How Playoust Churcher tackles the heritage DA process… and wins

They are two words that send a shiver down any potential home builder’s or renovator’s spine… ‘development application‘.

Then you add the word ‘heritage’ to the equation and those shivers go to a whole other level.

No one gets a heritage DA through council, right? Wrong!

At Playoust Churcher, we’ve been there and done that with so many clients… and we’ve developed a process that gets results.

Heritage 101

If you are confused about the difference between a heritage listing and a conservation area, then you aren’t alone.

Here is a quick rundown.

A heritage conservation area is an area that a local council has identified as having historical or aesthetic value to the local area.

Controls are placed on development of all properties in the area to ensure that any works don’t significantly alter the character of the area.

A heritage item is a property that has been individually recognised for the heritage value it adds to the local area. Depending on the local council, the controls on a heritage listing will vary.

Just because your home is situated in a heritage conservation area or has been listed as a heritage item doesn’t mean that you can’t undertake work… you just have to be smart about how you do it.

Common misconceptions

We’ve been working as North Shore architects for decades… and we’ve seen and heard it all when it comes to the heritage DA process.

So often clients are caught out making a big investment in a home design that then falls over when it gets to council because their architect hasn’t done their research.

Here are a few of the more common misconceptions…

Misconception: My house is in a conservation zone, but it’s not heritage listed so it should be okay to do major renovations.

Reality: Even if your house isn’t listed as a heritage house, the fact that it is listed in a conservation area means that many of the same zoning controls apply. If your house is next door to a heritage house, this can also add further controls.

Misconception: Another house on my street had major renovations a few years ago, so there is a precedence.

Reality: Codes can and do change… so while the work your neighbour did to their house may have been acceptable under an old code, you may have new zoning controls that you will need to comply with.

Misconception: When we bought the house, it wasn’t in a conservation zone, so we don’t need to be concerned about the DA process.

Reality: Councils do create additional conservation zones from time to time so you need to look at the zoning for your house at the current point in time.

What council wants

“We’ve done some exciting design for our clients and council has been very supportive. Protecting the heritage doesn’t need to be dull design. Council is looking for design that is sensitive to the building and its surroundings,” explains Brett Churcher, Playoust Churcher Managing Director.

Council isn’t trying to cause you heartache by being oppositional and difficult… it is their job to preserve the character of the area. By understanding the zoning controls and approaching the process with a degree of flexibility, you can still have a highly successful outcome.

Council will do a heritage valuation on your home to determine how much it contributes to the value of the heritage area. Conservation areas are tightly controlled: the streetscape, building height, bulk, how homes look when viewed – not only from the street but from the surrounding houses, especially if those surrounding houses are heritage items.

In our experience, councils want to see good design. They want to preserve the environmental heritage of the area and enhance it with clever and unique design that respects the history and character of the region.

“As long as we show the original building as it is from the streetscape and show a clear link between the old and the new, they are open to more exciting design,” says Brett.

For the heritage renovation design we completed for Michaela and Simon Brady, we negotiated the balance between the needs and wants of the family with the heritage requirements of the council.

Through the design process we were still able to achieve a five bedroom home with many of the features that facilitate modern family living, while still showing respect to the character of the area.

In the Brady home this took the form of a new addition that was not visible from the street – a big concern when renovating in a heritage area – and a garage that was lowered and tucked in behind the existing building to avoid a wide garage that would typically fall outside of the heritage guidelines.

The heritage DA process

Firstly, don’t despair, because there are options when it comes to the heritage DA process.

Being in a conservation zone doesn’t mean you will have to give up your wish list or abandon your plans altogether. We have a tried and tested process that has worked time and time again for our clients…

…and that process starts before we even put pencil to paper to start designing your home. There is no point in getting you excited about a design that ultimately will never happen.

Instead, we take our depth of knowledge about the zoning controls and match that with what you want from your home.

The Bradys appreciated that we took the time through every step of the process.

“From the early design stage with our plans, Brett and John did a great job of getting us to a design that we loved that also met the conservation zoning controls we were limited by. They handled everything in the DA process and really took the burden off us.”

The next step is to engage council early with a pre-DA. Early engagement with a heritage consultant ensures we can work through any restrictions or objections before you have invested too much time and money in your dream home.

When it comes time to submit the DA, your paperwork is already on file with council and the whole process is much smoother.

“Whenever council had a concern or objection, Brett and John were there to answer that and proactively come up with solutions for us that were really in line with what we wanted.

We were willing to be flexible, which did help. When they suggested things, we made small changes… and making those small changes helped us to get the majority of what we wanted in our final design.”

Teamwork makes the dream work

At Playoust Churcher we take a team approach to the heritage DA process – like we do with all of our work – because that’s how we get results.

Like in Michaela and Simon’s case, we take a flexible approach to get the best result.

Going into council with all guns blazing, you aren’t going to get a positive approach. And even if you do get the result you are after, it will be a much longer, more painful and drawn-out process.

Teamwork is the way to get results… when the client, architect and council work together the results can be phenomenal.

You really can’t assume anything when it comes to working with heritage and conservation zoning… but that’s what we find exciting. It’s not a formula design and we need to be skilled in working with all of the constraints while still meeting the client’s brief.

Contact us if you have concerns about building your dream home in a conservation or heritage zone and want to speak with an experienced North Shore architect.

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11 Marian Street
Killara NSW 2071

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