SOUTH Gippsland Shire Council-owned blocks of land in Fish Creek and Leongatha will be rezoned from public park to township and general residential respectively to sell on the open market despite local community opposition.
The council has adopted South Gippsland Planning Scheme Amendment C124 to allow the rezoning of 15 Old Waratah Road in Fish Creek, and 6A Warralong Court in Leongatha, from Public Park and Recreation Zone (PPRZ) to the Township Zone for the Fish Creek block, and to the General Residential 1 Zone at Leongatha.
The decisions to alter the Planning Scheme, and to adopt Planning Permit 2020/214 to remove “open space reservation” from the Leongatha block’s title, were made at the ordinary council meeting at Leongatha on Wednesday March 16, 2022.
The resolution also included submitting the adopted Amendment C124 and the Planning Permit 2020/214 for the Victorian Planning Minister’s approval, as well as writing to thank those people who had made submissions to the proposed planning changes and land sales.
With Cr Jenni Keerie as seconder, Cr Sarah Gilligan moved the shire officers’ recommendations, and added another point to the motion, “to determine that any surplus funds from any future sale of 15 Old Waratah Road after costs have been deducted be considered as part of the budget process for reinvestment in open space in Fish Creek.”
Cr Gilligan said, “I think it’s really important when we’re looking at our land management in our small communities that we are reinvesting.
“When we are potentially taking away any open space we are considering our small communities as well as the whole of South Gippsland,” she said.
Cr Keerie said “I believe this particular decision has been in the pipeline for about six years now, and I think a number of things have changed during that period.
“We’re a new council coming on board now and we are looking at the land stock we have and the need to make the best possible uses of those pieces of land,” she said.
“The change of zone for 15 Old Waratah Road requires us to make the best use of that finance when it becomes available, and to be able to improve the open spaces in the areas of Fish Creek makes very good practical sense.”
Endorsing the Planning Scheme amendment and the planning permit marks the end of a process that actually dates from 2011, when the then shire council began “a Strategic Review of Landholdings Project (SRLP) … to identify Council-owned land considered surplus to its open space requirements”.
When completed in 2014, the SRLP had identified 15 Old Waratah Road in Fish Creek, a block of 4,107 square metres or just over one acre in the old measure, located about 100 metres southeast of the Fish Creek Hotel Motel, as well as the 1,262-square-metre 6A Warralong Court block in Leongatha “as two, within a series of lots, considered surplus”, according to a background report in the March 2022 minutes.
In February 2016, the council resolved to sell 15 Old Waratah, Road Fish Creek, and in August of the same year, to sell 6A Warralong Court, Leongatha.
The council exhibited Amendment C124 from December 1, 2020 to January 15, 2021 and invited submissions on the proposal, which drew 43 objections including a petition containing 91 signatures, with the Fish Creek block being the subject of nearly all of the opposition, with literally only a few defending Warralong Court.
Residents, property owners, community groups and organisations, and local businesses from in and around Fish Creek and beyond objected to the rezoning of 15 Old Waratah Road for a wide range of reasons, including environmental concerns, and the need to preserve rather than relinquish valuable open space in a growing rural township, among many others.
The size and shape of the land and its central position right in the heart of Fish Creek, the fact that it shares a common boundary with the Fish Creek and District Primary School, and its natural features including a natural wetland were among the justifications cited for its retention as public open space.
The council’s report describes 15 Old Waratah Road as “undeveloped grassland with a small gully and easement running north west through the land” and that “its size, configuration, topography and location near the town centre add to its development potential.”
The report also states that “the Township Zone (TZ), [would make the Fish Creek block] consistent with the surrounding area” and that “TZ provides for a broad range of potential uses including residential, commercial and light industrial developments.”
Council representatives met with submitters but as their objections “were unable to be resolved by negotiation” the administration panel acting as the council at the time resolved at its April 21 2021 meeting to refer Amendment C124 to an independent planning panel.
The Panel Hearing was held on July 26, 2021 and the Panel Report was received on 2 September 2, 2021, which recommended that “Amendment C124, as exhibited, should be adopted by Council.”
The Panel Report stated that the Panel members considered “whether there is a clear strategy for the delivery of open space in the relevant parts of Leongatha and Fish Creek”, and concluded that there is “clear strategy”, and “the sale of this land will assist in delivering improved open space”.