Why new building envelopes

    What is a building envelope?

    A building envelope sets the appropriate scale of future development on a piece of land in terms of bulk and height relative to the streetscape, public and private open spaces. Building envelopes assist in determining and controlling desired urban form in town centres.

    Why is Council putting forward more building envelope options for Blaxland?

    The Blaxland Master Plan was adopted in 2018. This Plan foreshadowed further investigation of building heights and other building envelopes controls, to encourage revitalisation of the Blaxland town centre while maintaining and improving amenity and character.

    To progress the master plan a study was carried out to test various building envelope combinations. A series of sketches and architectural renders were prepared and made available for community consultation in late 2018 – early 2019. These sketches identified the whole of the town centre redeveloped to a height of four-five storeys.

    While strong public support was received for the draft Public Domain Plan, the response to the building envelope sketches was mixed. A common thread was community concern around managing visual impact associated with height and the expression of character and design quality. There was particularly strong concern with building heights exceeding four storeys. 

    In response to this community feedback and points of concern, new building envelope options have been prepared.

    How were the current building envelopes developed?

    A series of principles were developed to guide the consideration of built form opportunities. The aim is to achieve positive, locally appropriate design outcomes, while also representing a commercially feasible approach that would result in the future revitalisation of the town centre.

Guiding principles for revised building envelopes

    What were the guiding principles used to develop these revised building envelopes?

    There were four guiding principles used to develop revised building envelopes. These included:

    • Achieving the community’s future vision for Blaxland as captured in the master plan
    • Capturing public benefit
    • Ensuring good design outcomes
    • Feasibility

    What is the future vision for Blaxland? (Principle 1)

    The adopted Blaxland Master Plan established a clear framework for the revitalisation of the town centre to provide a vibrant village atmosphere with improved public spaces, and to showcase the strong sense of community in Blaxland. 

    Any revision to building envelopes and planning controls should transparently address the endorsed community vision for Blaxland, as well as consider feedback from previous consultation processes, in terms of character and design quality. Specifically, previous consultation identified that many residents supported renewal of the town centre, provided that amenity is improved and design quality of the built form can be achieved. 

    What is public benefit and how do you ‘capture’ it? (Principle 2)

    Public domain improvements to the town centre were considered in the Master Plan and further detailed in the draft Public Domain Plan. Any changes to planning controls contemplated in the revised building envelopes should only be considered if they will provide a defined public benefit outcome. 

    Such public benefit outcomes include improvements to the public domain and accessibility in and around the town centre, with the aim to:

    • Improve amenity, and create a village atmosphere with dining and public spaces 
    • Strengthen linkages, and improve access from the highway and rear of existing shops
    • Better use available open space
    • Improve car parking 

    How can you ensure good design outcomes? (Principle 3)

    As discussed above, a common thread throughout previous community consultation was the need for enhancement of village character and for high quality design. 

    To effectively achieve good design outcomes, any revision to building envelopes should be directly linked to strong and robust planning mechanisms and incentives. This may include new clauses in LEP 2015 to address outcomes around design quality and public domain improvements or amendments to current controls for height for example. 

    There are also incentive based clauses (see below) that could be introduced into LEP 2015 where for example, an increase in a height control is permitted when clear and direct public benefit outcomes can be demonstrated. This could include requiring improvements to the public domain or a need to demonstrate high quality design outcomes. 

    How do you know what is feasible? (Principle 4)

    While feasibility is not the only factor in decision making around revitalisation, it is important that any change made to planning controls can achieve results on the ground. 

    Feasibility testing of proposed building envelopes was carried out by Hill PDA (independent industry specialists) to inform the level of change required to deliver a commercially viable opportunity for property owners. 

    The modelling used hypothetical development proposals, taking into account profit and risk factors such as land and development costs and net profit. The factors that feed into the modelling include achievable floor space, construction costs (including parking requirements) and sales revenue. 

    This modelling is based on estimates and assumptions, and is only intended to give an indication of feasibility to inform decision making. As such, detailed information on specific examples which may have commercial implications for referenced sites, are not available. 

The case for changing planning controls in Blaxland

    What would happen if we make no changes to planning controls in Blaxland?

    The current building envelope controls under LEP 2015 permit buildings with a height of up to 9 metres (generally 2-3 storeys), with a floor space ratio of 1:1. 

    The recent feasibility testing undertaken by Hill PDA confirms that the current planning controls in LEP 2015 do not encourage redevelopment. Therefore, with no change to current controls it is unlikely there will be renewal or improvement to current building stock in the town centre.

    A scenario of no change in Blaxland does not align with desired future character of the centre as established in the Master Plan, and doesn’t provide opportunity for appropriate redevelopment to enhance and improve this key gateway town for the Blue Mountains.

    Why are the options four storeys?

    During the master plan process, other community consultation and recent feasibility work, it is clear there is a case for change in Blaxland. However, detailed and careful consideration of the scope and nature of this change is fundamental. 

    Options have been considered across a range of building heights and with the use of a variety of planning mechanisms to achieve an appropriate built outcome for the town centre over time. The economic feasibility of these options has also been considered.

    Informed by the feasibility work (prepared by Hill PDA) building heights of up to five storeys have been reviewed. The Hill PDA study demonstrated that increasing building height and floor space ratio to achieve a five storey built outcome, would result in an economically feasible development opportunity for landowners. 

    However, feasibility alone is not sufficient justification for increasing building heights and floor space. Key concerns raised by the community include built form and scale and the importance of ensuring that built outcomes appropriately reflect the Blue Mountains and support a village atmosphere in the town centre of Blaxland. 

    For these reasons, options provided for public consultation consider planning changes to achieve built outcomes up to four storeys only, while incorporating requirements for key design outcomes (including the setback of upper storeys) and contribution to community benefit.

What are the options for new planning controls?

    Option 1 – Four storeys allowed across whole centre

    This option proposes a change in current mapped controls within Local Environmental Plan 2015 for building height and floor space. 

    A summary of changes to planning controls under this option would be: 

    • Mapped controls for height and floor space would be increased for all sites within the town centre
    • Permitted building height would be increased to 4 storeys and floor space ratio increased to 2:1 
    • The feasibility study (Hill PDA) identifies these building envelope controls as marginally feasible 

    What would this mean?

    A ‘blanket’ or overall increase in development opportunity across the town centre would provide opportunity and may increase certainty for property owners. However, it does not provide a fine-grained approach to built outcome through design controls and therefore does not address other desired outcomes in relation to amenity and character. 

    Most importantly, an overall increase in building height could not be tied to the public benefit, identified as a key outcome of the master plan. 

    This approach does not meet the guiding principles established to revitalise Blaxland Town Centre and is therefore not generally recommended.

    Option 2 – Four storeys with public benefit across whole town centre

    The contemplation of an additional (fourth) storey with appropriate design controls, is seen as a suitable building envelope outcome, provided appropriate planning mechanisms are used that address community concern around amenity, character and public benefit. 

    As identified above at Option 1, a four storey building envelope option was found to be marginally feasible (Hill PDA). It is important to note that this feasibility analysis is based on the current market. 

    As noted previously, any change in planning controls to deliver a four storey building envelope in Blaxland town Centre needs to be accompanied by strong and robust planning mechanisms to ensure design quality and public domain improvements.

    What is an incentives clause?

    Council is able to incentivise development opportunity by permitting variations to the permissible floor space and height of buildings, if certain conditions are achieved. No changes to mapped controls would be needed. 

    This would be done through inserting a specific clause into the LEP containing objectives, such as those related to amenity and character, and development outcomes such as the number of storeys possible. The clause would also describe expected public domain upgrades or public benefits tied to these incentives. 

    A summary of changes to planning controls under this option (including an incentives clause) would be: 

    • Mapped planning controls in LEP 2015 for height and floor space ratio would remain unchanged
    • Consideration of building heights up to 4 storeys and a 2:1 floor space ratio through an ‘incentives’ clause in the LEP.
    • Incentives clause would include the requirement for key design outcomes around setbacks, bulk and over-shadowing etc to satisfy incentives clause.
    • Assessment of whether a development meets the objectives of an incentives clause would be part of the development assessment process, incorporating the introduction of a ‘Design Review Panel’ thereby adding further control around the quality of the built outcome in Blaxland Town Centre

    An incentives clause could be applied to a whole town centre, to a smaller precinct within the town centre, or to specific strategic sites. 

    What would this mean?

    The ability to utilise the ‘incentives’ clause to access an increase in building envelope controls would be available in a controlled way, requiring development to meet specific criteria around built outcomes and public domain improvements. 

    The use of an incentives clause meets the guiding principles. It would also ensure the strategic direction of development opportunity in the town centre is set by Council, through the use of formalised planning controls to deliver outcomes supported by the community in the Master Plan. 

    This option would also permit Council to collect developer contributions, or even land dedications should that be supported, for specific public domain improvements.

    Option 3 – Four storeys (key sites only) with public benefit

    An incentives clause could be applied to a whole town centre, to a smaller precinct within the town centre, or to specific strategic sites.

    There are key criteria or characteristics considered when determining if a site or area could be considered ‘strategic’ that is, possessing the potential to general urban renewal and contribute to public domain works.

    What is a strategic site or area?

    Sites or areas that generally meet some or all of the criteria below could be suitable for application of an incentives clause: 

    • Large sites in single ownership to facilitate good design outcomes and a reasonable floor area for new buildings. It is in fact possible with a large enough site to create additional public domain improvements within the actual site
    • Older existing building stock where renewal opportunity can be offset against ongoing, and likely increasing, maintenance costs
    • Frontage on more than one elevation to the public domain, to enable reasonable floor area, access to natural light and ventilation, and separation from potential development on adjoining land
    • Close proximity to public domain to maximize relationship with improvements in public domain and renewed built outcomes 

    By way of example, the public car park on Pilgrim Place would be considered a strategic site, and an example of potential redevelopment on this site is presented in the adopted Master Plan. As presented in that concept, the site includes two levels of underground parking, community space, ground level retail and two levels of residential above (giving a three storey profile to Pilgrim Place). The concept was well received in community consultation, particularly the relocation of significant community facilities such as the Neighbourhood Centre and library into the town centre

    What would this mean?

    This option would achieve the same outcomes as Option 2, but in a more targeted way.