Projects & expertise | 22 May 2024

Can I subdivide my land? A comprehensive guide for Victorian landowners

Subdividing land in Victoria involves navigating a complex landscape of regulations, site-specific factors and local council preferences and policies. With so many factors at play and a myriad of potential issues, it’s important to engage with professionals early in the process. This can help evaluate the feasibility of your land and set your project up for success. 

We talked to our Senior Associate | Land Development Advisory, Duncan van Rooyen, to answer your most pressing questions about subdivisions. 

How do zones and overlays impact my land?

Planning scheme zoning and overlay provisions significantly impact subdivision feasibility, especially as they may vary from street to street, and council to council. Numerous zones and overlays can affect a property, each with specific requirements and challenges. 

Each zone has its own development allowances and restrictions. Common zones include: 

  • Neighbourhood Residential Zone (NRZ) 
  • General Residential Zone (GRZ) 
  • Mixed Use Zone (MUZ) 
  • Residential Growth Zone (RGZ) 
  • Low Density Residential Zone (LDRZ) 
  • Green Wedge Zone, or Green Wedge A Zone 
  • Rural Conservation Zone (RCZ) 
  • Urban Floodway Zone (UFZ). 

Overlays can add complexity or opportunity, depending on the project. Common overlays include:

  • Design and Development Overlay (DDO)
  • Bushfire Management Overlay (BMO)
  • Environmental Significance Overlay (ESO)
  • Public Acquisition Overlay (PAO)
  • Special Building Overlay (SBO)
  • Significant Landscape Overlay (SLO)
  • Heritage Overlay (HO)
  • Erosion Management Overlay (EMO)
  • Vegetation Protection Overlay (VPO).

Knowing what these zones and overlays mean is integral for subdividing a property. They can sometimes even dictate development constraints such as minimum lot sizes.  

Duncan shares the importance of understanding these overlays: 

The ‘significant landscape overlay’ is one of the most common ones, often requiring a permit to remove trees over five metres tall.  
It’s up to the council whether they will allow a tree to be removed or not. In their decision, they’ll consider factors like its size, species, health, location and more. If a council doesn’t permit the removal, then the tree may directly hinder the development of a subdivision.  
So, it’s important to consider the overlays in conjunction with an existing lot to pre-emptively pick up potential issues for a subdivision.  

Overlays and zones can sometimes contradict each other, adding another layer of complexity. For instance, a property may have both a VPO and a BMO. While the VPO aims to protect trees and leave them intact, the BMO may necessitate their removal for fire safety.  

Trees themselves can be significant roadblocks, especially if they’re on neighbouring properties, as tree protection zones don’t stop at the title boundary. Local laws may also require permits for tree removal, like Boroondara’s Tree Protection Local Law Permit.   

For these reasons, it’s important to consult an expert for your subdivision project, as they can help spot these issues before you begin.  

What must be considered on my lot?

Beyond zoning and overlays, there are many aspects that influence the feasibility of a subdivision. These include: 

  • Covenants: Hidden restrictions on the property may exist, displayed on the property title as an ‘encumbrance’. These specific limitations might restrict the number of dwellings, building materials, building heights, landscaping requirements or architectural styles.   
  • Trees and vegetation: Significant trees or designated VPOs or SLOs can significantly impact your subdivision layout. Removing large trees may require permits, while preserving them may necessitate creative lot design solutions.  
  • Slope: Steep inclines can pose planning and engineering challenges and increase construction costs due to the need for earthworks or specialised building techniques. 
  • Lot shape: Irregularly shaped lots can make subdivision plans difficult. With thoughtful planning and creative design, even oddly shaped properties can be effectively subdivided.  
An example of a rectangular lot shape – much more regular, making a subdivision easier to complete. 

How does council impact the subdivision process?

Understanding the specific council area, you’re working in is crucial. Having established relationships with council members can significantly streamline the subdivision process.  

The potential to subdivide is often determined by local experience – considering what was successful in the past and what the council is likely to endorse.  

Duncan emphasises the importance of early engagement.  

It’s important to engage with the council very early on in the process. This helps address any potential issues from the outset, minimising the chance of a subdivision being denied and going to VCAT. 

Individual councils have their own schedule to zones, with specific requirements that can override state-mandated zones. These schedules might restrict subdivisions altogether, introduce height limitations or dictate minimum lot sizes.  

This, together with local laws and state zoning and overlays, must be considered holistically for any potential subdivision.  

While this understanding of individual councils is beneficial, any individual lot, regardless of council, will have its own restrictions, benefits and challenges. Your advisor needs to have a full understanding of all aspects of the development subdivision process.  

What can further impact my subdivision?

When considering your subdivision project, a land development advisor will consider various aspects.  

Nature of subdivisions in the area

If there aren’t many subdivisions in your area, it might be due to restrictive zoning, unsuitable land sizes, overlays or a generally unsupportive council.  

On the other hand, if there are lots of subdivisions, then gaining council approval to subdivide may not be an issue. However, if these subdivisions occurred many years ago, the situation might be different now – as planning regulations and schemes are regularly updated.   

Neighbourhood character

Successfully integrating your subdivision into the existing neighbourhood character is a high priority for councils. This is subjective and might include subjective factors such as architectural styles, building materials and overall density. 

Objections from neighbours

Unfortunately, objections may be received from neighbours who oppose a subdivision, which is beyond the control of any advisor or client. When residents object to a proposed subdivision, different councils have different processes for dealing with it. An experienced land development consultant can help guide you through this – but an upset neighbour can sometimes put your plans to a halt.  

Taking a tailored approach

It’s important to take a tailored approach to each subdivision project, as there are many aspects to consider. This includes the slope, orientation, size, proximity to services, drainage and water, trees and neighbourhood character.  

No two subdivisions are ever the same – just as no two sites are ever the same.

I don’t think I’ve ever worked on a ‘perfect’ site; there’s always something that can happen. Whether it’s the land itself or the neighbours objecting, having experience with this helps navigate any difficulties that arise.

What do I need to do for a subdivision?

Undertaking a subdivision is a big investment – not just of money, but time and effort.

While a land development consultant can help ease headaches and lead your project, you will still need to arrange certain aspects. This includes any civil works or contractors for work on the property, such as driveways, drainage, excavation or demolitions.

At Millar Merrigan, you aren’t left on your own. We can provide suggestions and contacts for contractors in your area.

How does the current market and politics affect me?

Understanding the current land development landscape is crucial when considering a subdivision.

Subdivisions and densification of existing suburbs are key to meeting the Victorian government’s ambitious target of providing 800,000 homes in the next decade. Recent changes to planning legislation, including the streamlining of assessments and initiatives like the Small Second Housing provisions, aim to boost housing supply and hopefully ease headaches that a subdivision project can bring.

With new government initiatives, subdivisions should become more streamlined in coming years.

Shifts in politics can bring changes to regulations or public sentiment. This can further impact a project’s feasibility – and the impact these changes make cannot be known until after they occur 

Melbourne is a much-valued, liveable city, with an ever-increasing population. Even those who have previously opposed such densification developments, known as not-in-my-backyarders (NIMBYs), are increasingly recognising and acknowledging the positives that infill development brings.

For someone like Duncan, half of his day is spent looking at properties and advising clients on their potential and areas of concern.  

With over 20 years of experience, he’s well-positioned to provide the best advice and resources for your next subdivision project. You don’t need much to get started – just your address and a copy of your title.  

At Millar Merrigan, we have over five decades in the business and have completed countless subdivisions throughout Victoria. It’s important that you set up your project for success with a company that has years of experience and a wealth of knowledge.  

Get in touch with our team of experts or contact Duncan directly with an email or a quick phone call on 8720 9500.  

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