Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Update on Development on former Lombards site

The majority of Moonee Valley Council has approved Stage 2A of the development on the former Lombard’s site on Mt Alexander Road.

While six of the seven councillors have voted in favour of the development, I strongly oppose the end result and the way in which this decision has been reached. Unfortunately, I was the only Councillor to oppose both the amended Development Plan and the amended Permit application.

My reasons for opposition follow:

· The conditions dropped from the Development Plan remove any requirement on the applicant to undertake assessments of the social and transport needs of future residents. Future residents are likely to use the open space and facilities on Debney and Delhi Reserves as no such facilities have been provided on site by the applicant. An assessment of the needs of future residents would allow Council to plan for and fund an appropriate response – possibly with the applicant making a financial contribution.

· Recent decisions at VCAT suggest that conditions requiring contributions to facilities for future residents resulting from sub-divisions can be appropriate. In the interests of future and current residents of the area, Council should have taken up any challenge to these conditions by the applicant at VCAT, rather than dropping them in exchange for changes to design.

· The provision of bicycles, two fleet cars and illuminated signs do not mitigate the need for any further assessment of public transport needs of future residents. As an out-of-activity-centre developer, Council should be paying closer attention to measures that ensure that the proportion of public transport travel is consistent with the Melbourne 2030 criteria for out-of-centre-development.

· The amended plans include an increase in apartments from 226 to 243 and an increase in car spaces from 254 to 319. These increases add further weight to the requirement of an assessment of public transport needs and negate the benefit of the provision of two fleet cars.

· Council also voted to drop a requirement that the developer contribute to the landscaping of Mt Alexander Road along Debney Park, despite the developer, as a requirement of VicRoads, removing all existing landscaping to make way for a right turn lane onto the site.

· The amendments made to the permit during the debate are not a great value-add: we have already put in place parking restrictions on the Community Centre car-park as a result of Stage 1 and noise abatement can be alternatively enforced through the local law amendments that are coming back to Council in May.

· There are outstanding design issues that have not been addressed:

§ No pram ramps to the public plaza and pedestrians must navigate a loading zone;

§ No exclusive bike-link from Mt Road to the Moonee Ponds Creek with cyclists either having to dismount to walk along the footpath or share the entrance with all incoming vehicular traffic;

§ The quality and appeal of the public plaza can be further improved;

§ Further improvements can be made to the Green Travel plan to make sure the development is consistent with the criteria for an out-of-activity-centre development (see Melbourne 2030 criteria for proportions of public transport travel for out-of-centre developments).

§ Improvements to the design in terms of Environmentally Sustainable Design can be made; and

§ The standard of amenity for future residents abutting the CityLink freeway can be improved.

Rather than approve the Development Plan and planning permit in their current form, I moved an alternative motion supporting the design changes made to date and requesting that further discussions take place as part of the established Priority of Development Panel currently working on Stage 2B. Stage 2A has been excluded from the terms of reference of the PDP.

The most sensible outcome at this point would have been for Council to continue to work with the applicant through the established PDP in order to address the identified outstanding design issues. Approving the plans at this point leaves them half-baked and wastes the opportunity afforded to Council by the establishment of the PDP.

In my view, Council has sent a message to developers that we will readily drop planning conditions to secure improvements to design, rather than require improvements as outright conditions on permits.

The net result of the decision is that the applicant will be financing some design changes and Council will be funding measures to mop up the impact of the development.

Council will be making a decision on the Planning Permit for Stage 2B later this year.

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