Bentleigh getting denser – and that’s fine by me

With Ormond likely to get its tower (whatever the height might be), what of other nearby suburbs?

The transition is already underway in Bentleigh and many other areas. Around the station, numerous developments are going up.

And in principle, I have no problem with this.

  • Melbourne’s population continues to grow. People have to live somewhere, and placing them close to jobs and services and infrastructure is better than having our city continue to sprawl.
  • Close to the shopping centre and the station and bus routes is the best place for this, to increase the chances of people being able to walk to what they need.

Buildings along the main street (Centre Road) in particular make sense. Car parks behind the shops provide a buffer that can help prevent shadowing onto single storey homes.

The residential zones introduced a couple of years ago mean this is spreading to nearby streets. But heights are staggered as you move away from the station, so it seems workable to me. Here’s how it looks in Bentleigh.

Planning scheme: Bentleigh
(Source: Planning Schemes Online. Downloaded 26/7/2016. May have changed since.)

  • C1Z – no specific height limit (but still subject to planning approval of course)
  • PUZ2 – school*
  • PUZ4 – railway lines – as I understand it, if developed there is no specific height limit
  • PUZ6 – Public Use Zone – these all seem to be car parks
  • RGZ1 – Residential Growth – 13.5m / 4 storey limit
  • GRZ1/2 – General Residential – 10.5m / 3 storey limit
  • NRZ1 – Neighbourhood Residential – 8m / 2 storey limit
  • MUZ1 – Mixed Use – no specific height limit*

*not in Bentleigh, but in Carnegie – see below

“Inner” Bentleigh today

Bentleigh has had densification of various types over the years.

In the 70s and 80s, some blocks of flats went up, mostly 2 storeys, many of which are still around today — though nowhere near the numbers you see in inner suburbs like St Kilda.

Campbell St, Bentleigh

Since the 90s there has been a lot of subdividing. Back yards have shrunk, with either new houses being built behind old ones (this is the case behind my old house) or houses being removed and replaced with 2-3 homes, typically semi-detached townhouses.

Meanwhile a lot of homes have had extensions, increasing capacity but not necessarily occupancy.
Campbell St, Bentleigh

Buildings are bigger closer to the station. Below you can see the main street, Centre Road, a retail and residential building about five years old. It’s big, but you barely notice it at street level if you’re walking around looking at the shops. If it built were today, I’d be surprised if they didn’t aim higher.
Aldi, Centre Road

The zones above, introduced a couple of years have triggered a lot more apartment developments off Centre Road. Below is Mavho Street (3 storey limit on the west side), looking towards the Aldi building pictured above.
Mavho St, Bentleigh

Lorrane Street: This one has just been completed. It’s not really a surprise that all the recent and current developments go right up to their zone’s height limit.
Loranne St, Bentleigh

Bent Street: It’s not hard to anticipate that many of the homes in the RGZ1 4 storey zone will be re-developed in this way in coming years.
Bent St, Bentleigh

Clearly some home owners have seen the writing (and the dollar signs?) on the wall.
Bent St, Bentleigh

At the southern end of Bentleigh (near Patterson Station), and also in Mckinnon, there’s been development around the shopping. Despite the garage doors facing onto the street (not ideal for pedestrians), I find the scale and look of these homes quite appealing.
Philip Street, Bentleigh (near Patterson Road)

With my local resident hat on, I would like the benefits of my suburb to be available to more people, so I see nothing wrong with this, provided designs are good, nobody is forced out, and anybody who does sell up to developers is doing well out of the transaction.

If anything, I think the 3-4 storey limits should be allowed a little further from the station.

Of course there are many lovely older homes that should be preserved. Height limits across most of the area (away from the station) can help with this, but inevitably won’t save them all.

The commercial zone along the main street should be developed to ensure it includes destinations, not just residences, to increase local employment and activity — rather than the area being just a dormitory suburb. (It’s good to see the chain stores/anchor tenants are staying put in the shopping centre.)

As I said above, it makes sense to increase urban density in areas with good access to services and infrastructure. It’s good to see it happening.

Planning schemes elsewhere

Also worth looking at: the area around Carnegie and Murrumbeena.

Planning scheme: Carnegie and Murrumbeena
(Source: Planning Schemes Online. Downloaded 26/7/2016. May have changed since.)

This is particularly interesting in the context of the skyrail debate; most of the areas alongside the rail line have 3-4 storeys permitted (higher immediately around the stations), though when and if this occurs of course, nobody knows.

How is it in your neighbourhood? It’s worth finding out, especially if you’re planning on buying, and/or living there for a while.

“Value capture” development above Ormond station? Good idea… in theory

Although it won’t reopen until the end of August, Ormond station has been coming along… here’s how it looked on Saturday:

Ormond station under construction, July 2016

Under the station building facing North Road is the deck for the concourse, as can be seen in the plans:

Ormond station plan

But further north from that, a second deck is taking shape.

Ormond station under construction, July 2016

It’s actually easiest to see in this still from a Level Crossing Removal Authority video posted at the weekend.

Ormond "value capture" deck

In their 2014 election manifesto, the State ALP noted:

Victorian Labor will also pursue all appropriate “value capture” opportunities to best use the space around level crossings.

— Project 10,000

It hasn’t been obvious until now, but at Ormond, where the level crossing is being removed and the rail line and station being put below ground level, they’ve built the extra deck for precisely that type of value capture. It’s planned for residential and retail development.

Nothing’s been officially announced, but The Age got confirmation of this today: High-rises to soar over suburban stations to help fund level crossing removals

In theory, this is a great idea.

If there’s one place you want urban renewal, and higher densities, it’s around public transport, especially around railway stations.

And this particular railway station is served by frequent trains every day of the week — every 10 minutes during most daylight hours.

This means that apart from good access on foot to around 200 local shops, as well as train to the CBD, in the next year or two Southland station will open, meaning also good access to a major suburban centre about ten minutes down the line.

Ormond station under construction, July 2016

But… the devil is in the detail.

The Age reports the development may be up to 13 storeys. This will make it by far the tallest building for miles around. Will it be beautiful, or an eyesore? Is 13 storeys too much for the area?

As respected Danish urban planner Jan Gehl notes in this great podcast from 2014, “You can normally achieve a fantastic density with buildings that are 5, 6, 7 stories… The tower is the lazy architect’s answer to density.”

There are precedents in suburban areas around Melbourne. Camberwell has towers of around 12 storeys. Ringwood seems to have developments of about ten storeys. Mind you both of those centres are larger than Ormond, with more public transport services and a lot more shops.

And in Melbourne it’s very rare to see development above railway lines.

It’s immediately adjacent low-rise residential properties. The southern end of the deck is next to the station and busy North Road, but it extends up well into the nearby residential area. All the areas surrounding it are residential “GRZ1”, with a height limit of 10.5 metres, or 3 storeys.

Ormond station deck

The north-south public transport is good, but east-west isn’t. Bus route 630 along North Road to Monash Uni Clayton (a significant education and employment destination) are okayish on weekdays (every 12 minutes peak, 20 off-peak, but not frequent in the evening or on weekends), but the local 626 route to Elsternwick and Chadstone is pretty hopeless (every 30 minutes weekdays, hourly on weekends and evenings).

It’s a similar story with local bike paths; north-south are there (or will be once the level crossing project is complete), but east-west means mixing it with heavy traffic.

Peak PT can be very crowded. If several hundred new residents move in, and the bulk of them want to head into the city in peak, what will it do to train crowding? Perhaps it’s not a huge increase in the grand scheme of things, but continuous capacity increases are needed to stay ahead.

How much car parking will be provided? The less the better I think. The last thing you want is lots of people moving in and adding to traffic congestion in an already busy area. Providing viable PT, cycling and walking options is important.

Speaking of parks, there’s not much green space in the area either. The closest park would be Gunn Reserve, a good 10-15 minute walk away.

This development could be great. But it’s too early to tell.

And why the big secret?

  • See also: Marcus Wong: Apartments and secrecy at Ormond station
  • Alan Davies makes some good points here: Is “the suburbs” a useful idea anymore?
  • Urban Melbourne: Context matters: Glen Eira’s level crossing removals & ‘value capture’ redevelopment
  • This Leader story mentions in passing: Mr Donnellan said an independent planning panel would take public submissions before a recommendation on the project was made to the planning minister. It is believed smaller scale developments could also be built next to Bentleigh and McKinnon stations.
  • Update 26/7/2016: I’m told that the 13 storeys will face onto North Road, but staggered down as it gets closer to the residential areas. Makes sense; similar designs have been seen elsewhere.
  • Also, already there are rumours flying around about huge developments in Mckinnon and Bentleigh; I’m told any development there will be of a smaller scale. As noted in The Age’s article: The government said developments at those two stations would be smaller in scale, in keeping with the village atmosphere.

A bit of pedantry

I can be a bit of a pedant, so this photo caption in Saturday’s Age caught my eye:

Picture of Patrick McCaughey in The Age 23/7/2016

“Former NGV director Patrick McCaughey” pictured in 1986 — so was he the former NGV director back then?

No — the article text makes it clear he was the director in 1986.

There’s a simple way of conveying this in the text, and it’s not just me — it turns out National Geographic has a style guide which recommends:

Do not use former when reference is made to something done while a person held a position; then may be used

(My emphasis)

Not to single out The Age here — I’ve noticed “former” being used when “then” is more appropriate in a lot of stories from various media outlets recently.

Interestingly I couldn’t find anything about this in the online style guides from The Guardian, The Economist, Griffith University, or the BBC.

Fairfax has its own style guide, and there’s also the Australian Commonwealth Printing Office style manual — but neither of these are online. I might try and hunt these down in a library.

Perhaps only NatGeo and I care about this?

But the meaning of words matter. They should be chosen carefully.

Regardless of my pedantry, the article about the 1986 theft of Picasso’s Weeping Woman, and the accompanying account of then Chief Conservator Thomas Dixon, are a great read. I wonder if we’ll ever know what actually happened.

Pedestrians in the car park – often there’s no choice

I sometimes wonder if motorists driving in and out of car parks get irritated by pedestrians walking through.

Often the pedestrians have no choice.

These pictures are from Caulfield Plaza – with the major drawcard inside being the Coles supermarket.

There is obvious pedestrian traffic from the railway station and the university campus to the southern entrance of the Plaza. There are no footpaths on this side, so of course people walk through the car park. There is a pedestrianised entrance from Dandenong Road, and another from Derby Road, but few people are likely to go the long way around.

Caulfield Plaza car park

In my suburb, Bentleigh, despite generally being very walkable, it’s a similar story at the big supermarkets:

  • Safeway Woolworths is on the corner of Jasper and Centre Roads, but provides no pedestrian access at all, so anybody coming on foot has to cut through the car park.
  • Aldi is on Centre Road, inside a bigger building, and has a dedicated pedestrian entrance to the street, as well as a car park around the back.
  • Coles has a well-placed pedestrian entrance from the eastern side, but from the western side there’s only a gap in the car spaces with some bollards (see below), and this is located well away from the desire lines, so nobody uses it.

Coles Bentleigh, pointless pedestrian path

These types of layouts are poor design, for both pedestrians and motorists.

And I guess until it’s fixed we just have to live with it. Motorists need to watch out, and consider that every pedestrian is one less car on the road and taking up car spaces.

And pedestrians need to watch out for inattentive drivers. Often visibility isn’t ideal, especially for cars pulling out of or backing into parking spaces.

I wonder though, is making pedestrians walk through a car park subtly discouraging them from walking? Particularly those who are, or are with, vulnerable walkers such as young children or those with mobility problems.

Would supermarkets and other businesses with their own car parks get more customers if they provided safe convenient paths to their doors?

Are newer car parks and shopping centres any better? How do we get this fixed?

Real estate agent signs – improving but some need more work

I’ve written before about blockages on footpaths: overhanging trees, motorcycles, cars and real estate agent advertising.

There’s at least been some pogress with real estate. It seems some agents, perhaps realising that blocking the footpath is illegal, have got newer, smaller flags.

During my walk on Saturday morning, I spotted these:

Buxton seem to have solved the problem. Their new signs are still visible, but smaller and also higher, meaning people can pass them with no problems.

Buxton real estate advertising sign

Hocking Stuart’s signs need some more work. People still have to walk around them – if they can. Those with prams or pushing mobility aids or riding in wheelchairs will still have problems. Going onto the grass is likely to be difficult. Going under the sign without a hand free to brush it away is also going to be an issue – or at least a complete loss of dignity.

Hodges real estate advertising sign, partially blocking footpath

For the sake of pedestrians, particularly those with mobility issues, I hope Hocking Stuart and other agents will see the light – and that the councils continue to enforce the rules.

Update: Hocking Stuart has said they’re looking into it.