While media reports on the Unitary Plan are perhaps finally starting to be a little more balanced in terms of telling both sides of the story (particularly pointing out that some people quite like the idea of intensification) there’s still a whole heap of scaremongering going about. In a previous post Patrick highlighted that the Unitary Plan might not actually be as much change from the ‘status quo’ as people think – because existing planning documents actually provide for a pretty much amount of development potential. In this post I’m going to look at what the Unitary Plan does to ensure development is of a good quality – particularly development through intensification.
First stop is to look at the zones proposed in the Unitary Plan – a wide variety of them are shown in the image below:
A key for the residential and business zones is included below to make more sense out of the map above:Since people seem to get obsessed with height limits let’s look at the non-industrial zones and sort them into two camps – those that provide for development up to two levels and those that provide for development over two levels:
Up to two levels:
- Single House Zone
- Mixed Housing Zone
Over two levels:
- Centres (neighbourhood, local, town and metropolitan) zones
- Mixed Use Zone
- Terraced House and Apartment Building Zone
Keep in mind that neighbourhood centres can only go to three levels, local centres and most town centres to four levels. Most of the Terraced House and Apartment Building and Mixed Use Zone can also only go up to four levels.
Working our way from lowest intensity to highest intensity, it’s probably fair to say that the Single House zone is probably not going to scare too many horses at its 1:500 square metre density limit and there’s relatively little in terms of required urban design controls beyond the normal height-to-boundary and site coverage rules. The Mixed Housing Zone has an interesting approach to ensuring quality outcomes in this zone (which only allows developments of up to two levels as a reminder). Effectively it’s almost two zones in one depending on the size and shape of the site you have:
- If your site is under 1200 square metres or narrower than 20 m across then you can do one dwelling per 300 square metres as a permitted activity as long as you comply with fairly typical planning controls. This effectively means that you can do a little bit of intensification (most current plans have their standard residential zone at a density of around one dwelling per 400 square metres) without having to go through too strenuous a process.
- If your site is over 1200 square metres and wide enough then the aforementioned density limits don’t apply. However, for any development of four or more units you need to get a resource consent from the start of the process just to develop. That consent application will be assessed against a pretty wide variety of matters to ensure it’s good quality.
The assessment criteria for a larger development in the Mixed Housing zone include a pretty wide variety of matters. Click on the link for the diagrams.
4. Development design
Responding to neighbourhood character in the Mixed Housing zone
a. Dwellings should be designed and located to respect and complement the amenity of the surrounding neighbourhood.
b. The alignment, form and location of dwellings should avoid contrasting significantly with the established urban pattern of development in the zone. Methods to achieve this may include:
i. modulating or separating buildings into smaller groups of buildings as illustrated below in Figure 7 below.
ii. transitioning the form and placement of dwellings as illustrated in Figure 8 below.\
Responding to historic heritage and historic character
d. Development adjoining or across a road from an identified historic character area should be designed and located to respect rather than replicate the prevailing character of the area. Notwithstanding this, new and contemporary interpretations in form and detail may be used.
e. Development adjoining or across a road from scheduled historic heritage places should be designed and located to respect rather than replicate the key historic heritage design and location elements of that building. Notwithstanding this, new and contemporary designs may be used.
Topography and site orientation
f. The topography, size and proportions of the site should be suitable to accommodate the housing type proposed. In particular, additional infill or multi-unit development on steep land or narrow sites is strongly discouraged unless sites are carefully designed to optimise on-site amenity values and complement the surrounding neighbourhood landform.
g. Building platforms, outdoor living spaces, car parking areas and driveways should be located and designed to respond to the natural landform and site orientation in an integrated manner.
Earthworks and retaining
h. Earthworks should be minimised and retaining avoided where possible. However, where retaining or earthworks are required they should be incorporated as a positive landscape or site feature by:
i. integrating retaining as part of the building design
ii. stepping and landscaping earthworks or retaining over 1m in height, to avoid dominance or overshadowing effects
iii. ensuring all earthworks or retaining visible to the public, including neighbours, is attractively designed and incorporates modulation, landscaping and quality materials to provide visual interest
Natural features and landscaping
i. The site layout should be designed to integrate and retain significant natural features including trees, streams, views and ecological areas.
j. Site landscaping should be located and designed to:
i. assist with blending new developments with the surrounding streetscape and/or any adjacent public open space
ii. allow the planting of large trees of at least 15m in height/8m-diameter root zone/and canopy zone clear of structures and impermeable surfaces at maturity
iii. enhance energy efficiency and stormwater management, including shading and swale systems
iv. enhance site amenity and improve privacy between dwellings.
Variation in building form
k. Development should be designed to avoid long unrelieved building mass and excessive bulk and scale. Building mass should be broken up into visually distinct building forms by the use of physical separation, variations in building height and building materials.
l. Blank walls should be avoided on all building frontages to streets, accessways and public open spaces. Side or rear walls should be designed to provide interest in the facade including modulation, relief or surface detailing.
m. Quality, durable and easily maintained materials should be used on the façade of dwellings, particularly at street level.
n. Plant, exhaust, intake units and other mechanical and electrical equipment located on the roof of a building should be integrated into the overall design and be contained in as few structures as possible.
o. For larger scale developments:
i. the mechanical repetition of unit types should be avoided
ii. balconies should be designed as an integral part of the building and a predominance of cantilevered balconies should be avoided
iii. internal access to apartments is encouraged.
p. Dwellings should be located, proportioned and orientated within a site to maximise the amenity of future residents by:
i. clearly defining communal, semi-private and private areas within the development
ii. maximising passive solar access while balancing the need for dwellings to front the street
iii. Providing for natural cross ventilation by window openings facing different directions.
q. Developments of 10 or more dwellings should provide a range of dwelling sizes and types, including dwellings with different numbers of bedrooms.
And that’s just in relation to the development’s design! There are further detailed assessment criteria which relate to how development interfaces with the public realm, about the design and location of parking and then further detail on dwelling design:
7. Dwelling design
Internal layout of dwellings
a. Dwellings should be designed to provide a good standard of internal amenity by providing adequate circulation space around standard sized household furniture. The ADM illustrates possible ways of achieving this.
Outdoor living space
b. Private outdoor living space should balance the need to achieve the following, in order of priority:
i. be located to maximise sunlight access
ii. be sheltered from the prevailing wind
iii. be located to take advantage of any views or outlook from or within the site.
Communal outdoor living space
c. Any communal open spaces should be designed to:
i. provide an attractive, functional and high quality outdoor environment
ii. be conveniently accessible to all residents
iii. maximise winter sunlight access.
d. Additionally, communal open space at ground or lower levels should:
i. be designed to be overlooked by the principal living rooms and balconies of dwellings to enhance safety
ii. locate within the site to form a focus of the development.
e. The size of the communal outdoor living space should be adequate for the number of people the development is designed to accommodate.
f. Appropriate management and maintenance systems should be provided for communal outdoor living space dependent on the scale of development and the extent of communal access to ensure it is available for all residents of the development.
Remember that any development beyond the basic 1 unit per 300 square metres will be assessed against all these criteria in the Mixed Housing Zone.
Stepping up to the Terraced Housing and Apartment Building (THAB) zone, all the same criteria apply as per above, with the addition of the following:
Responding to neighbourhood character in the Terraced Housing and Apartment Buildings zone
c. Dwellings should be designed to complement the planned future form and character of the surrounding neighbourhood.
Any development (yes ANY development) in the THAB zone needs a resource consent and will be assessed against these criteria. The chance of “crap” apartments getting through such a detailed list of criteria seems absolutely minuscule.
For the centres zones and the Mixed Use zone, the situation is relatively similar to the THAB zone in that ANY development needs a resource consent and will be assessed against a pretty lengthy list of criteria – including the following in relation to design, layout, parking etc:
6. Development design
a. The design of buildings should contribute to the local streetscape and sense of place by responding to the planned future form and character of the surrounding area and significant natural landforms and landscape features.
b. Buildings should be designed to avoid long, unrelieved frontages and excessive bulk and scale when viewed from streets and public open spaces. Building mass should be visually broken up into distinct elements to reflect a human scale and the typical pattern of development in the area. Techniques include the use of recesses, variation in building height and roof form, horizontal and vertical rhythms and facade modulation and articulation.
c. Buildings should be designed to differentiate ground, middle and upper levels.
d. Blank walls should be avoided on all levels of building frontages to streets and public open spaces. Side or rear walls should be used as an opportunity to introduce creative architectural solutions that provide interest in the façade including modulation, relief or surface detailing.
e. Buildings should provide a variety of architectural detail at ground and middle levels including maximising the use of entrances, and windows and balconies overlooking the streets and public open spaces.
f. Roof profiles should be designed as part of the overall building form and contribute to the architectural quality of the skyline as viewed from both ground level and the surrounding area. This includes integrating plant, exhaust and intake units and other mechanical and electrical equipment into the overall rooftop design.
g. In the Metropolitan Centre zone, the silhouette of the building as viewed from distant locations should positively contribute to the centre’s skyline.
h. Where the proposed development is an extension or alteration to an existing building, it should be designed with consideration to the architecture to the original building.
i. Buildings on corner sites should consider the relationship to other buildings and open spaces on opposite and adjacent corner sites and make a positive contribution to the architectural quality of the street.
j. Colour variation and landscaping, without the use of other design techniques, should not be used to mitigate a lack of building articulation or design quality.
k. Ground floor glazing should fully integrate with the design of upper levels.
l. Buildings should use quality, durable and easily maintained materials and finishes on the facade, particularly at street level.
m. Servicing elements should be avoided on building facades unless integrated into the facade design.
n. Where provided, signage should be designed as an integrated part of the building facade.
o. For residential development:
i. the unrelieved repetition of unit types should be avoided
ii. balconies should be designed as an integral part of the building. A predominance of cantilevered balconies should be avoided
iii. apartments above ground floor should be accessed from internal corridors or entrance ways. External walkways / breezeways should generally be avoided.
p. Buildings should not use reflective materials that would adversely affect safety, pedestrian amenity or the amenity of surrounding properties.
7. Building interface with the public realm
a. Buildings should have clearly defined public fronts that address the street and public open spaces to positively contribute to the public realm and pedestrian safety.
b. Pedestrian entrances should be located on the street frontage and be clearly identifiable and conveniently accessible from the street.
c. Separate pedestrian entrances should be provided for residential uses within mixed use buildings.
d. Activities that engage and activate streets and public open spaces are encouraged at ground and first floor levels.
e. Internal space at all levels within buildings should be designed to maximise outlook onto street and public open spaces.
f. Through-site links are supported where they integrate with the existing or planned public realm and pedestrian network. They should be:
i. publicly accessible and attractive
ii. be design to provide a high level of pedestrian safety.
8. Design of car parking, access and servicing
a. Car parking should be located in order of preference, underground, to the rear of the building or separated from the street frontage by uses that activate the street.
b. Surface car parking should be softened with landscaping, including tree planting. As a guide, one tree should be planted every sixth car parking bay.
c. Ventilation and fumes from car parking structures or other uses should not be vented into the adjacent pedestrian environment at ground level.
d. Vehicle crossings and access ways should prioritise pedestrian movement and in particular be:
i. designed to reduce vehicle speed and be visually attractive
ii. clearly separated from pedestrian access.
e. The design of pedestrian routes between car parking areas, building entrances/lobbies and the street should be accessible by people of all ages and physical abilities and provide a high level of pedestrian safety.
f. In greenfield locations and large redevelopment sites, service lanes should be provided within urban blocks to allow access to the rear of buildings and to minimise gaps in the streetscape.
g. Where ramps are necessary they should be minimal in length and integrated into the design of the building.
h. For commercial activities, suitable provision should be made for on-site rubbish storage and sorting of recyclable materials that:
i. is a sufficient size to accommodate the rubbish generated by the proposed activity
ii. is accessible for rubbish collection. Kerbside collection is generally not appropriate.
iii. for new buildings, is located within the building
iv. for alterations or additions to existing buildings where it is not possible to locate the storage area within the building, is located in an area not visible from the street or public open spaces.
i. The development must be able to be adequately served by wastewater and transport infrastructure.
9. Internal layout and on-site amenities for dwellings, visitor accommodation and boarding houses
a. Dwellings should be located, proportioned and orientated within a site to maximise the amenity of future residents by:
i. clearly defining communal, semi-communal and private areas within a development
ii. maximising passive solar access while balancing the need for buildings to front the street
iii. providing for natural cross-ventilation by window openings facing different directions.
b. Dwellings should be designed to provide a good standard of internal amenity by providing adequate circulation space around standard sized household furniture. The Auckland Design Manual illustrates possible ways of achieving this.
c. Adequate storage space for larger items such as bikes, gardening and cleaning equipment, should be provided either within each dwelling or within the building containing the dwellings.
d. Common areas within buildings containing dwellings, visitor accommodation and boarding houses should be designed to be accessible by people of all ages and physical abilities, in particular, by providing corridors and circulation spaces of sufficient dimension to allow ease of movement and minimising stairs where possible. For dwellings in particular, common areas within the building and the dwelling itself should allow for standard household furniture to be easily moved in and out. Refer to the Auckland Design Manual.
e. Visitor accommodation and boarding houses should be designed to achieve a reasonable standard of internal amenity. Consideration will be given to:
i. any specific internal design elements that facilitate the more efficient use of internal space
ii. the relationship of windows or balconies to principal living rooms
iii. the provision of larger indoor or outdoor living spaces whether communal or exclusive to the unit, especially in units that are not self-contained.
Perhaps to summarise all this, it seems that the Unitary Plan is something of a “double edged sword” when it comes to intensification. It potentially allows a lot of growth and intensification, but it seems to set a really high bar in terms of requirements for a proposal to be consented while also requiring an unusually high proportion of developments to go through the consenting process. Generally I think this is an excellent approach: to say to developers that there’s a lot of potential here but to unlock that potential you’re going to need to build some great stuff.