Unit Development FAQ's

How Many Units Can I Fit On My Land?

If this question was posed to a Council Officer, no simple answer would be provided. Council is not so much interested in how many dwellings one can fit on a property, but how well the development and design of the proposal conforms to the context of the site and adheres to the relevant standards. In particular, the most prominent requirements that need to be fulfilled relate to the Neighbourhood Character of the area and the abidance to both Council’s Urban Character Guidelines and Rescode 34’s standards. There are no benchmarks for property densities (e.g. 1 unit per 300 m2) that one can quote because each site is treated as unique, and the nature of the design process will undoubtedly produce very different results.

In order to understand the extent to which a site can be developed, a Council Officer may propose that a Site Analysis be prepared to identify the opportunities and constraints of your site. The preparation of this document will greatly assist in determining the development potential of any given site. The site analysis makes it possible to determine the suitability of the site for units, and if so, how many units are considered appropriate. The Council Officer will provide you with information on restrictions that may restrict the extent to which the land can be used, for example, zoning and overlay controls.

Ultimately, Council recommends discussing any proposals for more than one unit per property with a private planning consultant, building designer or architect. In most cases, a Planning Permit will be required for any such proposal.

The following factors will need to be addressed to determine how many dwellings can fit on a parcel of land:-

  • Location – Land close to an urban activity centre or village generally allows for higher density. Conversely, land which is furthest away from these activity centres and villages will allow for lower densities.
  • Land Size – A larger plot of land will provide more area, often accommodating the development of more units.
  • Shape of the Land – As a rule of thumb, a rectangular parcel of land can accommodate more units than one that is irregular as less land is wasted. Also, width becomes an important factor, particularly when it comes to vehicular access and manoeuvrability. For instance a 16.5 x 40m (W, L) allotment is more beneficial than a 15 x 45m allotment.
  • Slope of the Land – Slopes will affect the design particularly in relation to; overlooking, overshadowing, access to private open spaces, height of floor level above ground level, height of walls on boundaries, height of building above ground level and the extent of excavation of the dwellings on the parcel of land.
  • Orientation of the Land – A northerly orientation is always better than a southerly one. Buildings facing north are able to use their orientation to their advantage, receiving excellent solar access to living areas and private open space. Additionally, private open space can be made to be less deep, as Rescode regulation 54-05-3 requires that any southern boundary of the secluded private open space should be setback 4.7m from a 3m high one-storey wall and 7.4m from a 6m two-storey wall.
  • Client’s Risk Tolerance The likelihood of the Planning Department granting you a Planning Permit for a proposal of 2 units on a particular site is higher than one with 3 units on the same site. Therefore, it is at the client’s own risk, and by no means is any proposal guaranteed. Should a planning permit be rejected, the client may exercise their right to appeal to VCAT, but must understand that they only have a 50/50 chance of having the Planning Department’s decision overturned.
  • Size of the Units – In most cases, it is possible to fit more 1 and 2 bedroom units on your site as opposed to 3 bedroom units, because they are not only smaller but require fewer car spaces. In this instance, this varies by one space with the 3 bedroom requiring two car spaces as opposed to the one necessary for a two bedroom.
  • Neighbourhood Character – It would be easier to argue a case for higher densities in highly developed areas rather than in an area which is dominated by single storey detached houses.
  • Type of Allotment – Corner sites by virtue of having 2 street frontages generally allow for higher densities as driveway and car manoeuvrability space is saved. Corner allotments may be subdivided for multiple units; however, a body corporate becomes responsible for the physical issues pertaining to the site. Therefore, the accompanying management and extra costs that body corporate issues incur may need to be considered.  North East and North West Corners are better than South East and South West Orientations as northerly orientations are advantageous for their excellent solar access (See ‘Orientation of the Land’ above).
  • Adjoining setbacks – Sites where the adjoining setbacks are less can allow for a larger building envelope on the site. Rescode requirements stipulate that the new building setback is calculated by the average of the two adjoining setbacks. Therefore, a lower average setback can allow for a greater coverage of the land by the building, possibly allowing for additional bedrooms, and in rare cases, an additional unit.

Do I need to hire an Architect, Draftsman or a Design Consultant to prepare my Plans?

According to Council, a suitably qualified person is required to prepare your design drawings.  Both Architects and Design Consultants are considered qualified.

Like most purchasing decisions, factors that will affect your decision would include (not in any order):-

  • Approachability and personality.  Do you feel comfortable with the designer?
  • If you feel comfortable, is this the person you will be dealing with or will you be handballed to a junior once the designer is engaged?
  • Efficiency – turn around time (review the Architect or Consultant’s prior work)
  • What is the Designer’s success rate in obtaining planning permits?
  • Proficiency in design - review the Architect or Consultant’s prior work, especially floor plans to check whether the designs are functional, liveable, take into account solar principles, step down with the land slope,  and are aesthetically pleasing.
  • Does the Designer know the key decision makers at Council as this will help smooth out the process?
  • Does the Designer approach Council prior to submission with the client in order for the client to ascertain whether the Council is happy with the design prior to submission?
  • Obtain a detailed quote and compare with Council’s checklist to ensure that everything is included
  • Does the quote allow for all consultants and work like landscape, property information, planning report, at least 3 shadow diagrams, relocation/re-establishment survey (refer to pitfalls of not obtaining a relocation/re-establishment survey) up front
  • Also just as important find out what is not included in the quote
  • How many sketches will the design provide and how are extra sketches charged?
  • What happens when Council ask for additional information? Is this charged and at what rate?  How long does it take to respond to Council’s request, remembering that each week is costing you interest.
  • Will the Designer check the location of services and is the Designer aware of the cost ramification of relocating any services?
  • Is the Designer happy to see you after hours so that you do not need to take time off work?
  • If you are obtaining quotes from an Architect, do they provide a lump sum or charge on a percentage basis? A lump sum is always better.

What Is A Planning Permit?

A planning permit is a document expressing approval or consent required by a planning scheme or special planning order to be issued by a Council for use or development. A Planning Permit is granted by Council to allow you to use or develop a particular piece of land in your municipality.  Different Planning Permits are required for different uses of the land. In order to obtain a planning permit, an application will need to be lodged to the appropriate local council.

Any proposed use or development should be checked against the planning scheme to determine whether a planning permit is required. If a permit is required, you will need to determine which category applies to that being proposed. A planning scheme can categorise development as either:-

  • Exempt;
  • Permitted;
  • Discretionary; or
  • Prohibited.

It is your responsibility to make sure that you have Council permission for any new buildings, alterations to buildings or changes to the use of land.

When Is A Planning Permit Required?

A Planning Permit may be required for any building work by the local council. This requirement may vary depending on the property’s zoning, overlays or vegetation or heritage protection.

If a building design can comply with the planning requirements it may not require a planning permit.  Obtaining a planning permit is often a lengthy process, but sometimes unavoidable.

In many cases once the application has been submitted to council the project will be advertised to neighbouring properties either by a sign erected at the front of the property and/or letters sent.

What is the Planning Permit Process?

The planning permit process consists of the following stages:-

  • Further information is requested by Council and not received.
  • Preparing and lodging an application.
  • Council checks the application (further information and referrals are sought if necessary).
  • Public notification/advertising (a minimum of 14 days’ notice is given and objections may be received).
  • Community consultation meeting (if deemed necessary).
  • Council officer prepares a report and recommendation.
  • Decision is made.
  • Review by VCAT (if required).

This is a strict process which is set by the State Government. The more steps that the application needs to pass through, the longer the assessment will take.

What is the difference between Building and Planning Permits?

Building and Planning Permits are controlled by two separate Acts of Parliament, namely the Planning & Environment Act 1987 and the Building Act 1993, and administered by separate departments within Council. You may require a permit under one Act only, both Acts or no Act at all.

What is a Building Permit?

A Building Permit is a written permission from a registered Building Surveyor certifying that your plans comply with the Building Regulations and Australian Standards. The Building Surveyor is required to inspect the building works. You must have this Permit before work can begin. You must also have a Demolition Permit to demolish any building.

When are Building Permits required?

The Building Act 1993 requires a building permit to be issued before a person can carry out building work. It is probably easier to list the circumstances under which a building permit is not required. Listed below are some of the exemptions for obtaining a building permit. These include but are not limited to:-

  • Building used only temporarily for the duration of building work for
    • construction purposes; or
    • display purposes
  • Any retaining wall less than 1m in height which is not associated with other building work or with protection work of an adjoining allotment.
  • Building work to repair, reconstruct or renew any part of an existing building, if the work:-
    • Is done for maintenance purposes using similar materials to those being replaced; and
    • Is not underpinning or replacement of footings; and
    • Will not affect the structural soundness of the building; and
    • Will not affect the safety of the public or occupiers of the building.
  • Alterations to a building (other than a swimming pool) if the building work
    • Has a cost of less than $5000 (including the value of all labour and materials); and
    • Will not adversely affect the structural soundness of any building; and
    • Will not adversely affect the safety of the public or occupiers of any building; and
    • Will not project beyond the street alignment; and
    • Is not demolition, removal or re-erection of a building; and
    • Is not work in relation to an item listed in Table 11.2 of the Building Regulations which was required by or under these Regulations or any corresponding previous Regulations to be provided in the building and
    • Is not work carried out on, or in connection with, a building included on the Heritage Register established under the Heritage Act 1995 and
    • Will not involve construction over an easement vested in the council or the authority specified in Regulation 2.4 of the Building Regulations.

How much is my building project going to cost me?

This is the question most frequently asked by our clients. At the commencement of a project it is impossible to provide you an accurate quote without having working drawings and a list of materials, fittings and fixtures.

The total building costs of your new home, extension or renovation can vary considerably depending on the following criteria:-

  • Choice of materials, fittings and fixtures (i.e. bathroom and kitchen tap fittings, tiles, window frames, heating & cooling, lighting).
  • The extent of client involvement (i.e. the client may be willing to perform a number of the building works, such as painting, which will reduce any interest cost).
  • Commencement and duration of the building works (i.e. the project may extend over the Christmas holiday break or during seasonal busy periods, which will add to any interest cost).
  • Seasonal building market conditions (i.e. the number of rain affected days will add to any interest cost).
  • Town planning delays (i.e. delays could potentially add months to your building project, resulting in additional unnecessary costs).
  • Size and competence of the selected building firm or builder (i.e. larger businesses have more overheads and, by necessity, will pass this cost on to you).
  • Each builder will factor in a different profit margin.
  • Soft landscaping.
  • Varying professional fees (i.e. fees charged by your architect or draftsperson, town planner, structural engineer, soil report, building surveyor, etc).
  • Abnormal ground conditions requiring additional site costs (i.e. the need to dig deeper to reach solid ground and so concrete pours will vary).

However, an estimate from a quality building professional can prove extremely useful at this early stage as a guide to what you can spend on your new house, extension or renovation. An estimate can be provided based on floor area rates and building costs from previous projects. It is not possible for a Quantity Surveyor to provide an elemental estimate at this stage due to the preliminary nature of the documentation we have to work with.

If a builder quotes you without the above details, you will need to examine each quote vigilantly to ensure nothing has been omitted. Please be wary of unrealistically low prices as you may become the victim of a budget blow out further into your building project. Base prices for building projects can be inflated with understated 'Optional Extras' once you have signed up.

How much do the Essential Professional Fees for my Project Cost?

All building professionals charge for their services.  Are their service fees competitively priced and their work of a good standard?

For most people, trying to find building professionals is a time-consuming and stressful process. Not knowing who to contact, or what industry standards to expect can lead to costly mistakes and huge delays in the building process. Over years of operations, we have gained a range of typical fees charged by various building professionals.

Here is a broad but typical range of fees for building professionals:-

  • Architect %: fees full service ranged from 10-18% of the building construction costs
  • Architect Lump Sum Fee Planning: $3,000 – $5,000 per unit *
  • Architect Lump Sum Fee Building: $3,000 – $5,000 per unit *
  • Draftsman (depending on town planning involvement):
  • ground floor home extension $2,000– $7,000*
  • upstairs extensions $3,500 – $8,500*
  • new home $3,000 – $8,000*
  • Land Surveyor: $1800 – $2,800*
  • Geotechnical engineer (soil reports): $300 – $550*
  • Town Planner: $2,000 – $6,000*
  • Structural Engineer: $1000 – $1,800 per unit *
  • Building Surveyor: $1,000 – $1,300 per unit*
  • Civil or Drainage Engineer: $1,200 – $2,000*
  • Energy Rating Consultant: $200 – $350 per unit*
  • Landscape Designer: $900 – $1,800*
  • Other authorities such as:-
  • Town Planning fees to local councils
  • Council Building Dispensation Fees
  • Application to build in a flood prone area
  • Application to Build over an Easement
  • Septic Tank Permit
  • Fee for searching for existing Plans from council
  • Registering as an Owner Builder
  • Building and Demolition Permits

Please note that these fees do not include GST and will vary depending on complexity of project, land slope, land shape, density of units, size of units, etc and will vary from professional to professional depending on no of years of experience, size of firm, etc