DBRA Submissions on Draft Woollahra Local Environment Plan 2013


Many Double Bay residents may not be aware that the Draft Woollahra Local Environmental Plan provides for substantial increases in the maximum height and bulk of buildings compared to the existing controls and that this applies to both the Commercial Centre and the streets in which they live. Our Association lodged detailed objections to these increases last November but it now appears that the anonymous authors of the draft planning document will give no ground on any of the issues raised as follows:

•Proposed increases in the maximum building heights in the Commercial Centre to up to 18.5m ( equivalent to a 6 storey building) leading to a loss of views across the Centre to those in the surrounding amphitheatre. It will replace the sunny, strollable low-rise Centre we know with the bulk and overshadowing of a Chatswood or Bondi.
•In the medium density zone which covers most of residential Double Bay the heights to which the apparently favoured residential flats can be built are increased whilst not those for houses. This discrimination is “to increase residential density”. Similarly bulk or “FSR” controls are to be substantially increased and, in some cases, doubled. Minimum lot widths for blocks of flats of 15m are to be scrapped and minimum lot sizes reduced from 930m2 to 700m2. This means that entire streets now developed with private dwellings will in future become seas of flats.
•In the smaller low density zone bulk controls are to be removed altogether.

The last apparent chance for residents to object to these threats to the leafy low-rise suburb they live in is at 6pm on 22 July at Council Chambers. Copies of our Association’s detailed submissions opposing these changes to the planning regime (which will govern future development applications) are in the following pages, can be downloaded at the link below or can be obtained by emailing us at malcolmdyoung@bigpond.com.

7 July 2014.

Philip Mason ( President) and Malcolm Young

The Double Bay Residents Association Submissions on Draft Woollahra Local Environment Plan 2013 (3)

The Double Bay Residents Association Submissions on Draft Woollahra Local Environment Plan 2013.

Building Heights

1. The DBRA supports the concept of having height limits in the LEP. At least in this way compliance with them is compulsory absent a successful written objection under SEPP No 1.

2. However the DBRA does not support the increases in height limits proposed for either the Double Bay Commercial Centre or generally throughout the municipality in the R3 Medium Density Residential zone.

3. The reasoning process used to argue for these increases is circuitous and specious. It uses the storey controls in the current DCP, then argues that they were based on floor to ceiling heights which do not comply with best modern practice and guidelines and then circuitously argues that x storeys at these new alleged loftier heights means y height and that that resultant height should replace the existing height limit for the purposes of the new LEP.

4. It is firstly contrary to legal principle to regard a control in a DCP ( such as storeys), that being a subsidiary and non-binding instrument, as varying or governing the interpretation of an LEP control ( such as height in WLEP 1995) which is law.

5. Furthermore since June 2012 when staff first presented these proposed new heights to Council’s Strategic Planning Working Party (“SPWP”), using the approach set out in 3 above, they have been apparently persuaded to “round them up” again.

6. Thus in the case of most of Double Bay Commercial Centre the present height control is 13.5m with some isolated sites ( where 5 storeys is permitted) having 16.5m. In the June 2012 presentation to the SPWP these were proposed to change to 14.7 and 18.1. Now they are proposed to change to 15 and 18.5 respectively! Note the “rounding” is ever upwards – June 2012’s 14.7 and 18.1 might ordinarily be rounded to 14.5 and 18 as the nearest half fractions, not to 15 and 18.5.

7. The whole thinking implicit in these height increases is flawed for the following reasons.

8. Firstly, height is what matters in terms of the impact of buildings both on the amenity of those who live in the area (private amenity) and from the point of view of public amenity. The number of storeys that a particular building may have whilst being a certain height is largely irrelevant from the point of view of both private and public amenity impacts. It is height that blocks views, has solar/ shadow impacts, creates oppressive bulk etc. Most Councils do not have storey controls for this reason. Accordingly to use storeys as an argument to increase heights is a fallacious approach.

9. Taking the case of the Double Bay Commercial Centre first the community spoke loudly, clearly and unanimously when the existing controls were set. It wanted the 13.5 height limit for most of the centre with max 16.5 for individual, exceptional sites such as 33, Cross Street and other individual sites. The residents then as now want a sunny, strollable low rise centre – witness the popularity of the Indigo restaurant in low rise Transvaal Avenue. They do not want a repeat of Bondi Junction or Chatswood. Moreover in general the built form in Double Bay is either lower than or no higher than these established controls.

10. Secondly, the storey approach (to the degree it is relevant) is misleadingly presented. The only legal restriction on heights from floor to ceiling is in the Building Code of Australia. That provides for a minimum height of 2.4m.

11. There is much mention in the discussion paper of State Environmental Planning Policy (“SEPP”) no 65. Nowhere in that SEPP will you find any minimum floor to ceiling heights set out. The Residential Flat Design Code (“RFDC”) is a set of guidelines and is a separate document. They are merely guidelines as SEPP no 65, cl 8, makes clear. Page 74 of the RFDC says: “in residential flat buildings or other residential floors in mixed use buildings: – in general, 2.7 metre minimum for all habitable rooms on all floors, 2.4 metres is the preferred minimum for all non-habitable rooms, however 2.25m is permitted”.

12. What staff have failed to point out is that this guideline increase over the statutory BCA 2.4m minimum ceiling height for habitable rooms to 2.7m is linked in the RFDC to doing away with the need for mechanical cooling ie air conditioning. See the “Objective” on p93: “To reduce the necessity for mechanical heating and cooling”. On the same page it urges the use of “ceiling fans for improving air movement in summer”. See also the section headed “Building Amenity . Natural Ventilation” at p 86 – “Designing for natural ventilation exercises sustainable practice by responding to the local climate and by reducing or eliminating the need for mechanical ventilation.”

13. However what the Discussion Paper and proposed changes do, in the teeth of what is said in the RFDC, is to assume that every residential floor has to have full suspended air conditioning on top of the increased ceiling height. See diagrams such as that at Ch 5.1.9 of the Discussion Paper where a depth of 0.4m is assumed between the surface of a floor in a multi storey residential and the level of the ceiling of the floor below. The floor slab is usually only 150mm thick – add a maximum of 100mm for the ceiling and concealed lighting and wiring beneath and one gets to 250mm, not 400mm. There is simply no need for good quality residential flat buildings ever to have a distance between the upper surface of floor slab and ceiling beneath of the conjectured 400mm. Even where air conditioning is installed (contrary to the intent of the RFDC) it is more usually installed behind suspended bulkheads which only impinge on a small part of the RFDC recommended 2.7m. The residential flats on the old Cosmopolitan site in Bay St/ Knox St are typical of this coffered type ceiling with a general ceiling height of 2.67m and with 2.4m ceiling height under the perimeter bulkheads which conceal the air conditioning ducting.

14. Accordingly, even if one goes down the misleading path of attention to Council’s unusual storey controls and adopts the RFDC in its full spirit it will be seen that there is ample room in the existing height limit of 9.5m in the R3 Medium Density Residential zone which will replace the present Residential 2(b) zoning.

15. The same over allowance applies to staff’s proposals for height limits in the Double Bay Commercial Centre. There is not and never has been good demand for upper floor office space in Double Bay. It is inevitable therefore that newly developed buildings, at least away from New South Head Road, will have residential flats on the upper floors as developments in Bay Street, Knox Street and Cross Street have all proved in recent years. Accordingly 3m from upper floor to upper floor is ample and will still provide 2.7m clearance from floor to ceiling. It is worth noting that this would allow much higher floor to ceiling heights than The Chancellor at 38 Bay Street, which has the more usual BCA 2.4m floor to ceiling height. Accordingly, accepting a commercial use on the ground floor of 3m, one can comfortably build a four storey mixed use development within the existing DCP height limit of 13.5m and a five storey mixed use development within the existing 16.5m. Lift overruns, which are anyway subject to technological change, could be dealt with by an exception limiting them to a suitably small percentage of the overall built floor area of the particular development.

16. Accordingly, even if contrary to our submission it is appropriate to look at storey controls, four and five storey buildings can comfortably be built within the current height controls in all areas of the Centre with the possible exception of New South Head Road where residential upper floors are unlikely to attract and someone might be brave enough against commercial experience to try a 4 storey office development ( north side) or a 5 storey one on the south side. In that case building heights should be restricted to the heights recommended by staff in June 2012 ie max 14.7 and 18.1m. To take but one example the Foodco building (422-424 New South Head Road) has a ceiling height of 2.7m and an overall height between upper floors of 3.05m inclusive of floor slab. Contrary to what is suggested on p Ch 5/40 an office ceiling height of 3m is almost unknown in suburban office development and rare in such city development. Accordingly there is ample room for a 4 storey development within a height control of 14.7m and for a 5 storey control within a height control of 18.1m even allowing for a loftier ground floor of retail character.

17. One of the disasters of the rounding up of height limits that staff have been persuaded to make since June 2012’s recommendations is that, contrary to the DCP storey controls, one could now build a six storey building in the five storey max area and a five storey building in the four storey max areas. Similarly in the proposed R3 Medium Density Residential zone by complying with the BCA floor to ceiling heights you could build a four storey building within the increased height of 10.5m even though the Comprehensive DCP limits the number of storeys to three ( 4 x 2.4 = 9.6 plus .1 slab on ground, .1 roof and three suspended slabs @ .15 = 10.4 m height)!

18. “The pernicious “we” of “we want”. One of the mysteries of Council’s discussion paper is the frequent use of the first person plural followed by the verb want and then a statement of what it is that is wanted. An example may be found at the top of page Ch 5/17 : “The R3 zone is a medium density residential zone where we want to increase residential density…”. Who are the “We”? Is it Council staff, is it just the author and if not who is it? We would bet that if you took a poll of those living in Double Bay’s 2 (b) Residential areas (which are planned to be rezoned to R3) they most assuredly do not want increased residential density. It begs the question of just what authority this unidentified “We” have for such portentous statements of policy. This anonymous policy is presumably responsible for the change announced at the foot of page Ch 5/7 which allows a greater height limit in the R3 zone for “other forms of medium density development” whilst restricting dwelling houses in that zone to the old 9.5m. We were under the misconception that the true “we” were the residents of the municipality and we can assure the anonymous author that this extraordinary policy is totally opposed by local residents. We repeat our opposition set out above to any increase to the 9.5m.

19. One final point might be made which relates to the reference to post 1995 acoustic privacy standards in the BCA requiring 100mm between floors (see Ch 5/2) as in some way justifying an increase in heights. There is no requirement in the BCA for an “an additional 100mm between floors”. Anyway, our acoustic advice is that in areas such as Double Bay 100mm was commonly provided between floor slab and the ceiling beneath before the 2004 amendment to the BCA and indeed before present building heights were fixed in the 1995 LEP. The 2004 amendments were directed to the lowest standard RFB’s being built in some of Sydney’s cheapest suburbs and are utterly irrelevant to the issues discussed above.

Floor Space Ratios

20. We object to the removal of the FSR control within the R2 Low Density Residential zone. It is scant protection against excessive bulk to propose to introduce “building envelope controls” in Development Control Plans. Firstly, DCP’s face an uncertain future in the current climate of the new Planning Bills. Secondly, they are a “flexible” control and development which breaches their provisions is weekly approved by this Council. Thirdly, it may anyway be years before these building envelope controls are prepared and a DCP ( if such concept still exists) made by Council following exhibition and debate. In the interim the amenity of neighbours will go unprotected by any anti-bulk controls save height.

21. We further oppose the proposed increase in FSR’s in the R3 zone for the areas in Double Bay listed under Table 4 on p Ch 6/11 of the Discussion paper. This seems to be another instance of the anonymous “we” – see our paragraph 18 – who without any persuasive planning reason want to (a) encourage residential flat buildings rather than dwelling houses in the R3 zone, and (b) increase the permissible bulk as well as height of such RFB’s.

22. What this policy ignores is the fact that the character of most of Double Bay’s R3 zone is predominately that of private dwellings and it is this leafy, low rise character that gives the area its charm and desirability. Residents simply do not want more RFB’s, still less larger ones.

23. The proposal to increase FSR’s by 60% in the nominated areas of Manning Road, Pine Hill Avenue and Wallaroy Crescent is completely unacceptable given that the areas are at the zone interface with large private dwellings and gardens of period charm, particularly in the last two named streets. It is both a trite principle of good planning and locally appropriate that in such areas there should be a gentle transition between such low and medium density areas. The Woollahra Residential DCP2003 specifically calls for such a “development transition” in its O 4.3.1 for the Wallaroy precinct. Furthermore both traffic and parking problems exist in these three roads to the extent that residents are frequently having to stop/start along Manning Road because of its effective one lane width with vehicles parked either side as well as not being able to park in the streets in which they live without getting parking fines. The problems are only going to worsen with completion of the new Woolworths development in the New Year. Increasing residential bulk and density is the last thing we need against such a background.

24. It also has to be borne in mind that there will anyway be a likely increase in building bulk even if the FSR’s , as we would advocate, stay the same. This is because, as is acknowledged at p Ch 6/1 of the Discussion Paper, the new definition of gross floor area excludes external walls, balconies, stairs and voids. Staff have previously estimated that this in itself probably leads on average to a 10% increase in bulk over the previous definition and control.

25. Similarly we oppose the proposed FSR increases from 0.625:1 to 1:1 in William Street and northern parts of Double Bay. The suggestion that in one or two cases sometimes these may be justified by the size of some buildings being in excess of Council’s existing controls is rejected. Over development should not be rewarded in this way. However the proposed changes affect many low rise areas. William Street is an extraordinarily sensitive area. Increases in both the height and bulk of buildings will affect harbour views to the north of residents in the Centre and residents on the slopes of the Edgecliff/ Woollahra/ Bellevue Hill amphitheatre surrounding Double Bay. (We repeat our objection to the concept of removal of the 9.5m height limit for RFB’s whilst retaining it for dwelling houses).

26. We further oppose the FSR increases proposed for the whole of Epping Road, Forest Road, and southern part of Manning Road. Epping Road is a mixture of single and two storey homes and there are very good reasons, apart from it being the overwhelming desire of its residents to retain this low-rise character. The area has a ground surface only inches above the aquifer which runs from Cooper Park to Double Bay itself. Locals recall a turpentine long pile simply disappearing into the saturated subsoil during the building of a home half way along Epping Road, west side, a few years ago. Although the increases are nominally by 20% in reality given the new definitions of gross floor area the actual increases in bulk may be much greater.

27. Once again the chapter on Floor Space Ratios in the Discussion Paper is riddled by references to some unidentified know-all “we” who, better than those of us who live in the area and were (we thought) who Council represented, knows what’s best for us. Example Ch 6 / 9 : “In certain precincts in the R3 zone, we identified that the current FSR should be increased to reflect the desired future character …” Desired by whom? Certainly not those of us who live in the subject areas.

Minimum Lot Size

28. We support the retention of the existing minimum lot size for residential flat buildings (“RFB’s”) as per the LEP 95 and oppose the opening of the door as proposed in the Draft LEP for many more single residences to be demolished to make way for RFB’s on relatively small allotments. At present a site must not be redeveloped for an RFB containing 3 dwellings or fewer unless the width of the site is 15m or more. A site must not be redeveloped for a RFB of 4 dwellings or more unless it is 930m2 or more and has a width of 21 metres. All these sensible controls that have been in force for so many years are to be swept away and replaced by a single minimum lot control of 700m2.

29. 700m2 is an average dwelling site in Double Bay as other areas. The proposal amounts to the almost certain end to the leafy dwelling home character of much of Double Bay (as well as other areas of the municipality) and its replacement by a landscape dominated by flats. One things of the unprincipled destruction in the 1960’s and 1970’s of many of Randwick’s finest old streets or the more recent desecration of Ku-ring-gai’s spine.

30. It is unfortunate that these major changes are concealed by the anonymous author of the Discussion Paper as “seeking to reflect the intent of clause 10B”- see Ch 4 / 3 giving the misleading impression that the proposed controls do not differ from the existing controls.

Proposal to have added uses such as sex services as consent uses in R2 Low Density Residential areas

31. We further question why Council chooses to add to the mandatory permissible uses within this zone uses such as “Home Occupation (sex services)”. We know that residents living close to a sex establishment in Glenmore Road regularly suffer a nightmare of car doors slamming at all hours of the night. The use is incompatible with the family character of this zone in Double Bay. We similarly question other Council additions to consent uses such as “Bed and breakfast accommodation”, “Child care centres”, “Recreation areas” and “Respite day care centre”. Child care centres whilst laudable as a type of use in the right area have concomitant acoustic, traffic and parking issues which make them unsuitable for Double Bay’s R2 zone, particularly when so much of the suburb is zoned R3. Similar issues apply to the other uses we have identified.


32. It is a mystery to us as to why Council’s draft LEP has gone so heavily in the direction of increasing heights in the Double Bay Commercial Area and so much of this suburb’s presently 2(b) residential areas. It is similarly a mystery to us why its authors have so strongly tilted the tables to favour residential flats in much of the suburb’s predominantly private dwelling areas with increases in bulk which, given the changes in statutory definitions, are in many areas of the order of 70%. The authors have ignored the wishes certainly of Double Bay’s residents who like their suburb as it is – a leafy, generally low rise, residential area with many fine dwellings.

13 November 2013.

Philip Mason
President – Double Bay Residents’ Association Inc

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