Web_G082813By Gav Ross

CAPE Paterson residents are banding together to squash a proposed $9 million roads and drainage upgrade scheme affecting around 500 properties. A small yet determined group, made up of both permanent residents and holiday home owners, say they have “learned a thing or two” after battling the Ecovillage development a few years back and, for the past few weeks, they have kept busy by door-knocking at affected properties and putting up posters to spread awareness. The group has collected signed letters of objection from more than 150 properties and plan on spreading the word as much as possible before the council announces a submission period.

Councillors are scheduled to vote on whether they intend to declare the scheme at their July 17 meeting. Since council is contributing less than one-third ($800,000) to the total cost of the scheme – if 50 per cent of property owners object to the scheme it will be abandoned. While he admits they still have a long way to go, the group’s spokesperson, 80 year-old Mike Russell-Clarke, is confident they’ll have the numbers when it’s crunch time. “We’ll get the 50 per cent,” Mike announced. “We want the council to be aware there’s a groundswell of opinion against this scheme.” Lydia Hansford bought a holiday home with her husband and parents in Mermaids Walk last year. She says she was “outraged” to be sent an information pack in early April which detailed the scheme and noted that she and her family would be required to pay over $13,000. She says the tone of the document alone was infuriating. “It very much read like ‘we’re doing this and this is what it will cost you’,” Lydia said. “Nearly everyone we’ve spoken to around here does not want to pay for this scheme.” While she admits paying their share of the bill would be “a significant problem”, Lydia says her main reason for objecting is because she likes Cape Paterson just the way it is. “If they do this, it will remove the village atmosphere of the place,” she said.

“We bought here because we wanted our holiday home to be in a rural village – not the same as where we live in Melbourne with paved roads and gutters.” Mick Kendler, a Cassia Street resident, also doesn’t want to see his home of over 20 years become “just another Inverloch”. “Inverloch is a lovely spot, but they’ve crucified the country land there and now it’s just like Melbourne – a concrete jungle,” Mick said. Mick is facing a bill of $21,500 and believes only a minority of the 500 ratepayers council wrote to would benefit from the scheme. “There are isolated pockets in Cape where people have drainage problems,” he conceded. “And a few people have a dust problem.  “But the council has done nothing for Cape ratepayers for over 40 years, and now they’re using a few people who have complained about a bit of dust to say ‘we’ve had all these complaints’. Mick is also concerned about existing nature strips being bulldozed to accommodate road widening. “We have lovely tree-lined streets and people can park on the grass here no problem over the holidays,” he said. “If they seal the streets and put kerbing in, cars will just park on the side of the road, making it more dangerous for kids to cross.”

Stung double
While the charges that could possibly be levied on both Lydia and Mick’s properties would a major burden on the average income-earner, they pale in comparison to Mike Russell-Clarke’s bill. It has been estimated that he and his wife, Judith, would need to pay almost $46,000 because they live on a double block in Heath Street. The couple purchased the property in 1965 for $1200 and have scrimped and saved to make modest extensions to their home. Now, they fear they will have to use “all we’ve got left” to cover the scheme debt. “We’ll have to use whatever we have left in our superannuation,” Mike shrugged. “One of us might need to go into a nursing home one day and that’s what that money was there for. “If push comes to shove, we’ll find the money, but it’ll be hard.

“It’s not just us – a lot of oldies around here don’t know what to do.” Council has already notified residents that payment by instalments over four years is an option if the scheme goes ahead. And if that’s too taxing on property owners then there’s a hardship policy in place. Council’s CEO, Allan Bawden, said “there are a whole lot of options” for those applying under hardship provisions. “We can defer payment, reduce interest or even waive interest,” Mr Bawden said. Mr Bawden said the formal statutory process for the scheme is yet to begin, and that’s something residents need to keep in mind. “We’re still in a preliminary conversation with the community about what they want,” he said. “There has been a long-standing policy to catch up with this backlog of unmade drains and roads that we’ve got. “Cape Paterson happened to be next on the priority list. “Councillors are listening and well aware of the community views.  “But, really, it’s the next formal decision of the council that determines whether we stop work here or continue. “They may even wish to redesign the whole thing.”

Property owners received an update from the council in their letterbox at the end of June. The letter outlined changes made to the project following one-on-one feedback sessions conducted in April/May. Changes to the project include the removal of some footpaths from the original proposal and the proposed widening of Seaward Drive to 11 metres has been dropped back to 6.7 metres. The letter reiterates that council has not started its formal process for the scheme and further information, along with cost adjustments, will be posted out soon.