Site Spotting: Where do we begin?

By Vincent Pham.



Within Metropolitan Melbourne, there is an ever increasing pressure to continue to provide more housing within the established suburbs and to make use of well serviced land. Melbourne’s population is growing and diversifying, and not a week goes by that I don’t see an article within the media that discusses these pressures.

Downsizers wanting to live closer to their family members, young-couples who want to live closer to the services and amenities or those who just simply want to provide a renewed home to meet the current and future size of their family, are amongst many who may choose to develop their land – but can be caught up in a stratosphere of unknowns – to the point of deterrence. So, where do you begin?

Regardless of the scale of project you are (or thinking of) embarking upon, consideration could be given to some general ‘rules of thumb,’ as a starting point, as follows:

1. Site Features

When analysing site features, it is important that one has consideration to what the physical envelope of the land is such as the shape, dimensions and orientation of the land. These factors can generally influence the overall concept at first instance, depending on overall intensity, of the project and needing to meet all other residential design regulations and design codes. For example:
  • The shape is an important consideration as this can significantly influence the type of ‘layout’ for your project. For example, a standard rectangular block of land offers flexibility to consider a range of layouts.
  • The dimensions follow on from the shape of the land and will generally influence the ‘siting’ of the project. Although the land may be regular in shape, its overall width and depth can also influence how your project is located on the land. For example, a wide but shallow lot may require a 2 townhouse development sited in a ‘duplex’ (side-by-side) layout, whilst a narrow but deep block of land may require a ‘tandem’ (one-behind-the-other) layout.
  • The orientation of the block is another natural physical feature of the site that influences the location of the backyard areas and certain rooms in your project. The general rule of thumb is residential dwellings should be designed in a manner which enables living rooms and backyards to face north, where possible. If this is not possible, then the number of ‘obstructions’ to the backyard should be reduced, where practical.

2. Physical surrounding context

An aspect of undertaking development projects (regardless of scale) is to have a reasonable level of consideration of the features that abut your land, that are not within your control/ownership. This may influence the detailed design of your project. Some points that are worth noting are:
  • The proximity of your project from neighbouring backyards and habitable windows/balconies which could influence the location and style of windows to prevent ‘overlooking’;
  • Location of existing public infrastructure assets (i.e. electricity poles or service pits) or street trees in proximity to your boundaries, that can affect the locations of new or widening of crossovers; and
  • The presence of trees on adjoining properties, which may require your development to be physically modified to ensure protection of trees.
Having an awareness of such physical surrounding features may also ensure that your project is designed to minimise the extent of unreasonable impacts to neighbouring amenity, which in turn minimise potential offense to neighbours and concerns from authorities.

3. Zoning regulations and land-specific controls

An important aspect to consider when embarking on any development project, that triggers the need for Planning Permits, is to have a basic knowledge of the local Council zoning regulations and specific-controls (such as ‘overlays’).

The Zoning of the land helps discern whether your project is suitable for what is envisaged in this area. Overlays will draw your attention to whether there are specific features affecting your land (such as heritage, flooding or significant landscapes). There are a range of overlays that could apply to your land. In established residential areas of Metropolitan, there are generally three common residential zones, each with a different ‘level’ of change envisaged:
  • The Neighbourhood Residential Zone generally envisages low-scale 1-2 storey development (such as townhouses or units);
  • The General Residential Zone envisages a medium level of change and development up to and including 3 storeys.
  • The Residential Growth Zone envisages a higher density of development such as multi-level apartments.
These general ‘levels’ of change will also need to be balanced against other Council policies and specific local circumstances, but also influence your project capacity or future expectations of the land.

4. Title restrictions

Another aspect is the presence of restrictions registered on the property Title such as ‘easements’, ‘covenants’, or ‘agreements’. These have the potential to greatly influence the overall concept of your project.
  • Easements can be present on a land and generally cannot be built over without the relevant authority or benefiting parties’ consent. A land can be affected by multiple easements;
  • Covenants are specific restrictions that can limit the use or development of land (such as a ‘material-specific’ covenant, or a ‘single-dwelling only’ covenant); and 
  • Agreements are generally between landowners and an authority. It can be imposed on land requiring that landowners to do certain actions.
Whilst the presence of these restrictions can be readily discerned by simply reviewing a copy of your property Title, the interpretation of the restrictions may require the assistance of a town planner, solicitor or conveyancer (or a combination of all three). An awareness of whether these exist on the land may prevent future roadblocks towards obtaining approval for your project.

Of course, the above rules of thumbs are not an exhaustive list, and will vary depending on specific circumstances, however, if you’ve ever wondered where to start – why not give these points a go?

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