Apartment usage concerns

DEVELOPERS are the unintended beneficiaries of planning allowances designed for residential developments through alterations to the use of city apartments.

A recommendation to refuse an application to alter the use of a unit on Colin Street in West Perth was carried unanimously by the City of Perth Council at its most recent meeting.

Deputy Lord Mayor Judy McEvoy said the council needed to tread very carefully in relation to altering the use of apartments in the city.

“In West Perth in particular there’s a very strong policy to encourage a residential and commercial mix,” Ms McEvoy said.

It’s understood that the council doesn’t have a specific policy for altering the use of a building, preferring to consider each application on its own merits.

Developers submitting plans to the City of Perth for residential developments can receive plot ratio bonuses.

These bonuses allow the proponent to put a larger number of dwellings on a site that would usually support a lower level of commercial development.

The plot ratio bonuses make developments more financially attractive and it’s considered an incentive to develop residential in areas such as West Perth.

The City of Perth has had only two applications for a change of use in the past two years, according to Ms McEvoy.

She said some developers received a plot ratio bonus for residential developments and then came to council suggesting the building concerned was not viable for residential units.

“In some of these new developments they haven’t even tried to lease out the space as residential,” Ms McEvoy said.

It’s not just a simple issue of the plot ratio bonuses granted to developers; striking the right mix of commercial and residential uses is important.

“We’ve got to be very careful with this.”

A previous application for a change of use in the Kingsgate Apartments on St Georges Terrace resulted in the conversion of one apartment into offices for property consulting group Major Corporate.

Major Corporate managing director Gerald Major said that, in many cases [a change of use] was up to the strata group, if the strata rules had provision.

“It’s not as if the council want to get involved in strata decisions,” Mr Major said.

The strata regulations for the Kingsgate Apartments stated that a change of use was possible, as long as the City of Perth approved it, he said.

“In the end the City of Perth recognised that it suited us as a temporary purpose,” Mr Major said.

The original application was for the conversion of one apartment on the sixth floor to an office.

At the time of the application, Mr Major said he intended to operate the business from these premises for a period of two years, pending the completion of refurbishment works to the previous business premises at 182 St Georges Terrace.

A major planning issue, such as the alteration of the use of an apartment, should not be handled by the council on an ad hoc basis, according to councillor Jennifer MacGill.

Unless a decision was made to alter the overall city planning scheme the purpose of a building shouldn’t be altered, she said.

“You don’t have to be too cynical to say that they just wanted a commercial building all along and that residential was included to get a bigger bonus plot ratio,” Councillor MacGill said.

“We had a similar problem in St Georges Terrace with the Kingsgate Apartments.

“We couldn’t stop the change of one apartment to a commercial use because in the end it was the job of the body corporate.

“Many residents were up in arms and said the council shouldn’t allow it.

“Do we say it’s the rot in the apple or say it’s not doing any harm.”

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