What’s in a DA?

No, this hasn’t turned into a natural history blog; there is a picture of a woolly mammoth above because the thousand words that picture represents would also provide a fitting description of the DA process.

What’s in a DA? In my case, 33 documents. I feel like someone should hand me a black robe and mortarboard cap, along with a post-graduate degree and trumpet fanfare, for finally submitting the thing. The pile of documents was roughly the same size as the animal pictured above.

I now know why council buildings are so big, because even if you are submitting electronically you still have to hand over a printed hard copy, including drawings in A3 size. So there are thousands of very large piles of paper stored in there somewhere, entire herds of woolly mammoths. And that is just the residential applications, I can only imagine the size of a commercial application.

The DA Process

My DA might have been a little bit larger than usual, although I am not so sure on that. I was not all that shocked to find that when it came to working out if the house complied with the Building Code of Australia (BCA), there was no box to tick for “shipping container house” as a deemed to satisfy solution.

So, I had to present an Alternative Solution Report, and that accounted for a fair bit of paperwork. It included all the BCA compliance documents supplied by the container home builders – things like insulation, waterproofing, steel structure, windows and doors, electrics and plumbing. Then I had to provide a comparison of how the other building elements complied with the relevant clauses in the BCA, mainly around the additional BAL Flame Zone cladding and sub-floor.

I owe yet another thanks to my friendly neighbourhood architect Ross Young, who translated the process, gave lots of advice, and generously checked over the whole DA before I submitted it.

Legend has is that woolly mammoths were driven off cliffs like this as a hunting technique. Another hypothesis could be they found the cliffs strangely attractive after attempting to complete a DA...
Legend has it that woolly mammoths were driven off cliffs like this as a hunting technique. Another hypothesis could be they found the cliffs strangely attractive after attempting to complete a DA…

The other documents included a detailed Statement of Environmental Effects, which by itself came in at a stomping 16 pages. That one contains background information on the site and the development, then evaluates the planned development against both the Local Environmental Plan 1991, and the Blue Mountains Better Living Development Control Plan. It might sound a bit mad, and I could well be on the other side of sanity right now, but writing that was almost enjoyable as there’s been a fair bit of thought behind this build and keeping it green, including minimising site impacts to the surrounding Protected Area. It was chance to explain all that, and the reasons behind the build.

The Blue Mountains is a city within a World Heritage Area so although the whole DA process was truly torturous, I think having these guidelines in place is a very good thing. Although I have to admit that at first it was a bit confusing to have to compare across two different planning control documents, as they both have different content. Then there is the new draft LEP from 2013 which is not in place yet, which is slightly different again but apparently has to be ignored for now. Hopefully my DA demonstrates that my house will more than meet the objectives of all of these planning controls – the common alternative these days is a 5 bedroom, 3 bathroom brick MacMansion and it sure ain’t one of those!

It was in fact very satisfying to calculate that my development, including house, water tank and carport, will take up only 4% of the total block area. That includes the big patch of protected area in the east. The house will be in the other half of the block, which is the bit that allows development and already contains lots of landscaped cool climate gardens. The development will only take up 8% of that part. It really is a lovely little patch of Blue Mountains and I’m very happy about not completely stuffing it up to be able to live on it.

I’ve spent way too much of the last two weeks pulling the final DA documents together, herding cats to get some final documents in, not to mention those months of previous research, so now I have to catch up on a lot of life and work. Blissfully there is now a brief respite of 4 weeks while Council reviews the DA and then gets back to me with a list of more information that is required. I am hoping it will be a short list, or at least an easy one.

Faith in humankind(ness)

I rang around for a lot of quotes to get help with the final drawings, from architects and drafters. One of the reasons this whole process takes so long is that a lot of it is pretty subjective on, firstly, what exactly is needed, and secondly on the quality of information required. Responses from my quote inquiries ranged from one person telling me the drawings I had done myself were fine and could be submitted as they were, through to someone else saying the drawings were the very least of my problems and I needed to allow a massive budget for the whole DA and an expert to do it. I travelled the middle ground in the end.

Apart from the confusion caused by such a diverse range of responses, during the ring around for quotes I was really impressed with people being interested and offering free advice over the phone – on some of the finer points of DA compliance, and even new design options to consider. That included a visit with Mark Davis who specialises in sustainable design in the Blue Mountains, and his advice resulted in me flipping the whole building design to allow more north sun into the living area. People were generous with their time and advice, and that’s the sort of thing that gives you hope and helps you wrangle the mammoth.