Planning controversy in Mornington Peninsula’s Green Wedge Zone sharpened at the 13 February council meeting when councillors decided to reject a staff recommendation that they refuse permission for a house to be built on GWZ land.
A house in GWZ is not illegal. But officers disagreed with the site the landowners had chosen.
The matter was deferred, to come back to council after the normal procedure of advertising the development, dealing with any objections and writing a report for councillors.
Planning staff said they would almost certainly return to council with the same recommendation – to reject the application.
Planners told councillors the proposed site for the house (marked with a yellow star on the aerial photo below), on land in Tucks Rd, Shoreham, was “inappropriate” because “The siting of the dwelling is inconsistent with the objectives of the Green Wedge Zone – Schedule 1 and the relevant State and Local Planning Policy”.
The planning report to councillors was, in Bandicoot’s view, unspecific, relying on assertions such as “the development is incompatible with the context of the site”, and containing little but planning “Objectives” to support the arguments planners raised.
In the case of the “incompatible” argument, the Objective relied on appears to be: “To protect landscape and cultural values.”
Under this heading the Localised Planning Statement says:
“Although the development is unlikely to have an adverse impact upon views to the site from Tucks Road, the dwelling location is not consistent with the dominant and preferred location of dwellings in the surrounding rural landscape, which are predominantly located to the front of site, within close proximity to Tucks Road.”
It could equally be argued – very persuasively, in Bandicoot’s view – that this proposed house site, invisible from the road, is a positive in terms of landscape values for the site chosen.
One might also infer that the officers appear to support uniformity over people’s preference for personal choice in where to locate their house on green wedge land.
Additionally, a strong argument can be made for the practical positioning of a green wedge house where (as in this case) farmers can most conveniently monitor their herd of cattle.
70% OF PENINSULA IS GWZ
Some background. Seventy percent of the peninsula comprises green wedge land. Yet all but a few GWZ planning decisions are made under delegation by planning officers: that is, councillors generally do not know what applications come to council and what decisions are made.
This has come about because about five years ago councillors gave staff power to make the decisions under delegation.
The new Red Hill ward councillor, David Gill, “called in” this application (as he is entitled to) for councillors to decide, causing something of a ruckus among some councillors as well as furrowed brows among some staff. Some councillors appeared unaware that this power was available to them.
The agenda item was introduced by Ms Rosa Zouzoulas, team leader of Peninsula Wide (planning services) and Mr David Bergin, shire executive manager of planning services. The report to councillors had been prepared by senior planner Ms Alia Slamet, according to the agenda.
In preliminary questioning Cr Sam Hearn (Briars ward) asked Ms Zouzoulas what was considered to be inconsistent about the house site – “what particular objective” of the GWZ was most significant in the application’s refusal, he wanted to know.
Ms Zouzoulas responded that the application was “assessed against the state and local planning policy frameworks but also the interim local policy framework.
“We found that the dwelling, in its proposed location near the creek, to be inconsistent with the policy that exists for a number of reasons but primarily because it cuts, I suppose, bisects the land and therefore makes it less amenable to agricultural uses and it is also located near the creek, which is unfavourable, to have a dwelling construction close to a creek.”
Cr Bryan Payne (Nepean ward): How far from the creek is it?
Cr Gill, who had visited the property, said the distance was about 70 metres. Mr Bergin said it was more like 30 metres. The applicant said later 70 metres was more accurate.
Cr Antonella Celi (Seawinds ward) had a different issue. “My concern is the substantial linking between the need of a dwelling on this property linked with the farm management plan,” she said. “Is there substantial linking requirement to really need a house on the land, which is under 40 hectares?”
Ms Zouzoulas said the applicant’s land management plan was considered “appropriate for this particular site”. She did not respond to whether the house was “really” needed (that’s up to the landowner); whether “substantial linking” is an issue (it isn’t); and also ignored land size (it is not relevant).
When Cr Gill asked whether officers had decided if a dwelling would be allowable, shire mayor Cr Bev Colomb cut him off. “I believe the officers are assessing what they’re assessing; what’s been put before them,” she said.
PROPOSED HOUSE LEGAL
It was clear the dwelling was legal; only the site was in contention.
Mr Bergin outlined the planning procedure: “Officers enter into discussions with applicants and we attempt to resolve any issues that are identified by officers and through those discussions,” he said.
“We do discuss alternatives and different design solutions, different siting solutions, different landscaping solutions and a whole range of matters. My understanding is officers have had those discussions with the applicant.”
The applicants, Kaye and David Fallick, then addressed the meeting. They are joint owners of the 45-acre (about 18.3 hectares) L-shaped block. Mrs Fallick spoke first. Here are some excerpts:
Since buying the block in 1996 they had taken their stewardship of the land “extremely seriously”, creating wildlife corridors as well as fostering indigenous vegetation, in particular along Stony Creek, which runs across the land.
They have been active members of the Manton and Stony Creek Landcare Group since 2003. They have lived in a rented cottage opposite the land so as to spend more time at the property.
“Our intention to build a dwelling is based on our need to be on the site more often,” she said.
“We believe the planning department’s response to our planning application is based upon an incomplete and erroneous understanding of the siting of the dwelling. The document from the officers states five times that the house would be in the middle of the 45 acres. It is not in the middle. It does not bisect the land.
“The proposed [house] site is instead close to two boundaries, one being the farm next door, the other being the boundary of the creek.”
“The officers statement states nine times the placement of the house near these boundaries fragments agricultural land,” she said. “We believe [this] to be false. Repeating this nine times makes it no more true.”
22 ERRORS OF FACT, APPLICANTS CLAIM
The couple had prepared a two-page summary “that lists 22 errors of fact for the refusal of the permit”.
She concluded: “Granting approval for us to occupy this site permanently will enable us to intensify the agricultural use of the site, which is entirely consistent with the objectives of the green wedge zone.”
Mr Fallick then spoke.
One reason for buying the block “was because of the environmental value of it. It was a dustbowl … it was passed in at auction,” he told councillors. It had been overstocked; cattle were running through Manton Creek. First task: fence the creek.
The proposed house site is “a lot more” than the claimed 30 metres from creek, he said, “as would become clear to anyone who visited the property or closely examined the [aerial] photos.
“The planners report is full of vague terms and numerous ‘mays’, ‘mights’ or ‘coulds’, all through it – riddled through it,” he said.
Despite repeated mentions in the planners report of fragmenting agricultural land or primary production, “our farm manager … who did that detailed whole farm planning report … has no problem with it.
“We don’t have a definition of ‘fragmenting’. I’d love to know what the planning department of this council calls fragmenting, because it’s not defined anywhere.”
Councillors had no questions for Mr and Mrs Fallick. They were permitted to table documents for distribution.
After discussion among councillors about a proposed deferral of the matter – including a statement from Mr Bergin that if nothing changed regarding the siting of the dwelling, officers’ recommendation to reject the application would not be changed – councillors voted for the deferral so that advertising could take place and objections, if any, could be considered.
DEFERRING FUTILE, COUNCILLOR ARGUES
Discussion then ensued about deferring the application so the ordinary process of advertising the application and allowing objectors to put their case could proceed.
Cr Hugh Fraser (Nepean ward) argued that deferring would be futile since Mr Bergin had said the officer position would not change, and the applicants have right to go to VCAT if councillors refused the permit.
Cr Celi, having moved the motion, closed the debate. Bandicoot has attached an audio file (at top) of her speaking earlier in the meeting rather than subject his readers to any more words. Her closing was substantially the same as the published audio.
Councillors voted against the officers’ recommendation to refuse the application to build the house, then passed the alternative motion, to defer the matter.
Bandicoot’s intention was to, at this point, provide more examples of the planning report’s arguments. Instead he directs those interested to the shire website, mornpen.vic.gov.au, where the meeting minutes can be found by typing “minutes” into the search box then clicking on the “Agendas and minutes” box.
This opens a list of meetings: you will see the “13 Feb” meeting minutes. Click the “+” sign to open the section, then follow the download instructions. After that you’re on your own. Look for Item 3.2.