INVESTORS snapping up prime Mornington Peninsula land for apartments and townhouses are facing opposition from a council divided over development amid claims of electioneering.
After lengthy debate at the Monday 11 July council meeting, councillors voted to overturn officer recommendations to support proposals for 14 townhouses in Bentons Rd, Mt Martha, and two separate applications for six two-storey townhouses and 14 townhouses, both in Green Island Av, Mt Martha.
Residents applauded as Briars Ward councillors told the meeting they had a duty to protect the neighbourhood character of the peninsula’s towns.
However, their celebrations might be premature, with council officers admitting the shire had limited control over “infill” developments – those near major shopping hubs – because of major holes in the planning statement.
David Bergin, executive manager planning services, said little could be done to protect neighbourhood character because there were “gaps” in the planning policy and ambiguity over what characters were to be protected.
Three proposed developments were already listed for hearings by the Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) after the shire failed to make a determination in the required time.
Deputy mayor and Briars Ward councillor Bev Colomb told the meeting that the peninsula was “not metro Melbourne” and that the development at 104 Bentons Rd, Mt Martha, was not in line with the shire’s planning statement.
While she said her intention was not to decrease the density of development, her comment that the area was already at “saturation point” was met with cheers and clapping from the chamber.
“Do we have to suck it up and take anything?” Cr Colomb said.
Cr Andrew Dixon said the shire’s lack of strong policy on neighbourhood character and in-fill development had “left residents wanting”.
But Seawinds Ward councillor David Gibb raised the spectre of mounting VCAT costs and suggested that the state government would not let the shire “trump” the state planning scheme, which encouraged medium-density housing.
Mt Martha had the “most abundance” of open space and the development, which was close to shops and transport, was appropriate.
“We are trying to get people out of cars,” Cr Gibb said.
The motion to oppose the development was passed 6:4, with councillors Anne Shaw, Dixon, Colomb, David Garnock, Antonella Celi and Graham Pittock for the motion and Crs Tim Wood, Tim Rodgers, Huch Fraser and Gibb against.
After the meeting, Cr Fraser said “electioneering” had skewed the debate.
He said there was a lot of work needed to preserve the “tapestry” of available urban land on the peninsula.
“Our planning officers work very hard and capably to produce reasonable solutions for our urban areas, which can be supported on review at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. Unfortunately, all I heard at last Monday’s meeting was the loud noise of electioneering.”
Councillors were also divided over an application for six two-storey townhouses at 15-17 Green Island Av, Mt Martha, with Cr Fraser questioning Mr Bergin on his views of success at VCAT, and Cr Wood taking offence at Mr Bergin’s reply that VCAT was “a lottery”.
Mr Bergin apologised for his comments.
The alternate recommendation not to support the officer’s recommendation was moved by Cr Anne Shaw and seconded by Cr Andrew Dixon.
A further application for 16 townhouses at 25 Green Island Av, Mt Martha, had attracted 16 submissions and concerns over car parking problems, insufficient landscaping, and the impact on the “character of the township”.
The officer’s recommendation to support the application at VCAT was overturned after Cr Shaw moved an alternate recommendation. After the meeting, Mr Bergin said the Victorian planning system was working the way it was intended to, allowing both applicants and objectors the opportunity to go to VCAT.
He said 81 appeals that resulted from decisions by Mornington Peninsula Shire had gone to VCAT out of 2383 applications for the 2015/16 financial year.
“It is considered that both councillors and officers want the best planning outcome for the Mornington Peninsula Shire,” Mr Bergin said.
After the meeting, Cr Colomb said a decision was made due to the need to “put a check on over development”.
“There are many examples of good developments that don’t push the boundaries and offer lots of benefits including landscaping, open space and privacy.”