Latest Residential Zone Changes: What Practitioners Need to Know

In mid April 2017 the State Government made sweeping changes to the residential zones across Victoria. The changes are widely speculated to be an attempt to redress some of the imbalance that resulted from the over implementation of the Neighbourhood Residential Zone (and other restrictive controls), with little or no scrutiny, after the 2013-14 adoption of the, then, new residential zones.

This latest raft of changes are generally considered to be a positive step in the direction of housing-diversity. However, there are also some significant considerations that are likely to stifle previously acceptable development and that practitioners should be familiar with.

Following is a summary of some of the more significant changes contained in the most widely applied residential zones: General Residential (GRZ), Neighbourhood Residential (NRZ) and Residential Growth Zones (RGZ):

Revised Purpose of Zones

The purpose of the three most common residential zones have been altered as follows:

Within the GRZ increased weight has been given to housing diversity and growth in appropriate locations;

The purpose of the NRZ no longer includes reference to ‘limiting development’, but still seeks to strongly protect neighbourhood character;

The RGZ now includes a new objective that seeks to achieve the Design Objectives contained in the Schedule to the zone (discussed in more detail later).

These changes are generally considered to be a reduction in the protectionist objectives set by the previous Government. However, this upside is significantly tempered by a number of other changes discussed below.

New Neighbourhood Character and Design Objectives to be Included in Schedules

Although we have not yet seen an example, the schedules to the three zones will soon incorporate either Neighbourhood Character Objectives (in the case of GRZ & NRZ) or Design Objectives (in the case of RGZ).

These new Objectives will form part of the ‘Decision Guidelines’ that Council must consider when determining your application. Although it could be said that the amended purposes of the zones have reduced the weight given to protecting neighbourhood character – it remains to be seen how much weight will be given to the new Neighbourhood Character and Design Objectives and whether those objectives will outweigh the benefit of the less ardent purposes to each Zone.

Removal of Maximum Number of Dwellings in NRZ

Regular applicants will be aware that the introduction of the new Neighbourhood Residential Zone, in 2013, specified a mandatory maximum number of dwellings at Clause 32.09-3 that read:

The number of dwellings on a lot must not exceed the number specified in a schedule to this zone. If no number is specified, the number of dwellings on a lot must not exceed two.

This restriction has been removed by the latest changes. There is now no maximum mandatory number of dwellings per lot specified in any Victorian residential zones.

This change may well put back on the drawing-board a number of projects that were previously refused (or abandoned) because they were prohibited due to exceeding the mandatory number of dwellings previously specified in the NRZ.

New Minimum Lot Size in NRZ

Although the abovementioned, removal of mandatory maximum number of dwellings is a welcome alteration to the NRZ, it has been replaced with a restriction that now allows Councils to specify a mandatory minimum lot size within the schedule to the zone.

It is expected that conservative Councils will move quickly to incorporate minimum lot sizes into the schedules of their NRZs.

New Garden Area Requirements

Both the General and Neighbourhood Residential Zones now include mandatory ‘minimum garden area requirements’. These requirements are identical for both zones, are contained at Clauses 32.08-4 and 32.09-4, respectively and relevant to both development and subdivision applications.

The new requirements for Garden Areas is provided below:

Lot Size in Square Metres Minimum % of lot required to be set aside for Garden Area
400 – 500 25%
501- 650 30%
650 35%

These garden area requirements must be meet, whether or not a planning permit is required, meaning that your building surveyor must also ensure they are met.

A definition of “Garden Area” has been included in Clause 72 as follows:

An uncovered outdoor area of a dwelling or residential building normally associated with a garden. It includes open entertaining areas, decks, lawns, garden beds, swimming pools, tennis courts and the like. It does not include a driveway, any area set aside for car parking, any building or roofed area and any area that has a dimension of less than 1 metre.

This new requirement has significant potential to impact the developability of land and practitioners should consider its impact carefully prior to developing any design response.

New Height Requirements

All building heights are mandatory maximums and a permit cannot be issued, or a building constructed, that exceeds the maximum height specified.

In all three residential zones a height can be specified in the schedule to the zone. Where a height is not specified in the schedule, the default height contained in the zoning provisions applies. The following summaries the changes contained in amendment VC110:

RGZ: Default height of a mandatory 13.5m remains unchanged;

NRZ: Default height has changed from a mandatory 8m to mandatory 9m and no more than 2 storeys;

GRZ: Default height has changed from a discretionary 9m to a mandatory maximum of 11m and no more than 3 storeys;

Notably, the incorporation of a ‘no more than 2 or 3 storey’ height requirement, in the NRZ and GRZ, respectively, will pose significant problems for sloped sights. Clause 1 has already seen one example of such a proposal that will need to be redesigned due to a protruding basement, in order to meet these requirements.

In all three zones, if land is subject to inundation the maximum height can now be measured from the minimum floor level, as determined by the relevant drainage or flood plain management authority, rather than natural ground level.

A very limited set of exemptions exist to the mandatory height requirements and are contained in the following provisions:

RGZ: Clause 32.07-8

NRZ: Clause 32.09-9

GRZ: Clause 38.08-9

Transitional Provisions

A number of transitional provisions have been included in all three zones in an attempt to limit the extent of disruption associated with existing planning permit applications, lodged prior to 13 April 2017.

Practitioners should read the transitional provisions carefully and seek advice if unsure of their implications.

Amendments to Applications

IMPORTANT: Applicants should be very cautious about making formal amendments to planning permit applications.  If applicants seek to make a formal amendment to an application during the application process, after 13 April 2017, Council is likely to consider the application to have been received at the date of the amendment and the above Transitional Provisions/exemptions (relating to Garden Area and Height) will no longer apply to the application.

Other Changes

A number of other smaller changes have also been made to the three primary zones including:

  • New references are provided within the GRZ and RGZ to the Better Apartment Standards, now incorporated into the VPPs at Clause 58. These Standards are now relevant to developments of 5 storeys or more; and,
  • Re-structuring and rewording of a number of the provisions within each zone.

Changes, similar to those above, have also been made to the Township Zones and Mixed Use Zones throughout Victoria.

Practitioners need to familiarise themselves with the newly altered zones. Our office has already seen a number of proposals that were permitted in January and are now prohibited, as a result of the most recent changes.

Clause 1 expects the numerous interpretation and application issues that are likely to arise in the near future will be clarified by the Tribunal over time. We will keep you breast as further clarification comes to light.

As always, if you have any queries in relation to the matters discussed above please do not hesitate to contact our office.

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