No one’s happy!

Phillip Perroni owns two of the next door villas, and says one tenant has already decided to move out.

Planning leaving no winners 

A NEW three-storey housing block planned for 109 Palmerston Street has been approved by a split Vincent council vote, leaving some neighbours unhappy most of their property will be overshadowed in winter. 

“It’s really overshadowing the whole block next door,” says Phillip Perroni, owner of two of the four villas his family built in the 1980s next-door at 107 Palmerston. 

His sister owns the other two, and the villas nearest the new development will be overshadowed by between 73 and 95 per cent during winter. 

“I worked my guts out for these, and so did my parents,” Mr Perroni says, adding that they followed the planning rules when they built the villas.

Mr Perroni doesn’t live at the site but feels sorry for the tenants who’ll be living in shade, and he says one tenant has already decided to move out once the development goes up.

“You can’t sit in the backyard and enjoy a simple thing: to sit in the backyard and have a quiet beer in the sun,” Mr Perroni says. “That’s an Australian right.”

The owner who wants to develop 109 Palmerston, opaquely listed as “AGV Wealth Pty Ltd”, first lodged plans in July 2022. 

Councillors finally considered the application in November 2022, but deferred voting on it, mainly because it didn’t meet the fast-track standards for building height, boundary setbacks and overshadowing the neighbours. 

Usually only 50 per cent overshadowing is allowed, but the version councillors deferred was projected to put the neighbouring block in 61 per cent shade in winter. 

Some small adjustments were made before amended plans went back to Vincent council’s March meeting, but the overshadowing issue wasn’t fixed, and the version council approved overshadowed 63 per cent. 

The owner’s hired planning consultant, Petar Mrdja from Urbanista Town Planning, told councillors the properties were already overshadowed anyway by a towering 28-metre Moreton Bay fig in nearby Robinson Park.  

Mr Mrdja said they’d undergone many revisions to try to appease neighbours, and also had to rework the design to avoid damaging the fig tree’s roots. He said the shade concern was “clearly a bit of nonsense given the fig tree overshadows the existing development”.

The updated plans didn’t impress Mr Perroni and two others who put in opposing submissions. 

“They tell me that they’ve done a lot of changes,” Mr Perroni says. “They changed the colour of the bricks, they’re putting in a lot more flowers. But to talk about the impact that they’re having? To me, it didn’t change anything.”

Three councillors – Ron Alexander, Ross Ioppolo and Ashley Wallace – voted to refuse the development, wanting instead to defer it to make more changes.

But the council was on a timer. Development applications are meant to be handled within 90 days. After that, the applicant can appeal to bypass council and get the State Administrative Tribunal to make a decision.

Mr Mrdja told council he’d already advised his client to lodge that SAT appeal given how long council had already taken to come to a decision.

Mayor Emma Cole advised councillors to “consider what is the likely success of taking something to the SAT, and I just really don’t know that this is defensible” given the constraints of the site. Ms Cole said even a building that did tick all other planning boxes would probably still overshadow just as much, given they can’t build too close to the fig tree’s roots and instead have to be closer to the neighbours.

Mr Perroni says he can’t understand how the council could refuse the first plans in November, ostensibly because of the overshadowing, then approve new ones with an even higher percentage.

“The whole process was nothing but a travesty.”

Mr Perroni, who came here from Sicily in 1959, says he’s had some sleepless nights since the decision. 

“It’s affected a strong belief I’ve had all my life, since I’ve been here as a kid, that everyone would be given a fair go.”

The fig tree in the nearby park makes the empty lot hard to build on, so the design’s been moved closer to the neighbours.

No winners

THE neighbours hate the design, the applicant’s frustrated with the 400-odd days and numerous revisions it’s taken to get approval, and Vincent council’s split over whether to keep fighting for improved plans given they can be overruled on appeal; Palmerston Street highlights how WA’s planning system is ailing and leaving everyone unhappy.

The developer’s hired planner, Petar Mrdja from Urbanista Town Planning, knows both sides of the process as he was previously Vincent council’s director of planning services.

He told councillors at a March briefing the first application went to Vincent’s Design Review Panel for advice in December 2021. Many revisions and a formal deferral followed. If councillors deferred it again, as three of them wanted to, Mr Mrdja said it “would have taken the city more than 450 days to determine an application that the planning and development regulations allocate a time frame of 90 days. 

“Unfortunately it highlights an ongoing problem we’re dealing with applications at the city: the assessment process being blown out time after time with applications that involve group dwellings.”

These kinds of delays and neighbourly fracas led to the Barnett government introducing Joint Development Assessment Panels in 2011, with a majority of state-appointed members allowing the panels to overrule a council and approve buildings that councillors and communities might not like. 

Originally the JDAPs handled bigger projects, letting developers opt-in if their project was worth $7.5 million or more. That limit was later lowered to $3.5 million, and in February premier Mark McGowan announced any multi-dwelling project could go straight to JDAPs for a decision.

Mr McGowan called the change “cutting red tape,” saying JDAPs would deliver more housing.

Mr Mrdja said given the lengthy process to get 109 Palmerston Street approved, “the recent announcements made by the state to increase the power of the JDAP at the expense of local government seem to make sense”. 

While the developers want to speed up the process, the aggrieved owner of the block, Phillip Perroni, wants the process to take as many revisions as it needs until the design fits the exact rules.

And like many neighbours over the years who’ve been aggrieved by planning decisions, Mr Perroni says it’s unfair that he has no right to appeal a council decision. 

“What is disturbing is that [the developers] can appeal if the thing is rejected, but we as [neighbouring] owners have no option, we have to accept how things are, we have to accept the decision whether it was right or wrong.”

The Greens and some independent WA MPs have called for third party appeals, but both Labor and Liberal governments over the years have opposed the move, fearing it’d slow house building, 

clog tribunals, and turn the planning process into a series of adversarial legal battles. 

In 2020, independent MP Charles Smith proposed third party appeals as a check against the McGowan government’s 

“state of emergency” planning measures to fast-track development approvals during the Covid era.

“In our haste there is a significant risk that we have been too permissive,” Mr Smith told parliament in September 2020.

He said third party appeals were needed as “this government is stripping away most of the decision-making power from local government and putting it into the hands of yet more bureaucrats such as the Western Australian Planning Commission and the development assessment panels, which are both unelected by the community”.

The Greens backed his idea, as they’ve supported third party appeals for decades, but neither Labor nor Liberal parties offered any support.

“There has been a consistent, historic, bipartisan agreement to oppose third party appeal rights in this state,” Labor MP Stephen Dawson said in the 2020 parliamentary debate.

“Now is not the time to increase red tape and uncertainty for industry.”

Stories by DAVID BELL

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