A LUXURY hotel, to be called Jackalope, being built at Willow Creek Vineyard will open its doors to visitors in March.
State Labor Planning Minister Richard Wynne has backed Mornington Peninsula Shire’s decision late last year to grant approval for the construction of a $26 million hotel with 46 rooms and two restaurants at 166 Balnarring Rd, Merricks North (“Winery can expand – shire”, The News 12/12/16).
A 7-4 majority of councillors at November’s public council meeting supported the plan to build the hotel in a green wedge zone after council officers stated the winery business had “existing use rights”.
State green wedge regulations stipulate the maximum number of people allowed on site at a venue situated in a green wedge is 150 people for locations of less than 40 hectares.
The winery is situated on an 18-hectare site but Mr Wynne had no objection to about 280 people frequenting the Merricks North site at any one time.
A spokesman for the minister said the planning permit was “a matter for the local council and applicant”.
“The winery is operating under a number of lawfully-issued planning permits, some of which were subject to a VCAT review process,” spokesman Patrick Lane said in a statement.
“The expansion of the Merricks North winery will boost tourism in the region, stimulating the economy and creating jobs.”
Chinese-born Melbourne-based Louis Li, a 28-year-old entrepreneur, is building the hotel and two restaurants called Doot Doot Doot and Rare Hare at the winery.
A seven-metre tall jackalope — a mythical jackrabbit with antelope horns — will be installed at the entrance of the hotel.
Mr Li had lodged a pre-emptive Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal appeal last year in the event of council rejecting the hotel plan. VCAT confirmed the hearing has been cancelled.
Green Wedges Coalition coordinator Rosemary West, a Kingston councillor, said the approved application “allows an unacceptable overdevelopment of the site and a massive increase in the number of permitted patrons.”
“We are disappointed that the approval is not going to be tested at VCAT because there appears to be a number of flaws in the way the application was approved,” she said.
“It appears that little if no consideration was given to protecting the open, rural landscape of the Green Wedge.
“Approval of the application sets an appalling precedent for more such damaging proposals.”