9 strategies to help get your DA through council
By the Ballast Point team
There’s no doubt that getting a Development Application (DA) through council is often the most uncertain aspect of building or renovating a home. It can be a long, costly and stressful process – more so in some Local Government Areas than others. Obtaining development consent (usually) through the lodgement of a development application with, and its approval by, your local council is a major step in the process that allows you to undertake a development. DAs require applicants to demonstrate that the design complies with a range of local, state and national requirements – from floor space ratios to heritage controls, how the building will affect neighbours, access to sunlight and views, structural integrity, and environmental impacts on the wider community.
We’ve recently got two major renovations across the line in Balmain, and wanted to share our philosophy for DA success and ensuring the best possible outcome for our clients.
1. Patience and perseverance
The DA process can be frustratingly long, taking anywhere from three months to over a year. For this reason, it’s important to be patient. There can be lots of setbacks, and at times it may seem impossible. Sometimes a council seems to sit on a DA for months and months, only to appear to want to tear it down. Our approach is to look at it as though it was a brick wall, and just add one brick at a time. Sometimes council will knock a few off, and you just have to lay them again.
2. Be proactive
While patience IS a virtue, we don’t just sit around waiting. We are actively engaged throughout the process, with regular contact which tells the planner: “hey, we’re still here and we’re not going away!”. We quickly follow up on requests for more information and work with council to address and resolve any neighbours’ objections if required. We also proactively advise our clients around other ways to get a timely and successful result, such as an appointment with our planning solicitor to engage council on our behalf.
It’s crucial that all documentation, such as drawings and measurements, are 100 per cent accurate to reflect not only the proposed development but also the existing conditions. Planning constraints should also be meticulously reviewed and assessed on a case-by-case basis. We use architectural software Archicad and do everything in 3D from the initial survey. Mistakes on drawings are unforgivable — they give the planners at council easy ways to shoot down the proposed DA before it can get a proper look in.
4. Quality documentation
Quality drawings matter. Legendary heritage specialist James Phillips, who heads up Wier Phillips Architects, once told us in a meeting: “Make the drawings beautiful. Show natural colours, make them look real.”
5. Achieving client objectives
If you’ve been in the industry long enough, you will have seen plenty of outcomes that look nothing like the client’s original intent after they’ve been through the DA process, and you end up wondering why they spent $500,000 simply to gain an extra 5 square metres of space! Someone should have told them earlier on that their brief was unreasonable – or they should have gone harder to get their original plans over the line. Many other design firms are scared of a refusal and won’t challenge the council. At Ballast Point, we have the client’s interests in mind at all stages and will call a spade a spade if necessary.
6. Respecting heritage
One of the things we love most about Balmain is its heritage architecture, and the last thing we would want to do is lose any aspects of this. We always endeavour to be respectful of a home’s historic attributes and incorporate them in our designs wherever possible. We always keep the context in mind. Recently, we convinced a client to reinstate a Victorian-era verandah to a home, improving the streetscape. While some councils are very focused on preservation, we believe in conservation. If a property is decrepit and needs to be improved or updated to make it more liveable or functional, and it increases its value, then so be it. You can’t expect everything to stay the same forever.
7. Extended team of quality consultants and advisors
We work with an extended team of heritage, planning and engineering consultants and legal experts, including Steven Griffiths from Bartier Perry Lawyers, to work through any problems that we face. There are a lot of planning rules, including Local Environment Plans and Development Control Plans, we need to be on top of, particularly in heritage conservation areas. The nature of small lots, which are typical in the Balmain area, means that you rarely fit neatly within the tick-a-box planning controls. Therefore, you have to present a merit-based argument for why the scheme should be approved. A good lawyer knows which rules to ignore, bend, and which you simply must comply with in order to get through the DA process. This might mean getting an extra 35 square metres of gross floor area above the prescribed maximum, as we did in a recent project (we were able to cite sound planning grounds to support the variation, of course). Responding to objector concerns and dispelling them in written and oral submissions to the planning panel is also crucial.
8. Experience in getting things done
Naturally, doing something a lot will make you better at getting the job done. We’re now in a groove when it comes to applying for DAs and getting better with each submission. We don’t know it all, and we’re definitely still learning. In the future, we plan to work on improving community engagement. But as a combined design and building company with 15 years’ experience in Sydney’s inner west (and beyond) and intimate knowledge of the local area, we’re well-placed to get the best result for our clients.
9. Know your rights
Sometimes even great design can be opposed by council officers. In the event that this happens, and the DA is headed for refusal, you should be aware of your rights to challenge the decision made by council. These can include an application for a formal review or through an appeal in the Land and Environment Court. Court should always be the last resort. However, in the few instances where we have had no other option but to pursue development consent through the court, we have been successful.