Neustein Urban - Planning design architecture


The financial downturn impacted on development in NSW.  The decline has been reflected in our business, but we continue to provide informed, clever advice on a range of projects.

FSR exceeded in very special case

Woollahra Council was persuaded to allow a harbourside residence at Rose Bay to exceed the FSR, given the unique characteristics of the site.

"Heritage item" approved for demolition and replacement

Seven years of our strategising paid off when client, Ceto Sandoval, won approval to demolish and replace an ageing apartment building in North Sydney. His new building has been designed by award-winning Australian architect, Alec Tzannes.

Built in 1949, a time of post war austerity, the obsolete building had been identified by council's heritage consultant as having heritage significance. Although five eminent heritage experts agreed unanimously that it did not meet the criteria for a heritage item, North Sydney Council opposed its demolition.

Having lost an appeal over a previous design, the client commissioned Alec Tzannes. At that stage we embarked on fresh discussions with council planners. They led us to believe we were on the right track. However, their final report surprised us by recommending refusal. Our persuasive arguments for replacing the obsolete building resonated with the Sydney East Joint Regional Planning Panel. The project was approved just two weeks ahead of 2012.

Wollongong planning proposal approved at last

Having received positive advice from Wollongong Council planners, in 2006 Warrigal Care started buying up sites in South Wollongong. A not-for-profit community aged care organisation, Warrigal Care planned to build a combined residential aged care and seniors living facility.

In 2009, facing the possibility that the site would be rezoned to prohibit its use for a residential care facility, the organisation lodged a DA. It was subsequently refused. We were engaged to advise on an appeal. We were also asked to prepare a planning proposal for a rezoning.

While negotiations were underway in the Land and Environment Court, Council’s planners recommended refusal of the proposed rezoning. Supported by planning advice from Neustein Urban, the client convinced the councillors to approve the planning proposal’s progress to its next stage. It is now being assessed by the NSW Department of Planning.

A key issue in the assessment of this project is to balance view loss for some apartments in an adjoining building with community benefits due to the provision of employment floor space in a major office area.

Housing for older people: Waverley

Balancing local impacts with area-wide public interest benefits is very difficult. This is the challenge faced by the Benevolent Society of NSW. Australia’s oldest charity, Bensoc is shifting its focus to provide housing for older people in line with the concept of independent living pioneered in the Netherlands by Humanitas. On a Bondi site occupied by a significant local heritage item with a tree-lined carriageway, Bensoc hopes to build a new community of 140 apartments for older people. The heritage house and its curtileges constrain the location of the proposed buildings. We are advising Bensoc on the urban design and planning of the project while hoping that the high social value of the project will be sufficient justification for the inevitable impact of the ten storey infill project on adjoining apartment buildings.

We urge all owners of commercial property to seek advice about the impact of the State Government's program of standardising LEPs in all NSW Local Government Areas.

Bulky goods retailing: Liverpool

Commissioned by the manager of a bulky goods centre to prepare a DA for a new tenant, we discovered that under the new draft standard LEP, the 15-year-old centre was about to be rezoned. The draft LEP made no provision for continuation of the four existing 3000m2 bulky goods tenancies.  If the new LEP was gazetted, every tenant occupying more than 1000m2 of the bulky goods centre would face having to apply for a rezoning.  This costly and uncertain process can take as long as nine months to complete.  The loss of large tenants would have seriously weakened the centre as a whole.  A major tenancy could have been vacant for most of a year while a rezoning was sought.  This would have meant financial disaster for the centre owner.

In an 11th hour move, we asked the Department of Planning to intervene on the eve of the LEP's gazettal. We succeeded in having the LEP modified to allow larger bulky goods tenancies.  We then negotiated an approval for the new use under the new LEP.  For our client, the timing of the tenancy application was incredibly lucky.  Property owners are not notified of LEP changes. The rezoning might have been a fait accompli when a tenancy application was made. If that had happened, the only course of action would have been to apply for a rezoning.

Council's open door policy for seeking innovation in land uses ensured landowners felt their voices were being heard and they were actively participating in planning for the future.

Rezoning: Botany Bay

The Department of Planning has endorsed a strategic planning review of Botany Bay City Council's local government area. Council's first step was to invite significant landholders to share their visions for their sites. This invitation recognised that development in the City of Botany Bay, a Sydney gateway, is crucial to the future of the whole of Sydney. Without the support of major landholders, it would be difficult to realise a strategic vision. Neustein Urban prepared responses for seven sites. Three of these envisage special development worthy of metropolitan attention. For example, one is a medium rise (about eight storeys customs/container distribution centre with containers delivered to the upper floors for processing and unpacking by customs agents. Such centres exist in other ports but usually are no more than three or four storeys high.

Two of the landholders prepared master plan DAs with our support and guidance. We anticipate that Botany Bay City Council will accept some of these ideas. The bolder, more interesting schemes may ultimately be developed.

As with this case, discussions with council officers can be very productive. The readiness of the particular officers at Woollahra to discuss the matter greatly assisted speedy resolution of the application.

Residential development: Vaucluse

Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Our client had purchased a vacant site in Vaucluse with a current approval to construct a modern dwelling. He had hired an architect to modify the plans and seek approval from Woollahra Council. Normally, gaining approval for small changes like those proposed is straight-forward. In this case it was not. We began by checking the council file for the property. It was voluminous. We discovered that the approval to construct a modern house comprised three DAs. Preparing three sets of amendments under s96 of the EPA Act, we lodged them with Woollahra Council. The reaction from the council was not unexpected – we were asked to submit a fresh DA for the complete house.

Fearing that a new DA would be likely to stir up issues already resolved with the neighbours, we requested that the council officers reconsider their decision. At our suggestion, we met with the officers to explain the three amendment applications and the very small impacts of the changes proposed. As a result of our clear explanation, the changes were recognised as minor. Our amendments were duly approved without the potential difficulties of notification.

Increasingly, infill projects will raise conflicting issues of private amenity and public interest.

Office campus: Mascot

To meet the demands of 20 plus years of continuous growth, F Mayer Imports steadily acquired properties in a cul-de-sac just north of Sydney airport. During the past five years, the character of the neighbourhood has changed from low rent industrial to major airport-related uses housed in buildings of up to 12 storeys. In co-operation with Botany Bay City Council, our client lodged a master plan DA for an office campus of five buildings with a gross floor area of about 60,000 sqm. Demand for such facilities is expected to soar as the airport anticipates a doubling of visitor numbers over the next 20 years.

Neustein Urban guided the development of the master plan, liaised with Council planners and prepared the planning documents needed in support of the proposal, which currently awaits approval.

Projects like this raise complex issues such as transport access, site engineering and workplace design. Clever planning support is essential to success.

Gateway offices: Mascot

Our client's site, at the gateway to Sydney, has long been regarded as important to the way visitors travelling to and from the airport perceived the route between the airport and the CBD. However, the zoning did not accurately reflect these urban design aspirations. To harmonise with the other gatepost, a hotel/office complex across O’Riordan Street, we guided the preparation of a design with a floor space ratio three times that permissible. The design by AMW Architects reflects the curved facades of the hotel/office complex while a series of sun shading blades assists the building’s bid for 4 star green rating. Botany Councillors enthusiastically accepted the design and voted its approval in a positive endorsement for the newly emerging face of Mascot as the entry to Sydney.

The approval reflects well on the council’s ability to deal with applications while conducting its strategic planning review.

Office Tower: Bondi Junction

Working with our client and architectural firm, Batessmart, we helped shape the proposal for a 14 storey office building in Bondi Junction. The Bondi Junction Town Centre is the subject of a current draft LEP which, just prior to lodgement of the DA, has vacillated in its treatment of some sites of which this representative. Our work has included preparing submissions in support of changes to the LEP, assisting in defining the building’s use and form, preparing the necessary DA documentation and monitoring the council’s progress in implementing the new LEP. Approval is expected shortly.

Common sense is still the best strategy for urban planning.

Missing storey: Vaucluse

This is a novel story. Our client came to us with his approved DA. Council had given consent to a three storey house on the escarpment above Vaucluse Park together with a below ground parking storey. What was wrong? The underground parking storey was separated from the house by 3m of unexcavated rock. Woollahra Council required that the parking area be excavated like a mine. An attempt to amend the consent had been refused on spurious grounds based on excessive energy consumption.

We investigated how the parking area might be constructed. We concluded that it would not be feasible to excavate it like a mine or a railway tunnel. Not only would tunnelling be expensive, but it would require enormous machinery which would be wasteful of both water and energy. We supervised preparation of a new DA replacing the 3m stratum of unexcavated rock with a storey containing a home cinema and home office and removing any conditions preventing a conventional excavation. The missing storey is about to be inserted into the house.