OPPONENTS of a retirement village outside the growth boundary in Mount Eliza are refusing to give up, despite the project being given the go ahead by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
The VCAT decision released late December overrules Mornington Peninsula Shire Council’s opposition to the plan.
Plans for the redevelopment of the heritage-listed Moondah mansion in Kunyung Road have been scaled down slightly from Ryman Healthcare’s original proposal in 2019, but will still include 104 independent units, 27 assisted living suites and a 60-bed aged care centre.
The shire has continuously opposed the proposal, knocking back the first two planning applications because of the scale of the development on the 8.9ha site abutting green wedge coastal land.
The mayor Cr Steve Holland said the council was disappointed by the recent VCAT decision to grant a permit and would not “sit idly by while protections are watered down and important planning decisions are taken away from local representatives”.
“Like us, many residents will understandably be feeling dismayed and disappointed by this news,” he said.
“The Mornington Peninsula is 70 per cent green wedge. It is of natural and agricultural significance and is one of Victoria’s most important assets. Our community will not sit idly by while protections are watered down, and important planning decisions are taken away from local representatives.
“Unanimous council decisions are increasingly being overturned by the state government’s planning tribunal. We believe that local residents and representatives are best placed to make decisions about the future of our community.”
Last week (5 January) Cr Holland said officers were reviewing the VCAT decision and would aim to brief all councillors “next week”.
“All options are being considered,” he said.
Cr David Gill, a strong advocate of protecting the peninsula’s open spaces and green wedges, said he would push for a Supreme Court appeal.
“I have been appalled at the way the state government has allowed such a major development in this green zone despite community and council appeals to intervene and their own promises to protect our green edges,” he said.
“The historic anomaly of a special use zone for an area outside of the urban growth boundary separating the urban Mount Eliza and Mornington townships as envisaged in the planning scheme should and must be amended by the planning minister.
“The farcical part though, taken seriously by the planning appeals tribunal, is that the application hinged on an old place of worship loophole – one existing prayer room in the original building – as the principal cause for a permit.
“The secondary part is a huge retirement and high care facility that would not be allowable without the place of worship which is only a tiny part of the overall development.”
Gill said it was disturbing that the state government appeared to be preparing to take planning control from local councils, using the Casey development corruption scandal involving former Mornington businessman John Woodman as “an excuse” to do so.
The 42-room Moondah mansion, built in 1888, sits on prime coastal land and is flanked by green wedge countryside. However, because the building was once used as an education centre and had a small place of worship, development was permitted under archaic ‘special use’ zoning.
The land was originally part of Australian airline founder Sir Reginald Ansett’s estate, but Ryman acquired the site for $37.5 million in 2016 from the Melbourne Business School.
Unless an appeal is launched, the $317 million redevelopment of the mansion and the site is expected to begin later this year.
Ryman Healthcare CEO Cameron Holland welcomed the VCAT decision, saying the company was “excited to get on with the job of restoring Moondah Mansion and creating a community that’ll care for older Mount Eliza locals for decades to come”.
Holland said he was “mindful that some people didn’t share our vision for the site, and they’ll be disappointed by VCAT’s decision”.
“If they feel defeated, they shouldn’t – their passion and commitment has been hugely influential during this process and has helped shape the outcome for the better,” he said.
“If there are misconceptions about who we are and what we’re planning, it’s on us to fill those gaps and build bridges with the community our village will serve.
“Helpfully, the report released by an independent panel of planning experts in October made one thing abundantly clear: rezoning the property to green wedge would have been the death knell for Moondah mansion and a disaster for the site.
“That prospect has now been avoided and the site’s long-term future as a community asset has been assured.”
Former councillor and spokesman for community group Save Reg’s Wedge, Leigh Eustace, said the fight “isn’t over”.
“We have a new planning minister with the planning scheme amendment C270 [which would prevent development on the site and rezone the land as green wedge] on her desk,” he said.
“We understand the council and our new mayor Cr Steve Holland remain resolute, and we expect Mornington MP Chris Crewther to make some noise,” he said.
Crewther, the new Liberal MP for Mornington, has written to planning minister Sonya Kilkenny asking her to visit the site and call the application in.
Despite the tribunal’s green light, Ryman still needs to get detailed drawings endorsed by the council and meet a number of pre-start conditions.