Housing density, diversity key focus for 15 year council plan

Yarra Ranges Council will release its draft housing strategy for feedback, as it looks to grow housing density over the next 15 years. Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS. 293970_01

By Mikayla van Loon

Yarra Ranges Council has moved forward with its draft housing strategy despite still waiting on State government reforms to be implemented.

The community will be invited to share feedback on the draft strategy that provides an outlook on the future of housing in the shire over 15 years.

The intention of the strategy has been cited as outlining the location, type and the design of new housing required in the municipality to cater to the expected growth of close to 23,000 people by 2041.

Housing density and diversity has been noted in the strategy as key to delivering the desired quantities needed, with stand alone dwellings currently making up 93.3 per cent of the housing stock.

Design and place manager Nathan Islip said there is a mismatch being created between the houses available and the people looking to live in the region.

“We’re getting lots of three or four bedroom, standalone dwellings, but a lot of the demand for housing is for one or two occupants,” he said.

While the largest demographic of people living in the Yarra Ranges is couples with children, making up around 35 per cent, there are emerging groups moving into the area.

“Demographically, what we’re getting is much more diversity, not just family households, but we’ve got increasing number of smaller households, lone person households, single parent households, couples with children and in Yarra Ranges the ageing population is really a strong demographic feature,” principal strategic planner Ben Champion said.

“All of this is really pointing to the need for more diversity, smaller housing types in well located areas near large centres, and services and parkland and shops and all the other things that large centres offer.”

Lilydale, Mooroolbark and Chirnside Park have been identified as needing higher density housing and medium density development in the townships of Mount Evelyn, Healesville, Yarra Glen and Yarra Junction.

It is estimated that the total housing share in the urban areas will rise from 69.3 per cent over 2016-2021 to 82 per cent over the period from 2021-2036.

“The general position of the draft housing strategy is to focus more on the growth and development of activity centres and commercial areas in large activity centres like Lilydale and Mooroolbark which have fixed rail and Chirnside Park,” Mr Champion said.

“This hasn’t really happened before in Yarra Ranges. We’ve had more of a traditional style of commercial areas that are just commercial and surrounded by low density residential areas.

“So what we’re now saying is we’re looking at more apartment and mixed use building types in commercial areas.”

Mr Islip said Lilydale has a high rise limit of six storeys as per the Lilydale Structure Plan and reflects the “European model of really beautiful density”.

“We believe the European model of density is really lovely. It creates not too much visual bulk, it keeps everyone close and connected to the street and activity [and] it doesn’t create big overshadowing things,” he said.

This style of apartment and shop-top housing is proposed for Mooroolbark and Chirnside Park as well.

“[This] is very consistent with all the recent announcements from the State government,” Mr Islip said.

“The State government announcements are all about building up density around activity centres in a way that is really oriented towards more affordable housing outcomes in particular, and that’s quite aligned with the approach we’ve taken in the housing strategy,” Mr Champion said.

Diverse housing like tiny houses, cohousing, secondary dwellings and relocatable buildings will also be investigated as options for providing the necessary quantity of homes for people, especially as affordability decreases in the region.

Mr Islip said the growth in each area of the Yarra Ranges is confined by the zoning, including the green wedge and urban growth boundary and is defined by four categories in the strategy as substantial, increased, incremental and minimal.

Councillor Sophie Todorov moved the motion to put the draft housing strategy out for community consultation on Tuesday 24 October.

“We know this draft housing strategy to be endorsed for public consultation replaces our previous one that was drawn up in 2009 some 14 years ago and the council has seen many changes and much increase in population particularly in the urban wards,” she said.

Cr Todorov said she was pleased to see the strategy “value our neighbourhood character and our places of historical significance” while addressing “the nationwide issues of housing and rental affordability”.

Seconded by Cr Andrew Fullagar, he expressed similar sentiments and said “housing change is inevitable”.

Airing her concerns initially with releasing the draft strategy at this time given the imminent planning changes from the Labor government, Cr Johanna Skelton said it was important to be ahead of the game.

“We’re doing this in the shadow of some major planning changes at the State government level and putting this before us tonight, I was going ‘is it even worth it?’.

“The rug could be pulled from under us at any stage but I think it’s still important to be steering the ship.”

The Department of Transport and Planning confirmed in early October that “further details on changes will be released in later 2023.”

Cr Skelton said she hopes should the State government be aware of the draft strategy, it would acknowledge the effort in the plan to provide effective and efficient use of the shire’s current planning scheme to develop extra housing solutions for the future.

“We’ve really carefully identified the regions where we can have more density with the least impact. There’s so much of the Yarra Ranges that’s Green Wedge or bushfire overlays or erosion overlays and there’s so many complexities to a lot of where we live,” Cr Skelton said.

“We have to acknowledge the small growth rate we have, but it’s still significant. By 2041 we’ve got an extra 22,000 people so they will have to go somewhere.”

The motion was carried unanimously.

Community consultation for the draft housing strategy opens on 30 October and runs until 11 December via the Shaping Yarra Ranges website, briefing sessions and pop up engagement stalls with dates and locations to be confirmed.

Residents can submit feedback on individual sections or the entire strategy itself.