ALMA CLUB DEVELOPMENT

With the impending release of Council’s Planning Departments Report on the Alma Club Development proposal and Council’s formal discussion and decision on the proposal scheduled for next Tuesday (2/7) it is worthwhile updating readers on the development proposal.

RECAP

Location – the property’s address is 1 Wilks Street, Caulfield North – Wilks Street being a short (approx. 350 metres), narrow, dead end street off Alma Road (between Kooyong and Orrong Roads). Located in a minimal change residential area, the irregular shaped property comprises 7,100 sqm with a 40 metre frontage on Wilks Street and an approx. 1 metre pedestrian walkway frontage on Norwood Road.

Site History – In the early 1800’s the site, featuring sand dunes with numerous springs, clear streams and grazing areas, was the first night stop for travelers to Gippsland. However, during the 1850’s gold rush and land boom, the building industry’s demand for “clean sand” soon saw the site mined for sand and eventually the denuded and degenerated site was abandoned and later became a rubbish tip. In the early 1900’s, growth in surrounding areas saw the site purchased, the sand pits filled and leveled to become a sports club, comprising a bowling green and tennis courts. Since that time the Alma Club changed from being individually owned to a members owned club and various facilities were upgraded and expanded to include a 2 storey building (comprising squash courts, clubs rooms, a function centre which includes a restaurant, bar and small cabaret venue) and off street parking.

Note:
o The official history of the Alma Club records that club building works usually result in the history of the sand dunes and springs manifesting itself. Even in severe droughts, springs have resurfaced and required sand bagging to direct flooding into in Wilks Street and Alma Road.

o The property’s irregular shape and limited street frontages probably arise from subdivision occurring when the property was being operated as a sand mine or a rubbish tip.

Alma Club Sale – Unfortunately, as reported in the 7/8/2012 Leader, dwindling membership, financial decisions and decline in grass roots sports meant the club was no longer viable. With land valued at $8m and existing sporting facilities, the Club approached Council with a $3m sale/lease back proposal in early 2012. Although acquisition of the Club is in line with Glen Eira Council’s open space and community facilities strategies/policies and a bargain basement price being proposed, Council rejected the proposal. Council did not discuss the potential acquisition at an open Council Meeting nor did Council enter into any discussions/negotiations with the club. (Refer previous GERA postings 9/8/2012 and 28/8/2012.)   On August 29, the site was sold at auction for $7.94m (less a $300K cost of relocating the telecommunications tower) to a developer and the expected $100m development (predicted in the Age, 28th July, 2012) is firmly in the pipeline.

THE PROPOSED DEVELOPMENT

The planning application currently being reported and decided upon is for 75 dwellings comprising 50 dwellings in a 4 storey apartment building and 25 townhouse style dwellings of 2-3 storeys (17 two storeys and 8 3 stories) above a basement car park and a waiver in visitors car parking requirements.

Features of the plan

• The presented plans are conceptual in nature and lack the level of detail (heights, dimensions, roof pitches etc) of plans which usually accompany planning permit applications. Concept Plans are a first stage in the planning process and invariably as more detail is added changes are required to be made. Generally, the rule of thumb accepted by the industry is an average change of 30% between concept and detailed plans. Once a concept plan has been approved by Council, subsequent changes to detailed plans need not be re-submitted for community consultation if those changes are “generally” in line with the concept plan. Therefore, the 50+ residents objecting to the proposal are understandably concerned at the lack of detail provided and the deficiencies they see in the concept plans (even though the plans take “into account the advice provided by Council officers during pre-application meetings”).

• Clause 21.02 Municipal Strategic Statement recognises “the need to direct medium density residential development to locations where it will have the least impact on residential character”. The term “medium density” is not defined (nor has it been defined by any Government Department or Local Authority) and is therefore open to interpretation.

Below is the concept plan’s ground floor layout which is described by the developer’s consultant as medium density.

building layout JPEG0001

Given the intensive, boundary to boundary, scale of the development use of the term “medium density” is questionable. The land locked site’s severely restricted access (only one vehicular access point and 2 pedestrian access points) raises more questions about the sites suitability for such an intensive development regardless of which density level term is applied.

Although the Context Report mentions, several times, the “potential to establish a safe though site link between the termination of Wilks Street and Norwood Avenue”. However, no further details (who, when, how, challenges in addressing grade changes) are provided and as such this comment should not be a factored into Council’s current decision making process.

• Glen Eira Planning Scheme Clause 22.08-3, which augments MSS clause 21.02 (above) recognises that “existing development sites over 2000 sqm, including transitional sites (eg. sites once used for industry or other redundant uses) and existing residential sites, may be developed in minimal change areas:

o With a higher development yield than would normally apply in minimal change areas
o Incorporating a range of multi-unit developments
o Ensuring that any multi-unit residential development is consistent with the prevailing streetscape scale, especially along the perimeter of the site”

The development’s concept plan acknowledges that the site is in a minimal change area and within the Caulfield North area of the Neighbourhood Character Areas Plan in the Minimal Change Area Policy Framework Plan. The Caulfield North Area being considered to have a Victorian/Edwardian Garden Suburban character with modern overbuilding.

The intensity of the development raises questions of what constitutes a “higher development yield” and the development design raises questions of re respect for nieghbourhood character despite the consultants Context Report stating that townhouses abutting Wilks Street have “appropriate setbacks” and “have been designed to positively engage with the public realm”

Wilks Street Town Houses0001

Wilks Street Townhouses

With regards the development’s intensity in a minimal change areas, the Context Report states that the site “is three times the 2,000 sqm threshold. The proposal also removes an existing non-residential (i.e. sporting /community facilities). For these reasons, it is considered reasonable and appropriate to pursue the type of development being proposed.

• Provision of On-Site Car Parking – the Context Report states that basement car park is to be included “to provide a landscape dominated site plan, and provide a rate of parking within the basement commensurate to the dwelling yield”.   No details are provided of the basement depths and their potential impact on the natural springs within the site or their potential limitations on landscaping plantings.

Car park vehicle access will be from Wilks Street and various access points within the development will enable residents to access their vehicles. At ground level all movements within the development will be pedestrian only.

Carpark JPEG0001

Clause 52.06, relates to the statutory provisions for the car parking design and number of spaces to be provided. This clause, in line with Rescode, states that the following minimum car spaces required to be provided for a residential development are
o 1 space per 1 or 2 bedroom dwelling
o 2 spaces per 3+ bedroom dwellings
o 1 visitor space for every 5 dwellings

Accordingly, the car parking requirements for the development are for 110 spaces (95 for residents and 15 for visitors). However, the planning application requests a waiver in parking requirements as the development will provide 99 residential spaces ( 4 spaces above the requirement) and only 4 spaces for visitors (9 spaces less than the requirement). The justification for this reduction being encouraging use of sustainable transport alternatives and “the number of vacancies that are presently available in the surrounding area, particularly Wilks Street”.  Not only is this a clear breach of the requirements,

o it shows little awareness of

 the surrounding streets where on street parking demand exceds supply (caused by waivered parking requirements for Dandenong Road developments and commuter parking).
 Wilks Street itself with on-street parking demand arising from a medical practice and a number of federation homes without parking provisions

o Individuals make various choices as to where they live, work and play, how they travel between these various locations and how many vehicles they own. It is the responsibility of the development or facility that attracts people to provide on-site car parking, where a development or facillity does not provide car parking in accordance with State Government minimal requirements it should not become the responsibility of nearby residents to provide that parking.

While the concept of underground parking and pedestrian only above ground zones are appealing, a major concern of residents is the development’s provision of adequate access for emergency vehicles (fire brigade, police and ambulance) and vehicles delivering goods (moving in/out, furniture/white goods) and services (tradespeople).

• Traffic –  As previously mentioned Wilks Street is a dead end street, approximately 350 metres long, located off Alma Road (between Orrong and Kooyong Roads). These three main roads experience significant peak hour congestion, heavy traffic movements throughout weekdays and steady traffic volumes in evenings and on weekends.

Traffic volumes in Wilks Street, arising from the Alma Club activities were significant on two days per year (opening and closing of the lawn bowls seasons) for a limited time (arrival and departure of a timed event). At other times the Alma Club generated minor traffic movements as its sporting facilities (tennis and squash) and function centre did not attract large numbers or a continuous traffic flow.

In contrast, the estimated traffic impact of the development will be an increase of 450-500 daily vehicle movements in Wilks Street. Residents predict the increased traffic movements will cause vehicle banking

o in Wilks Street (potentially extending into the development underground garage in the morning peak hours) as vehicles wait to access Alma Road, and
o in Alma Road as vehicles wait to right turn into Wilks Street.

However, the Context Report states “that the additional traffic generated by the proposed development could not be expected to compromise the safety or function of the surrounding road network”.

The Context Report mentions, several times, the “potential to establish a safe though site link between the termination of Wilks Street and Norwood Avenue”. As previously stated, in the absence of further details, this comment should not be a factored into Council’s current decision making process.

• Private Open Space – with regards the provision of secluded private open space for the developments dwellings the Context Report includes the following

o Townhouses – “court yard sizes for the townhouses ranging between 41.5 sqm and 136 sqm with the average being 61.96 sqm. The Schedule to the Residential 1 Zone recommends private open space provision for dwellings in the Minimal Change Area of 60 sqm and therefore the average provision is considered acceptable”.

o Apartments – “with regards the apartments, it is unreasonable to assess this format of development against the Schedule to the Residential 1 Zone, instead the terrace sizes range in size between 6.5 sqm and 58.5 sqm, with an average size of 20sqm”. The recommended private open space is 20sqm.

In both cases, use of an across the development average, rather than a per dwelling basis, is highly questionable and does not indicate compliance with the planning scheme or policies – particularly when the magnitude of the ranges is taken into account

• Internal Amenity – it is difficult to reconcile the Context Report’s statement that the development is a well designed, high quality development with the Report’s comment that light wells have been included to provide daylight (and presumably ventilation) into some of the apartments bedrooms as these are internal to the dwelling.

• Overlooking vs Passive Surveillance – the Context Report’s statement that potential overlooking has been “managed through setbacks and provision of appropriate screening and/or fenestration design” is difficult to reconcile with the Report’s frequent references to the increased security the development offers adjoining residences via the provision of “increased passive surveillance opportunities”.

All residents attending the Planning Conference objected to the development proposal and were consistent in their attitude of “tone it down” (as reported in the recent Leader article). While residents accept that the development of the site is inevitable, they believe the current proposal constitutes over development and is possibly the result of an “ask for everything but be prepared to accept less” approach.  GERA supports the residents’ calls for Council to reject the current proposal and request a re-submission for a “toned down” detailed plan which addresses the issues raised by the residents and includes

• analysis (issues and solutions) of the site’s underground water sources, and
• protection of residential amenity during construction

Please note, not all issues raised by residents are included above (eg. location of the telecommunications tower). No doubt additional issues will be raised during the application approval/rejection process. These issues will be highlighted in subsequent postings.

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