Review of the Low Density Residential Zone
– now and in the future


A significant number of residences within the East Coast region are located within a Low Density Residential zone.
 
For instance, within the Break O’Day municipality Low Density Residential zones are found within: Binalong Bay, St Helens, Beaumaris, Falmouth, Cornwall, Fingal and Mathinna.
 
A comparative review of the current Break O’Day Interim Planning Scheme and the proposed new statewide Tasmanian Planning Scheme shows some significant changes will apply to the Low Density Residential Zone when the new statewide Planning Scheme comes into force.
 
Zone Purpose

First of all, the Zone Purpose will change.  In the BOD Scheme one of the Purposes is “To ensure that development respects the natural and conservation values of the land and is designed to mitigate any visual impacts of development on public views.”
 
In the New Scheme this purpose is absent, while another purpose has been added: “To provide for Visitor Accommodation that is compatible with residential character.”
 
So out with respect for natural and conservation values and respect for visual impacts of developments, and in with visitor accommodation!

Uses

In terms of Uses, the New Scheme will allow single residential developments without the need for a planning permit.  This is a major change designed to speed up dwelling approvals and is supported by the new ALP planning policy; (“Labor will continue to provide planning certainty for permitted use applications.”)
 
Commercial Visitor Accommodation will now be a Permitted Use in the New Scheme, whereas it is a Discretionary Use in the BOD Scheme, which currently only allows holiday letting as a Permitted Use.  (See later for more information on Visitor Accommodation.)
 
The New Scheme also allows a whole new range of Discretionary Uses, (these require council approval) including:

 
However, for these Discretionary Uses there will be more stringent conditions covering hours of operation, commercial vehicle movements and external lighting impacts.  For instance, commercial vehicle movements must stop at 5:00 pm on Mondays to Fridays, 2 hours earlier than with the BOD Scheme.  They will also be prohibited on Sundays and public holidays and must stop at 12 noon on Saturdays.  This will be of obvious benefit to nearby residences.
 
Multiple dwellings

Multiple dwellings are allowed in the Low Density Residential Zone under both schemes.  Generally, the minimum site area per dwelling is the same for both, being 1,500 m2 where connected to reticulated sewerage, stormwater and water systems or 2,000 m2 when not.
 
However, site areas per dwelling can be reduced to lower values if certain conditions are observed.  For the BOD Scheme, lower areas can be allowed if the proposal “is not out of character with the pattern of development existing on established properties in the area”; and
“does not result in an unreasonable loss of natural or landscape values”.  For the BOD Scheme there is no lower limit of site areas per dwelling if these conditions are met.
 
With the New Scheme, lower site areas per dwelling are allowed if it can be shown the development “is not out of character with the pattern of development existing on established properties in the area”.  However, the New Scheme sets lower limits of site areas per dwelling of 1,200 m2 for serviced blocks and 2,000 m2 for un-serviced blocks.  These minima, absent in the current BOD Scheme, will significantly protect the character of Low Density Residential areas.  That is, they will be a great improvement if they are rigorously implemented.
 
Other standards

Similarly, the front, side and rear setbacks are greater with the New Scheme than with the BOD Scheme.  However, the maximum height is increased in the New Scheme. 
 
Maximum site coverage has also been increased in the New Scheme
 
                                         BOD Scheme   New Scheme
minimum front setback           5 m             8 m
minimum side setbacks           3 m             5 m
minimum rear setbacks           5 m             5 m
maximum building height         8 m             8.5 m
maximum site coverage          20%*          30%
                 * except for blocks less than 1,000 m2 the site coverage can be 30%
 
Sub-division

Sub-division requirements pose another significant change.
 
The BOD Scheme includes objectives for sub-division to ensure “the conservation of natural values, vegetation and faunal habitats” and to ensure “the design of subdivision protects adjoining subdivision from adverse impacts”.  These objectives are dropped in the New Scheme.
 
In the BOD Scheme it is acceptable if the block size has a minimum area of 2,000 m2 with a shape to include a circle of 25 m diameter.  In the New Scheme the acceptable minimum block size is reduced to 1,500 m2 with a shape to contain a rectangle of 10 m x 15 m, which is over three times smaller.
 
However, sub-division blocks can be smaller than 2,000 m2 in the BOD Scheme, essentially if the development “would not adversely affect the amenity of, or be out of character with, surrounding development and the streetscape”.  There is no minimum size of blocks meeting this and other criteria in the BOD Scheme.
 
In the New Scheme sub-division blocks can be smaller than 1,500 m2 provided, among other things, if “the pattern of development existing on established properties in the area” is recognised, but cannot be smaller than 1,200 m2. This absolute minimum size is a protective feature of the New Scheme which is absent in the BOD Scheme.
 
It is interesting to note, for example, that within Falmouth there are many sub-divided blocks smaller than 700 m2.  These have obviously been allowed in previous planning schemes, including the current BOD Scheme, but would not be allowed in the New Scheme.
 
So in terms of protecting the character of Low Density Residential areas, the New Scheme is superior to the current BOD Scheme as far as sub-division requirements.
 
Visitor Accommodation

In the BOD Scheme Visitor Accommodation “only for holiday letting of an existing dwelling” is a Permitted Use.  However, Visitor Accommodation which is “not for holiday letting of an existing dwelling and only within Binalong Bay and Falmouth” is a Discretionary Use.
 
This means that commercial style visitor accommodation such as “backpackers hostel, bed and breakfast establishment, camping and caravan park, holiday cabin, holiday unit, motel, overnight camping area, residential hotel and serviced apartment” are all Discretionary Uses within Binalong Bay and Falmouth in the current BOD Scheme.
 
In the New Scheme, Visitor Accommodation in a dwelling (including a secondary residence) is exempt from requiring a Permit if the dwelling is used by the owner or occupier as their main place of residence, and only let while the owner or occupier is on vacation; or the dwelling is used by the owner or occupier as their main place of residence, and visitors are accommodated in not more than 4 bedrooms.
 
Generally in the New Scheme, Visitor Accommodation is a Permitted Use, which includes accommodation such as “backpackers hostel, camping and caravan park, holiday cabin, motel, overnight camping area, residential hotel and serviced apartment complex”.
 
So in line with the added Purpose of the Low Density Residential in the New Scheme, (“to provide for Visitor Accommodation that is compatible with residential character”), Visitor Accommodation is to be a special feature of the Low Density Residential Zone.
 
The big unknown, yet to be tested by appeal to the Planning Commission, is how to determine that proposals for “backpackers hostel, camping and caravan park, holiday cabin, motel, overnight camping area, residential hotel and serviced apartment complex” are “compatible with residential character”.  This should be of concern to all residents in Low Density Residential Zones.
 
Footnote comments

The historical trend of continued sub-divisions in the Low Density Residential Zone means that many existing block sizes are similar to those in the General Residential Zone, which in the BOD Scheme must have a minimum size of 600 m2, and in the New Scheme a minimum size of 450 m2.
 
Hopefully the local councils won’t be tempted to re-zone Low Density Residential areas as General Residential areas when they publish their Local Provisions Schedules.
 
In summary, many of the provisions in the New Scheme for Low Density Residential zones provide (theoretically) better protections for residential character, particularly for setting minimum site areas for multiple dwellings and minimum sizes of subdivision blocks.  The problem with the BOD Scheme is that no absolute minima are set if the Performance Criteria approach is adopted.  This has led to many undesirable developments and sub-divisions in the past.  In addition the New Scheme requires larger boundary-building setbacks.
 
Direct benefits to developers with the New Scheme include:

 
The negative aspects of the New Scheme, particularly regarding the retention and protection of character of development include:

  • Business and Professional Services (medical, veterinary, health)
  • Community Meeting and Entertainment (worship, art & craft, public hall)
  • Educational and Occasional Care (not tertiary education)
  • Food Services (but not drive through take away)
  • Sports and Recreation (fitness, gym, public pool, sports ground)
  • no Permit required for complying single dwellings
  • commercial Visitor Accommodation is a Permitted Use
  • additional Discretionary Uses
  • increase of 0.5 m in maximum building height
  • increased maximum site coverage from 20% to 30%
  • smaller sub-division blocks, but only down to an absolute minimum of 1,200 m2
  • liberalisation of visitor accommodation in existing dwellings
  • redefinition of the Zone purpose regarding respect for natural and environmental values
  • new emphasis of the Zone purpose to promote visitor accommodation
  • impacts of commercial Visitor Accommodation as a Permitted Use
  • increasing a range of new Discretionary Uses, which may be incompatible
  • increasing the maximum height of buildings, which could allow for 3 storeys
  • increasing the maximum site coverage ratio
  • reducing the minimum block size by sub-division