A helping hand for housing diversity

Proposed changes to state planning rules could kick-start delivery of housing’s missing middle, unlocking well located sites for medium-density development.

We’re pleased to see more action on housing delivery with the Diverse and well-located homes policy from the NSW Dept. Planning & Environment which proposes changes to permitted development types in residential zones close to public transport and other amenities.  

Along with the pattern-book design guide recently proposed by the State Government, this could usher in the gradual evolution of low-density suburbs into walkable, well-serviced ‘soft density’, areas much like Sydney’s desirable urban enclaves of Glebe, Newtown and Paddington. 

While a lot of development focus has been on higher density zones – which are relatively rare – these proposals seek to unlock the potential of well-located low- and medium-density zones (which cover more areas) and could deliver well-designed terrace or duplex style homes in low density suburbs with very little impact.  

The proposal will also simplify the planning process to deliver appropriately scaled, well designed medium density housing up to six storeys in Medium Density Residential (R3) zones within 10 minutes’ walking distance of public transport and amenities. Currently what’s permitted development in these zones is, at most, terrace style housing, which in density terms is on the low side of medium.   

This is good policy that acknowledges the gap between single detached dwellings on the one hand, and high-rise apartment towers on the other. The changes will help speed up the delivery of different housing types – the missing middle – that so many architects, including AJC, have been advocating for years about. 

Under construction: Delano by AJC in Crows Nest steps up and down with different housing types to mediate between a heritage residential area and the nerby commerical centres and transport hub.
Under construction: Delano by AJC mediates between a heritage residential area and nearby commercial centre.

Case in point 

Had these controls been in force a few years ago, AJC  could have delivered Delano, our medium-density housing project developed by Lindsay Bennelong next to Crows Nest town centre and less that 400 metres from the soon-to-open Crows Nest Metro station, with 74 apartments and 8 townhouses, two years earlier as a permitted development type, rather than having to go through the lengthy (2-year) rezoning process. That would have meant that people could have been living in these homes right now in 2023. Instead, due to the lengthy planning process, construction has only just begun.  

Think about the extra costs that involved for everyone in those two years – from the developer to the purchaser. And for what? Delano is designed to be good neighbour. It’s designed to mediate between the medium-density residential area to the south and east, up to the Crows Nest and St Leonards town centres to the west – currently undergoing significant redevelopment around the existing train station and new Sydney Metro station, due to open in 2024. 

To do this, Delano transitions in scale and height from its maximum of six storeys (closest to Crows Nest) stepping down to four storeys along Falcon Street, and two storeys (plus loft) along the rear lane. Its massing, materiality and detailing are carefully controlled to fit comfortably in its surrounds, with urban strategies that enhance the environmental and amenity outcomes for the area.  

The terrace row at Delano by AJC is a fine grain response to the heritage residential neighbourhood.

Its lower scale apartment block and townhouses are set around a big ‘urban backyard’ in the centre of the site, which continues the predominant green verge along the Falcon Street block, while the six-storey blocks are set around a landscaped courtyard with common spaces off the street to create a quiet focal point. 

And because Delano adjoins a heritage conservation area, the building form was modulated to retain solar access to the backyards of houses across the rear lane. Townhouses and lower scale apartments with landscaped setbacks have been included along the lane to enhance and reinforce the neighbourhood residential character of the lane and improve amenity for pedestrians – the lane is a popular shortcut to Crows Nest town centre. 

The stepped form of the apartment blocks also allowed us to create beautiful roof terraces for many apartments, with views across tree canopy and rooftops of this lovely heritage area. It’s a great example of providing amenity for both the whole neighbourhood and for residents of the building. 

Under construction: Eton Road Townhouses in Lindfield by AJC will bring garden amenity to urban housing.

The definition of multi dwelling housing from the North Sydney and Inner West LEP’s for example, means three or more dwellings (whether attached or detached) on one lot of land, each with access at ground level, but does not include a residential flat building.

Another example of diverse, quality housing that we have currently under construction is the Eton Road project in Lindfield. This innovative scheme comprises a four-storey building of 61 double-stacked two-storey maisonettes surrounding a central garden common. The lower-level maisonettes are essentially townhouses with ground-level courtyards, and the upper-level maisonettes (called skyhomes) all have private lifts and generous private garden terraces, giving them the same convenience and feel as a ground-level townhouse.

The proposed changes will facilitate more of this type of well located urban housing, and we thank that’s a great thing!

Read about the policy changes.

Read the government comments.

By Brian Mariotti

This is good policy that acknowledges the gap between single detached dwellings on the one hand, and high-rise apartment towers on the other - the illusive 'missing middle'. Currently what’s permitted development in these zones is, at most, terrace style housing, which in density terms is on the low side of medium.

AJC Director, Brian Mariotti