THE Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) this month ruled in favour of a controversial development proposal by Lend Lease and granted a permit, subject to conditions, for a major development at 590 Orrong Road and 4 Osment Street, Armadale, on a 2.49 hectare site adjoining Toorak railway station and the Toorak Park Reserve.
The proposal for the residential complex of 466 dwellings, comprising 448 apartments and 18 townhouses, was refused by Stonnington Council earlier this year, resulting in Lend Lease applying to the Tribunal for a review of the decision.
Specifically, the proposal was for nineteen buildings ranging in size between two and twelve storeys and located in four separate precincts. It also proposed a convenience shop, café, maternal health centre, public open space and 2 basements with 681 car spaces.
VCAT, in setting aside the Council's decision, found that the development "has a net community benefit, is sustainable development and is an acceptable planning outcome," despite the tension between two policy themes:
"First are those supporting higher density residential development on a large site in the inner suburbs, on a main road and particularly well-served by public transport including abutting Toorak station. Second are those moderating development outcomes by seeking designs that reflect and complement built form character in the broader surrounding area."
The Tribunal said it resolved that tension by giving more weight to the first policy theme for two main reasons: 1) the land has a unique, almost island-like, location; and 2) there are very few identified large sites for higher density residential development in Stonnington and the opportunity should not be dissipated.
The Tribunal also said that while the land has been identified by the Council as a large development site since 1997, "the Council was not able to adopt a policy or establish in the scheme a preferred built form outcome for the land before the Applicants began preparing their proposals."
"Although the Council consulted the local community, the policy it ultimately adopted was unresolved such that the Council was unable to follow it when deciding the permit application. The proposed amendment to the scheme to introduce a preferred built form outcome while considering this permit application is belated and too inchoate to be given significant weight at this time," the Tribunal said.
Stonnington Mayor John Chandler said the Council was extremely disappointed with VCAT's decision and said the outcome is a significant loss for Council and the community and will have a long-term negative impact for the Armadale area.
"This is one of the most important sites in Stonnington and Council has worked with all stakeholders over the past two years to try and achieve a balanced planning outcome for the site – developing an urban design framework to set out provisions that would influence the height and development to ensure a responsible outcome for all," Cr Chandler said.
"Regrettably, VCAT has failed to give due regard to community input and has made a decision that is not supported by the local community or Council. The decision reflects a lack of consideration of neighbourhood character or respect for local community concerns around appropriate development.
"The development by virtue of its high density and excessive height, lack of setbacks at upper levels and lack of setbacks from title boundaries, fails to respect the existing and future amenity of surrounding dwellings and will compromise the amenity of the adjoining parks.
"One has to question whether Councils have any meaningful role in the planning for their areas when anything of contention or consequence is ultimately determined by VCAT – whose role, in many people's opinion, needs to be reined in," Cr Chandler said.