A GROUP of “disgusted” residents of O’Grady’s Ridge Road, in the glorious hills above Foster and Fish Creek, filed out of the makeshift South Gippsland Shire Council chambers in Leongatha last Wednesday in a gloomy mood.
One of their number burst into tears.
“Oh well, off to VCAT,” said another.
They didn’t like what the three new shire Administrators had just done, issued a Notice of Decision to grant a permit for the establishment of a rural retreat on a 3 hectare property at 250 O’Grady’s Ridge Road.
They weren’t placated by the eight pages of conditions including one that limits overnight accommodation to 36 people.
They’ve found paradise and, understandably, they don’t want anyone stuffing it up for them.
Local resident Des Lane spoke passionately on behalf of the disgruntled group afterwards.
“As a group we’re extremely disappointed with the decision. We feel that the objections have not been understood or listened to.
“Comments made by Administrator Zahra and Administrator Brown misrepresented most of the misunderstandings we tried to put right.
“This decision will have adverse implications for all landowners in the Farming Zone across the shire.
“We are particularly concerned about the needs of primary producers being shoved aside by this decision.
“We are farmers. There are a number of farmers here and other farmers have objected to this and to suggest that we don’t speak for the farming community is quite wrong,” Mr Lane said.
He claimed that the Administrators had wrongly characterised the concerns of the objectors as principally about the unsuitable use of the site rather than about its impact on nearby farming operations.
“The pressures on farming are already great,” he said.
Mr Lane said the owners of the surrounding plantation, Heartwood Plantations, had also registered strong objections to what the applicant wanted to do.
“Developments of this kind are supposed to be located 100 metres from any dwelling but all of the buildings are inside that distance.”
He said there could be restrictions placed on farming practices including on the use of herbicides and pesticides, and there could be conflicts over the use of farm machinery and the use of firearms to control pests.
“Administrator Brown talked about the benefits of tourism and the need to have more accommodation, but we already have ample accommodation in the area,” said another community member, Di Scott, who claimed the B’n’B style venues complemented existing land use and were more suitable.
It was the sort of decision no elected councillor or administrator wants to make.
“The Administrators have laboured over this decision. Two administrators have visited the site, and we have been up and down the roads nearby,” said Council Chair Julie Eisenbise.
“We have read the very extensive application from the applicant, we have also read every one of the objectors’ objections. We have heard their positions and taken the opportunity to seek additional information. We have received material from the office with regard to policy, regarding previous decisions that have been made, and we have looked at what other businesses are conducted nearby. We have looked at this very extensive recommendation that has come from the staff, including eight pages of conditions, which makes it a very extensive condition report,” she said including the requirement for a comprehensive bushfire study.
Administrator Zahra made a few points.
He said the council had looked very seriously at the impact on local people in making its decision to support the development.
Ticking off on the objections, he said there must be at least one permanent officer on site 24/7. He dismissed the idea that the use would be damaging to traditional farming in the area saying the area was already a discontinued dairy farm and most of the buildings were already in existence.
He also dismissed the claim that there would be 60 to 90 people accommodated on site or that a “big screen” might be set up for films and the like.
That would require further planning approval, he said.
Mr Zahra also addressed the topical issue of farm trespass saying the planning conditions weren’t designed to control such unlawful behaviour, which would rightly be a matter for the police, if it were to occur.
Unless it’s stopped at VCAT or strangled by red tape, it’s going ahead.