CBD exempt from some apartment standards

By Shane Scanlan

High-rise inner-city apartments are exempt from some of Planning Minister Richard Wynne’s recently-released new apartment standards.

Strict rules on cross-ventilation and mandatory balconies will not apply to apartments more than 35 metres above the ground.  And openable windows are only mandated below 80 metres.

The new standards set a minimum 2.5sqm per residence of communal open space for blocks of less than 20 apartments.  But, by stipulating a maximum 100sqm upper limit, in a 1000-apartment complex, each residence would be granted just 10 square centimetres of communal open space.

But it’s not all plain sailing for CBD developers.  On large sites (more than 2500sqm) they will be required to give up 15 per cent to plant trees.  With CBD land costing tens of thousands of dollars per square metre, the trees in the 2500sqm site example could cost tens of millions of dollars – a cost that would, inevitably, be passed on to purchasers.

It is also harder for high-rise developers to address new rules about direct sunlight to apartments and protection from noise is also more challenging in the city.

Under the new proposals, light wells will be banned above 36 metres. “Borrowed” light is similarly banned, so larger apartments will be easier to design and build in the future than smaller ones.  Noise protection rules also point developers towards larger apartments.

These new rules help explain why the government has not found it necessary to mandate minimum apartment sizes.  The “dog boxes” have, effectively been designed out of existence.

But bigger, better apartments cost more – an outcome not lost on the Property Council.  Acting executive director Asher Judah told CBD News he expected apartment prices to rise by tens of thousands of dollars.

He said cross ventilation and borrowed light standards were mostly to blame.

Mr Judah concedes that new apartments will use less energy but, he says, they will cost more.

“Is it worth the effort if mortgages cost so much more over the life of a loan?  Who’s winning here,” he said.

Nevertheless, Mr Judah said the draft standards struck a fair balance between market demand, amenity and affordability.  He said the Property Council scored the standards as “seven out of 10”.

Under the new standards, residents should not experience more than 35 decibels of noise from the street from their bedrooms (with the windows shut).  The maximum allowed in other living areas will be 40 dB under the proposed standards.

Given the level of ambient noise in CBD apartments is generally well above these levels, these rules will be particularly challenging for CBD developers.

Designers will also have to combat noise coming from within apartment complexes with the draft standards saying: “Using bathrooms, laundries and kitchen spaces as a buffer to noise-sensitive spaces (such as bedrooms or living rooms) from noise sources is encouraged.  Noise transfer between apartments (above, below, and adjoining) can be mitigated by configuring bedrooms and living rooms back-to-back respectively.”

The draft standards address the need to provide adequate daylight, storage, ventilation, energy and waste efficiency and minimise noise once final controls are adopted. They also address building setbacks, room depth, accessibility, waste and water, energy efficiency, storage, open space and noise minimisation.

Consultation on the draft standards is open for community and stakeholder feedback for five weeks, closing 16 September 2016.

More information on the draft standards is available at http://haveyoursay.delwp.vic.gov.au/better-apartments

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