VCAT win for Eltham character

ECAG is no stranger to VCAT but before its eventual conclusion in June, a recent matter led to an ECAG first, an online VCAT hearing.

14-16 Taylor Street is the plot where the new owner removed every tree and subsequently submitted plans to build eight townhouses.

Extensive tree removal between April and August 2018. Source: ECAG VCAT submission

 

The application was advertised, objections were submitted but Council didn’t make a decision within the permitted time so an application was lodged at VCAT by the developer.

Council’s position was that if an appeal had not been lodged they would have refused to grant a permit and they held this position throughout the hearing, arguing that the proposed development was not appropriate for the site.

A two day hearing was scheduled for February with the developer, Council, expert witnesses, ECAG members and Eltham residents all in attendance at VCAT.

ECAG’s spokesperson presented an excellent analysis and critique of the main issues, expertly cross examining witnesses.

The stand out statement from the two day hearing was from the landscape architect in regard to the four Redbox (15 to 20 metre height) that she suggested planting directly under the power lines in the nature strip. This constituted a large part of the applicant’s front setback response to the Significant Landscape Overlay, of course using the nature strip-Council owned land. She tried to assure the VCAT member that the trees would grow quite successfully and would not interfere with the power lines because they could be ‘formatively pruned.’

The two days in February set aside were insufficient to get through all the expert witness appearances and cross examination so an additional day was scheduled for May. With Covid-19 it was unclear what would happen with the hearing but ultimately it proceeded online, an interesting experience!

 

Advertised plans for eight dwellings

 

Community members were able to watch proceedings from the comfort of their own home as the remaining expert witness spoke and the final opportunities for rebuttals were made. There were a few technical difficulties but hearing concluded on time.

When the VCAT Order was released we were delighted to find out that no permit has been granted.

Whilst acknowledging the proposed development met and exceeded the preferred 5.5m setback from the kerb, the Member found the “…proposal presents poorly to the street, with a minimal front setback, and an extent of development that will dominate the public realm views, with minimal opportunity for landscaping.”

The Member also gave a firm nod to what so many of us consider to be at the very core of Eltham, “a strong landscape character of informality that comes with indigenous and native eucalyptus species,” ultimately finding that “…the balance between increased density, as encouraged by the ACZ1, and a suitable landscaped setting is weighted too far on the side of increased density with the streetscape dominated by built form with lack of suitable landscaping.”

It is heartening that VCAT has found that the goal of increased density cannot be achieved at the expense of appropriate landscaping. We hope this decision will encourage future developers to come up with proposals which are more sensitive to our treasured neighbourhood character.

A tree on the neighbouring property proved to be of significance, with the Member noting concerns about unacceptable damage to the tree’s roots which would be unavoidable when digging the necessary drainage required for a dwelling to be constructed on this area of the site and also the likelihood of the tree dropping limbs on any such dwelling. The Member specifically stated in his order that these two issues should be addressed in any further permit application.

The Taylor Street decision is important to Eltham because it tells developers:
– they must strike a balance between the provision of vegetation and higher intensity development within the activity centre zone
– front setback and built form must respond to the context (including landscape and neighbourhood character and topography) and not just the policies
– protection of existing mature trees must be properly considered

Here is a link to the 14-16 Taylor St VCAT Order.

 

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