Approaching a dual occupancy STCA

Q: What’s involved from a planning perspective when it comes to a dual occupancy? Can any block of a decent size be split STCA?

A: We’ve all seen it in Melbourne and further afield. Those wonderful visions of hope and promised riches found on property sales boards, seductively whispering those four magical words – subject to council approval (STCA).


This could be better described as the ‘get out of jail free’ clause of real estate agents everywhere.

Just like a snowflake, every property is unique and different. Planning controls that apply to one house may not apply to the place next door. Local policies that allow five units to be built on a block in the next street may not apply to your property. And sadly, precedent arguments do not win against planning controls.

‘Splitter blocks’ as they are sometimes known – especially in Queensland – are commonly defined as parcels of land greater than 800 square metres that can be subdivided into multi-unit development sites. In the broader Australian context, my advice applies to blocks of land greater than 600 square metres in the inner suburbs and proposed for redevelopment.

Several important considerations need to be assessed before you purchase a site that looks suitable for a multi-unit development proposal.

Firstly, there are no set controls that dictate the minimum lot size for a multi-unit development, however several important planning controls need to be considered that protect the amenity of surrounding properties. These include minimum setbacks, height limits, overshadowing, overlooking and the provision of car spaces. These controls are variable and based on the specific controls and conditions that relate to your site.

A rule of thumb we use in Melbourne is a minimum lot size of 300 square metres for multi-unit development in a typical middle suburb. Therefore, if you had a large 910-square-metre property, you could use three double-storey townhouses as a good starting point.

Of course, our job as town planners and architects is to maximise your development potential, so we would identify opportunities to increase that to four, five or six townhouses on this site, achieved through a range of clever planning and design treatments.

The best approach when you’re first assessing the feasibility of your next development is to engage a planner to complete a property development assessment. This acts like a SWOT (strengths, weakness, opportunities, threats) analysis.

It pays to do your due diligence to identify the best development strategy for you. Not every block can be split. I’d recommend you put in place an experienced team of planners, architects and builders that can move your application through the process efficiently and effectively.

This article first appeared for Australian Property Investor Magazine