The Mirror News

No place for a village

– Division on Walkerville subdivision

PROPONENTS of an 88-lot low-density residential subdivision and tourism-focused commercial development at Walkerville are facing an uphill battle. Not only are many of the neighbours voicing strong opposition to the proposal, but a report to South Gippsland Shire Council recommends against it.

Councillors will vote at their meeting today (Wednesday) on an amendment to the Planning Scheme which would allow the proposal to progress. The proponents are requesting the rezoning of 94 hectares of land immediately west of Promontory Views Estate in Walkerville Road, Walkerville from Farming Zone to Special Use Zone.

Proposed for the commercial area of the development is a pizzeria/cafe, restaurant, cellar door sales, local produce/general store, cooking school, tourist information, accommodation booking centre and artist gallery. More commercial facilities, such as a health and recreation centre, with swimming pool, tennis courts and health spa, are intended for later stages as the residential precinct grows.

The developers engaged the services of leading architect Peter McIntyre to design the village, in a style akin to the architect’s acclaimed Dinner Plain development near Mt Hotham, insofar as the dwellings will complement the natural environment and the development process will follow the same principles. The proposal includes the provision of a reticulated wastewater treatment system servicing the new development with the capacity for Prom Views Estate to connect.

While acknowledging that the development, were it to be successful, would provide a tourism boost to the shire, the report concludes that the amendment request should not be supported, as it lacks planning policy support, challenges growth strategies for the shire and could reduce resource allocation to supported long term development in identified growth areas.

The report points out that the State’s leading coastal township planning document, the Victorian Coastal Strategy, strongly discourages the expansion of township boundaries in the absence of planning policy support.

The planning officers note that the South Gippsland Overall Settlement Plan 2007 does not support the proposed expansion of Walkerville. The proposed amendment is also contrary to the recommendations of the Housing and Settlement Strategy 2013 and does not accord with the ‘Significant Landscape Overlay 2 for Cape Liptrap to Waratah Bay’ or the Gippsland Regional Growth Plan 2014.

Last Wednesday’s public presentation session in Council Chambers, Leongatha was dominated by speakers on the proposed development, most of them expressing strong opposition.

Kevin Jones, who owns a property in Prom Views Estate, argued that the development would make the local beaches and the roads into them, which are already crowded in the peak summer season, even more crowded. “It’s a very small area we’re talking about,” he said. “At low tide Walkerville South has a beautiful little beach, at high tide there is no beach. There is no room!”

Joan Liley, who lives nearby and has long had a family holiday house at Walkerville, said that the shire’s planning officers had quite rightly recommended against the development.

“It strikes at the very heart of our planning scheme,” she asserted. South Gippsland’s Rural Land Use Strategy had been a long and painful time in the making, she said, and the final document received bipartisan support and provided much-needed certainty and it would be wrong to go against it. “You’ve made the rules and I’d love to see that you can stick to them,” she urged Council. “Don’t set a precedent that other developers can follow.”

The treasurer of the Walkerville Foreshore Reserve Committee of Management, Margaret Robertson, spoke on behalf of the committee. She warned that Walkerville was constrained by key environmental limitations, being bushfire prone, susceptible to erosion and an area of Aboriginal and historic cultural significance. A development which brought in hordes of people could jeopardise all this. Furthermore, she said, additional patronage would exacerbate the competing demands of boat and other users on the small Walkerville beaches. Members of the foreshore committee managed the current situation to the best of their ability, but any increases in development would put undue pressures on them. She said that lack of beach access was a major issue in the area, with Bear Gully, Walkerville South and Walkerville North the only public beaches for many kilometres.

Ms Robertson also expressed doubts about the need for the development, pointing out that there are currently a large number of vacant blocks in the Prom Views Estate and 30 plus vacant blocks or houses for sale, as well as a handful of properties for sale in Walkerville South and North.

Long-time Walkerville farmer Tony Landy said he had witnessed much change in his half a century of farming in the district. Prom Views Estate was still creating problems, he said, and he did not want to see any further subdivision of farming land.

The proponents engaged former shire councillor Jennie Deane as a consultant to run the community consultation process in preparation for the planning permit application, and she reported her findings last Wednesday. She said that community consultations involving about 130 people were conducted in November 2014 and January 2015. Individual interviews with 12 community leaders, including residents of Prom Views Estate and district farmers, showed five opposed and seven in favour of the development. A drop-in session was attended by about 80 people, mostly from the Estate and in favour of the development. There was also a two-hour workshop with approximately 40 participants, the majority being farm property owners and/or members of local community groups, most of whom opposed the development.

Ms Deane said that while most established farmers expressed reservations or opposition (for the reasons given by the previous speakers), almost all residents of the Estate and most younger farmers expressed support for the Village and identified key benefits for themselves and their community. They appreciated the economic development the Village would support and liked the idea that the eateries and general store would provide an opportunity to showcase and sell local produce and provide year-round amenity for local residents and holidaymakers. They felt the proposed footpath extensions from the village to the beach would help access from the Estate and minimise beach traffic, and they were hopeful that the Village’s waste water management design would address issues on the Estate comparatively cheaply and quickly.

The final speaker on the subject was the developer himself. Jeremy Rich said that he and his family had long farmed in the district and shared the love and passion expressed by the earlier speakers for the Walkerville area. He said he was very disappointed that the officers were recommending against his proposal which was, he argued, “not an ordinary subdivision” but a development of state significance, like Dinner Plain’s, incorporating a well-designed, environmentally friendly and self-sustaining village with its own waste water management system. Traffic management would not be a problem, he argued, as the village would have a transit vehicle to take people to the beach.

He said he was disappointed that there was virtually no mention in the report of the tourism value of the development and said that Council should embrace it with open arms, not decide it was all too hard.

“We need an economic vision in this region,” he implored Council. “South Gippsland deserves better than this report.”

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