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Group homes - planning requirements

A group home is a private residence model of health care for those with complex health needs. Traditionally, the model has been used for children or young people who cannot live with their families, people with chronic disabilities who may be adults or seniors, or people with dementia and related aged illnesses. Typically, there are no more than six residents, and there is at least one trained caregiver there 24 hours a day.

Group homes have become an important type of development in recent decades in NSW, as we have moved away from a more institutional approach of care, separated from the community, to housing people with physical and mental disabilities living within the community.

Planning approvals for group homes is an important part of the NSW planning system and this post explains the process in detail. There is a definition in the standard LEP of group homes, which breaks them up into "permanent group homes" and "transitional group homes". The definition of these is as follows:

group home (permanent) or permanent group home means a dwelling:

(a)  that is occupied by persons as a single household with or without paid supervision or care and whether or not those persons are related or payment for board and lodging is required, and

(b)  that is used to provide permanent household accommodation for people with a disability or people who are socially disadvantaged,

group home (transitional) or transitional group home means a dwelling:

(a)  that is occupied by persons as a single household with or without paid supervision or care and whether or not those persons are related or payment for board and lodging is required, and

(b)  that is used to provide temporary accommodation for the relief or rehabilitation of people with a disability or for drug or alcohol rehabilitation purposes, or that is used to provide half-way accommodation for persons formerly living in institutions or temporary accommodation comprising refuges for men, women or young people,

As can be seen above, the difference between the two categories is relatively simple, with permanent group homes being essentially a permanent residence for people with a disability or who are socially disadvantaged whereas a transitional group home is a temporary residence catering for uses such as drug rehabilitation or former prisoners. The planning process for both types of group home are relatively similar.

Group homes are listed in the zoning table of most Council LEPs. They are typically permitted in most residential zones. There may be provisions for the design of a group home in a Council Development Control Plan, although given that they are a relatively niche use, this is often not the case, so it can be a good idea to follow Council DCP controls for the design of a dwelling house as an alternative. Many group homes are designed to look no different to a normal house from the street and this is good practice.

Group homes also have the advantage of State Environmental Policy (Affordable Rental Housing) 2009. The policy has the advantage of overriding local planning controls, making it easier to construct group homes in some cases.

The policy provides that a group home in any of the following zones:

(i)  Zone R1 General Residential,

(ii)  Zone R2 Low Density Residential,

(iii)  Zone R3 Medium Density Residential,

(iv)  Zone R4 High Density Residential,

(v)  Zone B4 Mixed Use,

(vi)  Zone SP1 Special Activities,

(vii)  Zone SP2 Infrastructure, and

(b) any other zone in which development for the purpose of dwellings, dwelling houses or multi dwelling housing may be carried out with or without consent under an environmental planning instrument.

may be undertaken subject to DA approval. The policy also provides that a group home development up to ten bedrooms proposed by a government agency may be undertaken without the need for a DA, subject to the agency preparing a review of environmental factors (REF).

Subject to meeting all of the standards of Schedule 2 of the SEPP, it is also possible to build a group home development of up to 10 bedrooms as a Complying Development, which can be approved by a private certifier without the need to obtain a DA approval from the Council.

Given the sensitive nature of the use - housing persons with a disability, not all sites are necessarily suitable for constructing a group home. It is important to look at potential constraints such as flooding or bushfire closely, in addition to the planning controls.

For any enquiries regarding the development of group homes, feel free to get in contact.

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