Helen Zervopoulos and Christopher Nagle planned on delivering a medical facility and new units in the heart of Grantville – a project they say has been thwarted by inconsistent advice from Bass Coast Shire.
A GRANTVILLE couple claims they have lost thousands of dollars and may need to abandon a major mixed commercial development in the centre of town due to “inconsistency” from Bass Coast Shire Council’s planning department.
After reading last week’s Sentinel-Times front page article (‘Blackmail’ in the centre of town, 31/12/13), regarding the dispute over the historic building at 32 McBride Avenue, Wonthaggi, Grantville businesswoman Helen Zervopoulos contacted The Sentinel-Times stating: “this is not an isolated incident.”
“This type of planning inconsistency is endemic and is definitely slowing and inhibiting development in Bass Coast,” Ms Zervopoulos said.
“I have spoken to builders, developers and planners within the shire who have experienced the same type of inconsistency as the Tamburo case.”
She said the reason affected parties do not speak out against the shire’s planning department is because “they are afraid their future projects would be jeopardized if they did.”
Last year, Ms Zervopoulos and her husband, Christopher Nagle, submitted plans for a medical facility and two-unit development.
The couple has owned the block – located across the service road from Stockdale and Leggo, for several years.
“Like the Tamburo project, we and our designer had a preliminary meeting with an officer from the planning department to make sure that we had not overlooked anything and that the plans satisfied all planning requirements,” Ms Zervopoulos explained.
“We were told by that planner that though it was not in her power to approve the proposal, it seemed to satisfy all current planning requirements.”
The vacant block fronts Bass Highway, but to allow for safe vehicle and pedestrian access, entry to the medical facility and units would need to be made via the service road, Ms Zervopolous said.
“The issue of setbacks was specifically raised at that initial meeting,” she continued.
“The designer was told that because the development would face the service road and not the highway, the set back at the highway end of the block could be reduced.
“This meant a three lot development was entirely feasible.”
The couple said they left the initial meeting feeling “very positive”, and they immediately agreed to have their local building designer, who they preferred not to name, draw up detailed plans for submission.
When they submitted final plans last month, however, they were told by the shire that, contrary to what the couple claims they were told at the first meeting, the setback could not be reduced.
This single change might not have meant much on paper, but for the owner-developers, it means that one of the two units proposed would need to be cut due to space.
Ms Zervopoulous said she and her husband spent $8500 on designs and would need to spend close to the same amount again for a re-design from scratch.
She added that whilst taking the matter to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) was an option, it is one that could be even more expensive.
The couple are now considering scrapping the project altogether.
“Unfortunately even if we do re-design, there is no guarantee that the development will be approved,” Christopher said.
Ms Zervopoulos believes that, with so much uncertainty when dealing with the planning department the reason why projects ever come to fruition in the Bass Coast Shire is because a majority of planning decisions are overruled by VCAT.
She said it would be an interesting exercise for incoming CEO Paul Buckley to determine how many planning cases do in fact end up at VCAT.
Ms Zervopoulos said she hopes the new CEO will be made aware of “how inconsistent the current planning process is and fix it.”
However, she is skeptical that this will actually happen.
The shire’s acting planning and environment director, Jodi Kennedy, confirmed that a planning officer had preliminary discussions with Ms Zervopoulos’ consultant on the development.
“During the discussion, the planner commented only on the suitability of the site for the proposed use and development for a medical centre and gave in principle support to the concept for the Grantville township,” Ms Kennedy said.
“There is no file note as to any discussions about setbacks; however, specific details such as setback distances are normally not discussed at such meetings as they require more detailed design and formal consideration through the planning application process.”
Ms Kennedy said the applicant has lodged the planning application and associated plans, and it was flagged that while council can consider a reduced setback to Bass Highway, the two-metre distance evident in the proposal is “too minimal.”
Ms Kennedy added that the plans submitted by the couple were also incomplete, and that for a full planning assessment to occur, the applicant still needs to submit a landscape plan, subdivision plans, signage details, neighbourhood and site description as well as other additional information.
She said a letter, detailing all that was missing, was sent to the couple and an on-site meeting between council officers, the consultant and the couple took place the week before Christmas.
“At this meeting, the issue of setbacks was discussed,” Ms Kennedy said.
“It was also agreed at this meeting that revised plans would need to be submitted.
“In addition to the incomplete application submitted, a number of other issues were identified through the referral to other departments or the onsite meeting.
“The most significant being the provision of suitable access to the site.
“Council has maintained regular contact with the owners’ planning consultant and has maintained in principle support for the use and development of the site for a medical centre and residential development.”