FIVE councillors and 99 objectors have failed to convince Mornington Peninsula Shire Council to reject a planning application to erect a temporary religious marquee on green wedge land in Pearcedale.
In a close vote at last Tuesday’s (17 October) meeting, six of the 11 councillors agreed with principal planner Ersi Ni’s recommendation to allow the remedial Hindu pooja ceremony to purify the land at 1915 Hastings-Dandenong Road, where the applicants want to build the largest Hindu temple in Australia.
That separate planning application is due to be heard at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal in February.
Nine objectors to the pooja attended the meeting to tell councillors their concerns ranged from traffic congestion, loss of native vegetation, inappropriate development, loss of amenity and noise.
Neighbour Craig Gobbi said the granting of a permit for the pooja would “set an unacceptable” example of development on rural, green wedge land. He said he was also worried the extra traffic coming to and from the site would be hazardous on the already dangerous Hastings-Dandenong Road.
Fiona McVey said she was concerned about the environmental impact the building would have on the site, which she described as a “unique pocket” of native flora and fauna, and part of the Ramsar-listed Watsons Creek catchment area.
“We feel that this application will have far reaching ecological ramifications for this site,” she said.
Others spoke about the noise and pollution from a generator required to power the marquee, damage to the environment from heavy vehicles bringing in supplies and equipment, traffic volumes, car parking.
The application is for the cleansing ceremonies to run for one week, with two worship sessions of 6am to 11am and 4pm to 8pm. There must be no more than 30 people on the site during the ceremonies.
There are not expected to be any activities outside of the proposed marquee area, and no loudspeakers, microphones, music or bell ringing.
Cr Kate Roper attempted to move an alternate motion to reject the application because it did not fit the strategic policy directions of the council planning scheme, was incompatible with adjoining and nearby land uses, and would create traffic and amenity issues.
Cr Anthony Marsh said it would be difficult to reject the application, because a religious pooja was a “clearly permittable use” under green wedge guidelines.
He said councillors should not tie the application to the separate application for a Hindu temple, which has received more than 300 objections, because they were bound by municipal rules that required them to consider the pooja application on its merits.
Voting against the officer’s recommendation were councillors David Gill, Roper, Debra Mar, Steve Holland and Susan Bissinger, with councillors Despi O’Connor, Marsh, Sarah Race, Lisa Dixon, Simon Brooks and Antonella Celi in favour.
The pooja application has also been listed at VCAT, where a decision will be finalised. A practice day hearing is scheduled for 10 November followed by a compulsory conference on 29 November. A merits hearing is scheduled for 15 and 16 February 2024.