By Kirra Grimes

RESIDENTS of O’Grady’s Ridge Road and Falls Road, Foster North, have banded together in an attempt to stop a proposed development they fear will ruin the rural character of the area.
More than 20 objections have been submitted against an application currently before the South Gippsland Shire Council’s planning department seeking permission to build group accommodation at 250 O’Grady’s Ridge Road.
The proposal includes the construction of eight accommodation units, accommodating up to 42 people, several two-storey buildings, as well as boardwalks, platforms, an amphitheatre, roads, car parks and roadside signage.
Neighbouring landholders including Desmond Lane and Di Scott, who appeared before Council’s administrators last Wednesday, have objected on the grounds that the proposal represents a “major change in land use” that will negatively impact the amenity of residents and business operators including the owners of a timber plantation, creating noise and visual disturbance, among other issues.
Mr Lane said a “high-density tourist development” of the kind proposed was inappropriate for the area, which is in a farming zone, and would have an “unacceptable impact on use of land for primary production”.
“There’s a lot of community concern,” Mr Lane told the Sentinel-Times after the presentation.
“We’ve had two people recently purchase land on O’Grady’s Ridge Road specifically because, in a farming zone, they thought they wouldn’t be exposed to developments like this.
“And this applicant wants to build something to accommodate 42 people. And potentially host weddings and other events.
“The Council’s already said no to that, but if you look at the developer’s website [] it looks like that’s still part of the plan.
“The future of the farming zone is at stake,” Mr Lane said. “If councillors were to approve this application, they would be setting a dangerous precedent for the farming zone as a whole.”
When the Sentinel-Times put these concerns to the developer, Jeff Wigney, he responded:
“If this isn’t the right property – what is? And, if this isn’t a suitable location – what is? And, if this isn’t the right time – when will that be?”
Mr Wigney, an IT manager who hails from Melbourne’s south-east suburbs, said he and his wife Maureen purchased the property in question in 2017, as a “retirement venture”.
“We are not hardened property developers… and we have made several concessions where we believed the concern was genuinely likely to have impact,” Mr Wigney said.
“Our intention from the start has been to treat this property in an authentic way and to utilise the current footprint,” he said.
“We are building on existing infrastructure so that, from the streetscape, there will be little change to passers-by (and neighbours).
“We believe the improvements we make to current buildings and landscaping on the property will add to our neighbours’ amenity and create opportunities for both these businesses (and others in the district).”
Mr Wigney added that he would “not be able to hold any events on the property as a result of changes to the plans and also due to the conditions imposed by Council’s planning department”.
“This is an application for group accommodation only and we will be complying with all orders placed upon us – either through the application itself or in general law,” he said.
“Our research tells us that between Foster and Wilson’s Promontory there is virtually no group accommodation – even though visitation numbers have been increasing.”
Mr Wigney’s planning permit application will come up for consideration at the Ordinary Council Meeting this Wednesday, August 28.