wealthy suburbans for 'boutique' developments in their areas then what's the betting that they are changed purely to enable a specific class of development which offers little or nothing to the city as a whole, and still leaves the vast majority of younger and first-time buyers with a limited choice of low-quality, high-density apartments in the not-quite-as-desirable parts of town?

Of course the market should be given the opportunity to respond to this new style of demand. I'm all for retirees freeing up a family home to take up residence in a swanky apartment. But let's not keep setting the rules to whatever suits this small and privileged group?

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Bilby's picture

This piece contains no data to support the claims made. How do we know how much "demand" is unmet for boutique luxury apartments? Who determines what counts as "desirable" areas for baby boomer retirees? Certainly many are moving to the inner north (e.g. Collingwood, Fitzroy, Northcote, even Brunswick) for the lifestyle appeal of the inner city. Would those same buyers choose Kew or Hawthorn to remain where they are if the apartments were available, or would they actually prefer a little more of the "buzz" of the inner city? Without some figures in this discussion, it's all a bit anecdotal, really.

Secondly, while development is constrained by zoning, just because the percentage of land in the leafy east is overwhelmingly NRZ, the absolute figure is in many ways the more important one with respect to development potential over, say, the next 5-10 years. For example, how much developable land is available in the leafy eastern suburbs in Commercial and Mixed Use Areas in total? That would be an interesting figure to have in terms of evaluating the claims made here.

On the ground, there are many "boutique" developments going up in the same areas the article references. A quick survey of Urban Melbourne's own database demonstrates this, so again, is zoning preventing development or just redirecting it to the strip shopping areas, transport routes and ex-industrial areas in the precinct?

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squat-thrust's picture

I call BS on this article. REA wants zoning rules overturned for quick profit. Were you paid by Marshall White?

Bless this mess

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Mark Baljak's picture

This is an opinion piece by a person who has I dare say more knowledge in property than your good self.

Any article that is paid content is clearly labelled as such.

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squat-thrust's picture

And my opinion is that it's bs. As Bilby noted, this piece contains no data to support the claims made

Bless this mess

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Illan Samuel's picture

The article doesn't need data - it is simply making the observation that the very group of people who sought to fight off developers from their inner eastern patch of Melbourne are now the ones seeking the very type of development they fought off, as apartment living becomes more established and accepted within Melbourne. And yes, the author has a vested interest in more land being made available for development, but they also understand the market, in particular the supply and demand side.

The point should also be made that large land holdings, that would be suitable for development re no longer, and that caps the value of these properties. Developers instead are forced to look toward main roads, and we have already seen the trend of neighbours selling together to maximise value. Not everyone wants to live on a main road when its time to leave the stately family home behind as maintenance and the empty bedrooms becomes a burden in later life.

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Bilby's picture

I'll say it again, then, Illan - you may think a claim "doesn't need data" but how do we know what the author is claiming here is actually correct? How many establish eastern suburbs residents exactly desire to live in apartments in 2016? And how do we know that they are the same people "who sought to fight off developers" in the inner east? I haven't heard that Mary Drost is making the move to apartment living - who exactly are we referring to here?

The article needs data, Illan, trust me.

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Illan Samuel's picture

Bilby....

The credibility of the article is the basis of who the author is, Leonard Teplin. His company, Marshall White Projects has sold the majority of inner eastern apartment projects in the past 3-5 years. He - and his staff are the main connection with buyers (and vendors) in the exact area he is making comment. How do you suggest he provide data? Take a summary or survey of those they speak to regularly and provide it in a table, or just speak freely in an open opinion piece - as he has done? This isn't a science project... again, opinion piece. Know the difference.

He is merely reporting the market trend as they are seeing it. His buyers want smaller, boutique, side street development projects to downsize - and they don't exist. Why don't they exist? Because the zoning reform by local government has made these locations unable for development. Why did local government make these locations unable for development? Pressure from locals (well reported)... who, as I've previously made the point - may now regret their actions.

Feel free to provide some data yourself.

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Bilby's picture

Sorry, Illan - but the burden of evidence os on the claimant, not on me. I didn't make the argument - the author did. You are basically saying that because Leonard Taplin is a real estate agent in the relevant market sector, that we should trust him as the expert. That's not good enough. Science has nothing to do with it, either. If you are making a broad claim about major shifts in buyer demand, then yes, we do need data - otherwise this amounts to little more than an infomercial or a puff piece at best. The data could come from a variety of sources, but arguing that we should trust the author's "opinion" is next to worthless when it comes to an argument about planning policy.

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Illan Samuel's picture

So don't trust his opinion.... and I didn't suggest you trust it, I merely stated he is well placed to have an opinion on the matter after you claimed it needed data, which I still believe it doesn't given the context of the piece.

You should also consider why Urban Melbourne allowed him the forum to write a piece? It wasn't paid advertising so suggesting it is an infomercial is weak. What are your credentials to offer some insight into the topic? Are you a town planner? Planning lawyer?

Finally - I don't see the merit in bashing real estate agents, like you might. Everyone has a role to play in the development process. Is your role of simply criticising and not suggesting anything of merit to add to the piece? I've seen you do it on other posts previously. Lame.

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Bilby's picture

I suggest adding some evidence to this opinion piece, Illan. I would then suggest forumulating good planning policy off the back of that evidence. It's funny isn't it - if this was any other debate on Urban Melbourne about the market dictating what should be built, we might be saying that buyers are buying apartments that are poorly designed, so let the market decide. Here we have the situation where the author is crying foul of the planning scheme because we are not seeing high end builds in the quiet suburban streets of the inner east ... and yet the market for high end apartments on the high street is doing very nicely in the same areas.

Really, if it turns out that these wealthy empty nesters would prefer quiet back streets, I wouldn't be surprised, but that's not the point when it comes to planning policy. If it also turns out that these buyers will buy in neighbourhood activity zones and ex-industrial areas on public transport routes if other options are unavailable to them, wouldn't that be important information to have on hand if you were a planner?

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Nicholas Harrison's picture

The problem is that Boroondara have put 2-4 level height restrictions on nearly all of the neighborhood activity zones and ex industrial areas on public transport routes as well as cracking down on development in the residential zones.

With the ageing population in the area and the significantly reduced development potential as a result of drastically more restrictive planning controls it is likely that the population in areas like Booroonara will start to flat line again in the future like happened in the early 1990's while property prices will continue to rise and rise.

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Bilby's picture

The 2-4 level restrictions represent residential zones only. The way the reforms were structured, councils were forced to apply the RGZ (4 storey limit) within a certain percentage of the municipality. To that extent, the RGZ was a token effort by government to reassure the public that they were encouraging density reforms, while at the same time limiting change in residential zones. Meanwhile, the Mixed Use Zone and Commercial Zones have no height control and few built form controls, so councils like Moreland, Darebin and Yarra are shouldering much of the burden of density while copping most of the flak for "protecting" residential (mainly HO covered precincts) with the NRZ. Booroondara historically hasn't had the intensity of mixed use and industrial zoned land use compared with these inner city suburbs, so the scheme was always going to favour the inner east in that narrow sense, as a raw percentage of land. On the other hand, the inner ring and inner-middle ring can't be judged on percentage terms alone - the inner east is a big area which has far from exhausted its supplies of ex-industrial, commercial and quality mixed use infill land along PT routes.

Analysed on a hectare for hectare basis with the inner north, the so called "shortage" of developable land in the inner-east may well be more myth than reality.

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Nicholas Harrison's picture

Design and development overlays with mandatory height controls have been introduced, or are proposed in a majority of the commercial and industrial areas in Boroondara.

Many of these controls are stricter than the controls in the residential Zones with some commercial areas being restricted to a maximum height of 8m!

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Bilby's picture

That's interesting - can you give an example, Nicholas? Are these part of structure planning in Boroondara, or something else?

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Nicholas Harrison's picture

Boroondara Council have been pushing for a low/no growth controls over the entire municipality for the past 10 years.

I would like the minister to explain why 301 High Street Ashburton has an 8m height limit and 90 Camberwell Road in Hawthorn East has an 11m height limit.

There are also hundreds of other examples of prime development sites on main roads with similar ridiculous height limits that were approved by the minister last year (Clause 43.02 DDO16).

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Riddlz's picture

It is really poor form in my opinion, so many of these sites in Boroondara near public transport nodes could easily sustain high density development without having major effect on traffic and parking, which is the NIMBY's favorite punching bag.

I remember thinking, when that KFC on the corner was being demolished, it's a good location for some apartments maybe up to 5-7 levels but no it just ended up being 1 storey shops...

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Illan Samuel's picture

Bilby - when the market is good, everything sells.... Let's wait and see what this year bring. A push back against apartment living to smaller low maintenance townhouses could very well take place if these are the only options in the right locations for high end downsizers. Main roads should be about density, height and affordability - not a one size fits all approach.

Nicholas is correct. Most (if not all) Commercial sites in Boroondara are covered by a DDO which details each shopping strip and notes the exact mandatory height for each parcel, regardless if they are consolidated and the ability to do something great exists. In a lot of areas the are 3 levels, some 2 and some higher. It is short sighted....vcat won't go against mandatory heights.

And your comment re land availability / if it isn't residential growth or general 1-3 or commercial/mixed use, you won't get apartments. A lot of Borondara is actually commercial 2 or industrial in parts - so off limits without a rezoning, which is a long long process.

Not saying there aren't sites - but wouldn't think they are as plentiful as you suggest. The article still has merit, but perhaps you are right that some %'a of available land use would have supported the case. Borondara pushed back on a lot of RGZ and in turn GR5 was born - which is 9metres default, but not mandatory... So case by case... Ie pot luck.

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