Controls to ‘safeguard’ town

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INCREASING pressure from developers to build bulky multi-storey apartment towers along Ocean Beach Rd, Sorrento, has prompted Mornington Peninsula Shire to amend the planning scheme.

Some of their planning applications – for buildings five storeys above ground level – are at odds with the low-scale character of the historic town.

Senior planner James Bryan, in a report to the shire’s 25 July meeting, said that “without clearer development controls, the out of character developments will erode the valued historical character and built-form aesthetics of the village”.

Amendments C203 and C204 aim to protect properties in the Sorrento activity centre, along Ocean Beach Rd and parts of Pt Nepean Rd, not protected by the design and development overlay.

The agenda item appeared immediately before the Continental Development Group’s successful application to redevelop the century-old Continental Hotel, buy an adjoining car park, and build a four-storey apartment block which historical groups say will lessen the tower’s landmark status.

Mr Bryan said that while the township of Sorrento was protected under a heritage overlay “there is a lack of appropriate built-form controls to retain the low scale heart of the town centre”.

Interim planning scheme amendment C203 will be superseded after 18 months by permanent C204 controls designed to protect the cultural heritage and low-scale buildings in the commercial hub. They introduce mandatory heights and setbacks and give statutory recognition to policies defining the characteristics of the precinct.

The measures “seek to avoid the cumulative impact of inappropriate and unplanned change upon sensitive coastal villages”, Mr Bryan said.

This is already occurring. “Unintended and unplanned change through cumulative impacts is already occurring along Ocean Beach Rd … with the increasing number of multi-storey, mixed use developments,” he said.

Nepean Historical Society has welcomed the move to amend the planning rules covering the Sorrento heritage precinct centred on Ocean Beach Rd.

“This is an overdue reform which will allow maximum building heights along Ocean Beach Rd to be enforced,” heritage convener Frank Hindley said.

“It will also provide for building setbacks more appropriate to this coastal village of high heritage significance.

“We trust that the minister will amend the state’s planning scheme with an immediate interim order. This will give time for the detail of the amendment to be drafted, and adopted after proper process, including the opportunity for full public scrutiny,” Mr Hindley said.

The spectre of developers gaining VCAT approval for applications previously knocked back by the council looms large over the push for the new amendments.

Development applications for multi-storey apartments and shops over three storeys at Nos. 57-59 and 77 Ocean Beach Rd – which got the thumbs down from council but were subsequently passed by VCAT – illustrate the discretionary nature of the current planning controls. Uncertainty opens the door to disputes – with often undesirable results.

Mr Bryan said proposals for mixed use buildings “of inappropriate height and excessive number of storeys” was a key issue for planners – and a major threat to the ambience of the Sorrento village.

Mandatory maximum building height limits (say, of eight metres) would help define what the council considers appropriate within the streetscape of Ocean Beach Rd, he said. “This would prohibit development that would be unlikely to gain council’s support from the outset.”

The lack of a mandatory – only a discretionary – building height limit in the major commercial parts of Ocean Beach Rd had created a climate where substantial developments were proposed in the heart of the village greatly exceeding eight metres, Mr Bryan said.

“It is these developments which have the greatest potential to erode the valued low-scale character of Ocean Beach Rd.”

He said there was “justification for the use of mandatory height controls given the Sorrento Village’s high heritage value”.

Cr Hugh Fraser, who seconded C203, said the council’s stance on Ocean Beach Rd developments would carry much greater weight at VCAT if backed by mandatory height limits as proposed in the planning scheme amendments.

Nepean Conservation Group president Dr Ursula de Jong says that while the township was protected under the Planning Scheme via a Heritage Overlay (HO1), there was “a lack of appropriate built-form controls to retain the low-scale heart of the town centre”.

“Without clear development controls, the recent multi-storey mixed developments approved and built will erode the historical values built-form character of Sorrento,” she said.

Despite the NCG objecting to several permit applications on Ocean Beach Rd, the “cumulative effect of approved developments has already adversely impacted upon the character of this historic coastal village”.

She urged the shire to “act quickly” and delay decisions that did not adhere to the spirit of the new policy.

First published in the Southern Peninsula News – 9 August 2016

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