In 1982 Ilya Kostetsky, a north Warrandyte resident and architect, applied to Eltham Shire Council for a planning permit to subdivide his land into one-acre lots. The land, Professor’s Hill, was well known for its orchids and floristic diversity. A small part of the Hill was already a reserve managed by the Professor’s Hill Sanctuary Committee of Management.

The subdivision incorporated some good planning design in that Ilya proposed to put the road up the hill with houses sited on the contour on small bitumen drives, to reduce the damage to the land. The alternative of a road along the contour would have meant long skinny rectangular blocks, with long excavated drives cut angrily down the slopes, destroying most of the land. But the community did not want any development.

The objectors

David Cameron, representing the Professor’s Hill Sanctuary Committee of Management wrote to Cr Rob Marshall expressing their concerns about the planned subdivision and appealed for the Council to conserve the land. This started a campaign that led to the Warrandyte Environment League (WEL), taking it on as a test case.

At the time Eltham Shire had a majority of councilors who were sympathetic to the environment, backed by experienced staff in the planning and engineering departments. They accepted the concerns of residents regarding the impact of erosion. The view of the Council was that subdivision could only go ahead with 2-acre minimum lot size. Ilya appealed the decision.

The Appeal

The Planning Appeals Board chaired by Stuart Morris heard the matter on 25th October 1983. WEL’s case was to do with the environmental quality of the land. Doug Seymour led the appeal case on behalf of WEL. As an engineer, with council experience, he carefully researched and assessed the development. At the Appeal hearing, he brought in specialists in soil, drainage, design principles and roads to support his arguments. One of his most persuasive experts was David Cameron, a botanist.

David represented the Professor’s Hill Sanctuary Committee of Management, and presented data on the floristic quality of the land. David’s submission was based on his botanical survey of Professor’s Hill covering the period 1974-83, for all months of the year. Such surveys must be conducted in all seasons of the year, to detect grasses and orchids, and need to be done over as many years as possible as some plants only flower after fire or a good season.

Taking data that were well known for other local reserves and Victorian State Parks, David was able to demonstrate via comparison, that Professor’s Hill had incredible diversity and capacity to be representative of local flora. For example, there were 37 orchid species on Professor’s Hill then, more than any other reserve or Mt Buffalo National Park, and nearly as many as Ferntree Gully