THE expansion of a winery at Merricks North has been given the go ahead despite conflicting with state regulations about overdevelopment in green wedge areas.
A 7-4 majority of councillors at a public council meeting on 28 November agreed with shire planning services manager David Bergin’s assertion that the Willow Creek Vineyard had “existing usage rights” to increase patronage numbers at its Merricks North winery from a maximum of 150 in line with green wedge regulations to about 280 people at any one time.
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 Willow Creek Vineyard sits on 18 hectares.
Cloud Investments plans to build a $26 million luxury hotel with 46 rooms and two restaurants at 166 Balnarring Rd, Merricks North.
Cr Antonelli Celi was an enthusiastic supporter of the planning application at the council meeting, unlike some of her colleagues who had reservations about the proposal.
“There were councillors here that went to the tourism update the other night. We all loved it. We all nodded in agreement. We had the good food served to us. We all loved to wine and dine,” Cr Celi said.
“Not a problem to put a smile on when we’re out there with all of those wonderful business owners who are doing really well in our hinterland, but I can’t be as two-faced as that and I will look at each case on its merits as well.”
Cr Celi said the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal would ultimately decide whether the winery expansion could proceed arguing that council should support “flourishing agri-tourism businesses in the hinterland and across our Green Wedge zone on the Mornington Peninsula that contribute significantly to our economic development across the peninsula”.
“We’re dealing with people’s livelihoods here,” she said.
Councillors Hugh Fraser and David Gill questioned council planning services executive manager David Bergin about existing usage rights of the business.
“The Victoria planning provisions did change a couple of years ago to allow additional people or patron numbers within sites,” Mr Bergin said.
“It is a site that has to be 40 hectares but, if this site was 40 hectares, they could have up to 310 plus and the plus refers to no limit on a wine tasting facility.”
Town planner Phil Gleeson, of Urbis consultants, representing Cloud Investments, urged councillors to back the business expansion.
“This proposal provides a significant opportunity for tourism and accommodation within the Mornington Peninsula Shire and ensures that the investment is well received within this community,” Mr Gleeson said.
Cr Bryan Payne said it was important for investors to get a return on their investment.
“In doing so, it will create employment for the area.”
Cerberus ward councillor Kate Roper, whose ward includes Merricks North, expressed concerns about neighbours hearing late-night noise and voted against the proposal.
The new hotel and restaurants are due to be completed in January or February next year.
The business owner is also seeking to change opening hours to 8am-10pm seven days a week. Opening times are restricted until 5.30pm on weekdays at present.
Cr Gill said council needed to urgently update its Green Wedge policy and said it was unfortunate the land size at Willow Creek Vineyard was 18 hectares, less than half of the minimum 40-hectare size needed for higher patronage numbers.
“It brings great shame on this council that we haven’t defined what we want to have in our Green Wedge zone to the extent where an 18-hectare proposal can be entertained.
“We don’t have the ability to have a planning committee because even a notice of motion is rejected by the CEO when I try to raise this issue. I don’t know where to go with the issue.”
Crs Simon Brooks, Celi, Rosie Clark, Julie Edge, Sam Hearn, Frank Martin and Payne voted to approve the planning application.
The mayor Cr Bev Colomb and Crs Fraser, Gill and Roper voted against the application.
The matter will be heard at VCAT on 26 February after the applicant applied to the tribunal since council was unable to make a deliberation on the planning application within 60 days due to the timing of October’s council elections.
Council meetings are suspended in the lead-up to elections.