One small step for…

• Darklight Design’s groundbreaking Freo Alternative homes.

FREMANTLE’S trailblazing small housing policy Freo Alternative has just become a real thing, with the first application making it through the council’s planning committee on Wednesday night.

Adam Butcher’s company Darklight Designs got approval to put two 120sqm homes on the rear of 11 Smith Street in Beaconsfield, although it came after vigorous opposition from some neighbours and heated debate between councillors.

Mr Butcher said the quick-fire debate made it difficult to work out if he’d actually got approval, but he was encouraged to see councillors striving to get the policy right.

Solar arrays

“It’s extremely thorough,” he said of Freo Alternative, “which creates a scenario which is pushing good design outcomes – which is not all that common in a lot councils to be honest.

“It was a lengthy process and there were a lot of steps to get through to this approval.”

Mr Butcher says adhering to the policy had meant some costs were pushed up, but he still believes the two homes will qualify as affordable. His design goes beyond many industry standards, such as the 5kW solar arrays, which he says are more likely to pay for themselves over their lifetime.

The timber-framed buildings achieve a 7.4 star energy rating and come with extensive north-facing outdoor areas. Mr Butcher says their mix of cladding uses traditional Fremantle styles but in a modern context.

Councillor Rachel Pemberton, who’s championed the Freo Alternative, called the approval a “good step in the right direction”.

“While we’re not seeing the diversity we’d hoped for, we are getting a far better outcome than business as usual,” Cr Pemberton said. A second application for a four-dwelling development under the Freo Alternative was also considered by the committee last night but was knocked-back.

The proponents, Green Swing Pty Ltd, are trying to create a “co-housing community” around a communal kitchen/bathroom/laundry, but that pushed the two-storey homes to the boundaries, which councillors felt was a bit unfair on the neighbours.

“Both applications include substantial trees and plantings across the block and will achieve a much higher sustainability rating,” Cr Pemberton said.

“The business as usual alternative is likely to be battle axe development with project homes that cover most of the lot with hard surfaces and virtually no vegetation.”

But it was the loss of mature trees that generated much of the debate around the Smith Street development.

Neighbour Sally Lowry spoke against the development, saying it would see the end of a 50-year-old tree that’s home to about a dozen pairs of nesting birds.

Ms Lowry complained that the existing house on the block, which is to be retained, is already being used for disruptive short-term accommodation, and more cars will create chaos.

“This isn’t the outcome that the Freo alternative was striving for, it’s just an opportunistic grab by an investor,” she said.

Mr Butcher said it wasn’t possible to retain the existing tree, but there are deep planting zones in the development and they would find an alternative.

by STEVE GRANT

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