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Brisbane – small lot houses assessment changes

Brisbane – small lot houses assessment changes

By JUSTIN ESLICK

There have been some pretty critical development changes within the Brisbane City Council (BCC) area recently. For a number of weeks there have been rumours floating around about BCC making amendments to the way they assess small lot houses (SLH) and in particular the way they assess applications involving multiple small lot houses on a parent parcel with an associated reconfiguration of a lot (ROL) into smaller freehold lots/titles (i.e. the creation of terrace-style houses or freehold “townhouses” on lots behind existing houses).

So what’s new?

Justin Eslick

Justin Eslick

As of sometime around mid-September 2015, council is no longer accepting SLH applications that involve an associated ROL. The reasoning we were told was because they see a need (whether legal or otherwise, we don’t know) to issue approval for a use that’s valid if retaining the parent parcel. Because you can’t have more than one house on a lot, you can’t have an application for multiple SLHs, even if there’s an associated ROL.

Instead, an application would now be for a dual occupancy use (DOU), or multiple-unit dwelling (MUD) where there are three or more dwellings, with an associated ROL.

It now appears the reasoning isn’t (or at least isn’t solely) because the approval needs to be a use that’s valid on the parent parcel, but rather to allow greater control over the development outcome. There are approvals for SLHs that we’re told, were never envisaged by council when the rules were introduced. Even we admit there are some fantastic advantages under the small lot house code that don’t exist under either the DOUs or MUD codes. By changing the application to be a DOU or MUD application, council has greater control over the outcome.

What this means for you

As indicated, council is no longer accepting applications for SLHs with an associated ROL. Unfortunately, it has become apparent that this also extends to applications already within council, which we find very hard to comprehend, as those applications were lodged and accepted under existing planning rules.

It also means any property purchase made recently with the intent to create freehold small lot houses is likely to be affected.

Under normal circumstances, an amendment to the planning scheme requires notification and a future date is set for implementation. Our understanding here is that BCC is treating it as a change of interpretation, rather than an actual amendment. We can’t tell you whether this is legally accurate, but it doesn’t sit right with us.

So, any application currently with council for SLHs and ROLs are likely to need to be amended to reflect an application for DOU or MUD and ROL, and any future applications will need to be lodged in the same way.

How do the codes differ?

There are some vast differences between all three codes, with the majority relating to setbacks, site cover, car parking and access. On the whole, the rules are more stringent than the SLH code. As an example, the MUD code seeks an outcome involving one driveway whereas with terrace-style SLHs we usually had individual driveways, or one driveway shared by a maximum of two dwellings. If one driveway were forced upon us, then it would make free holding terrace-style houses difficult. In saying this, there’s an indication that council acknowledge there will need to be a degree of flexibility.

Where to from here?

In assessing sites you’ll obviously need to be aware of these changes. From here on in you’ll need to be assessing the sites under the DOU or MUD code rather than SLH if the intention is to create multiple freehold dwellings.

This is a new “interpretation” from council so there may be a period of “settling” where all parties come to terms with the changes.

If we were to speculate, we’d suggest there will be some future amendments made to the codes to make the MUD and COU more compatible with the notion of free holding dwellings. As far as we’re aware, council aren’t against freehold small lot houses, but rather want better control over the outcome that they weren’t able to achieve under the previous method of assessment.

What is our view?

We aren’t opposed to changes (though we wish they didn’t make changes!) We are, however, very disappointed these changes were introduced without notice and affect not only those about to lodge but also those already with applications before council. We strongly believe the changes should have been introduced as an amendment with a future date set for the implementation to allow those already lodged, about to lodge or just purchased the ability to exercise their intentions, which were in line with the rules at the time.

It’ll be interesting to see if there are any legal cases brought about as a result of the “new interpretation”. In our near 10 years of operation we haven’t seen such a drastic shift in thinking within council that wasn’t considered an amendment and introduced only after sufficient notice period.

About Justin Eslick

Justin Eslick is a buyers’ agent with Investigate Property and a qualified town planner.

Original author: Justin Eslick
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