Zone abuse: Clarke faction does it again

Aug 27, 2020 | News

The story so far: Council receives an application for a permit to build a 150 seat restaurant at 103 Bannons Lane, Yarrambat. Council officers produce a recommendation that it should proceed. We previously wrote about this here. Cr Brooker ‘calls it in’ for consideration by the full Council. It was considered at the meeting of the Council’s Future Nillumbik Committee held last week. This is about what happened at that meeting.

Imagine a plan to build an abattoir in the Eltham shopping centre. Imagine that the Council approves it. And that their report says don’t worry, we’ve imposed seventy six conditions on them to make sure there will be no detrimental effects on the area. That won’t happen, will it, because it Is obviously wrong, and no focus on the detail will make it acceptable. This proposal for a 150 seat restaurant in the Rural Conservation Zone in Bannons Lane, Yarrambat, is just as wrong, just not so obvious.

Cr Clarke, Cr Ranken, Mayor Egan and Cr Ashton: developments they like, green wedge regulations they don’t. A 150 seat restaurant just doesn’t compute in the Nillumbik green wedge, and presently there’s no such thing. But this clique wants to see the first. And to increase the chances it has turned over the entire Council planning staff to create a planning department which has recommended this application.

The Rural Conservation Zone is the predominant zone in the Nillumbik green wedge, and applies to 103 Bannons Lane. Its purpose, paraphrased, is to protect or conserve the natural environment, biodiversity and the character of open rural and scenic landscapes. Also, to provide for agricultural use consistent with environmental and landscape values.

A 150 seat restaurant belongs in a township, not in the Rural Conservation Zone.

But there is a complication. A restaurant may be considered in the zone if it is ‘in conjunction’ with agriculture. The intent of the provision is not to allow restaurants to spring up in the green wedge, but to allow one to be considered where it might complement or supplement a separate agricultural undertaking. The most obvious example is the vineyard with a winery and a cellar door.  The Planning Provisions say that ‘there must be an essential association between the two uses’ and that the two uses must have a ‘genuine, close and continuing functional relationship’.

No agriculture has been carried out on the site in the past twenty years, according to long term neighbours, so you would think it obvious that this condition cannot be satisfied. But no, what we have here is a potential loophole.  The applicant proposes to plant olive trees and lemon trees on half the 8.7 ha property, and claims that that will be the agricultural use. The applicant’s business analyst claimed that the idea was ‘paddock to plate’. We can’t wait to see the menu!

Having called in the application, Cr Brooker  submitted a motion to reject it on a list of grounds, the first of which was that it ‘fails to adequately demonstrate that the proposed restaurant use will be ‘in conjunction’  with the proposed agricultural use.’ He observed that the alleged agricultural use is nothing more than a pretext to allow the commissioning of a restaurant. Not only will there be no essential association between the olive trees and restaurant, they will take from four to seven years to bear any fruit, and one of the conditions imposed on the recommended permit  is the that the restaurant must be completed inside four years!

But these Council officers believe that the requirement for the associated agricultural use will be satisfied as soon as sixty two olive trees and sixteen lemon trees are ‘in the ground’!

29 residents submitted objections to the proposal, eight of whom presented at the (Zoom) meeting. Most  were long term residents of the area, up to fifty years. All were articulate and had a good awareness of the issue.

One submitter, a new resident who had given up on his 140 acre farm in Wollert because of encroaching urban development, commented on the impossibility of running a viable agricultural operation on four hectares.

This proposal should have been rejected based on there being no genuine agricultural use ‘in conjunction’ with it. But other aspects of the proposal could also have caused it fail, all well covered by the objectors. The introduction of a restaurant allowed to open until 10 pm seven days per week from noise, light pollution and traffic will amount to a violation of the rural character surrounding residents have a right to expect.  Effluent from the site is a concern, as is the effect on habitat and faunal pathways. One neighbour remarked that there are supposedly 200 nesting pairs of Wedge Tailed eagles left in Australia, and one of them has its eyrie in nearby Edward Henty Avenue. Wedgies don’t like people.

In questioning the applicant, represented by a business analyst rather than an agricultural expert, Cr Ashton was unimpressed by the agricultural history of the applicant, but of course voted with the Clarke faction to reject Cr Brooker’s motion to reject the application.

In support of Cr Clarke’s answering motion to grant the permit, no member of the Clarke faction addressed any of the substantive issues. Cr Clarke claimed that the in conjunction test was ‘contentious’. If so, the only reason it is contentious is that it gets in the way of developers who wish to exploit the green wedge, and there is no shortage of those. And now Cr Clarke is making his contribution. He recited a list of VCAT cases in support of his ‘contentious’ theory, while managing not to refer to the actual content of any of them. Amazingly, he suggested that a reason for granting the application was that it would go  to VCAT if they didn’t.

Cr Ashton’s line was that the independent judgement of the Council officers should be respected. These are the Council officers newly recruited by this Council, and it is not to reflect badly on them to suggest that they will take their lead from the current regime. And Cr Ashton was the mover of the motion, in 2017, to override the then officers’ recommendation to reject the application to build a house on a football field-sized clearing on a steep, heavily treed block in the RURAL CONSERVATION ZONE in North Warrandyte.

Mayor Egan said that she lives next to Nillumbik Cellars and the noise doesn’t bother her, and she thought that the objections from neighbouring residents was overblown.

But it was, surprisingly,  Cr Ranken who most directly related the Clarke faction’s position. Possibly because he is genuinely oblivious to the importance of the preservation of the natural environment to humanity, let alone the neighbours in Bannons Lane, and also because he lacks political acumen, he outlined the Clarke position in a way Cr Clarke never would. Here’s what he said:

“I think it’s a great thing that people are prepared to spend and put up restaurants I mean you only have to walk down the street there are so many shops that have closed.

Was this street in the green wedge, Cr Ranken? And whatever street it was, did their closing have anything to do with Covid 19?

I think it’s great, to be able to employ all those people in our local community I think it’s a wonderful thing. I commend it I think it’s going to be wonderful.

Ah, jobs, jobs, jobs. We’ll justify the degradation of an irreplaceable asset with a few casual employees who probably will not be locals anyway.

I think they’ve done a terrific job and I take my hat off to them. Well done.”

Powerful argument, Councillor!

This is the Council whose ‘Draft Economic Strategy’ suggested that it’s an issue that Nillumbik residents spend $1billion ‘outside the Shire’. Evidently the solution is to provide a dining experience in the green wedge for the residents of Northcote, so ‘we’ can steal some revenue back.

And then of course, the vote: In favour of the restaurant: Cr Clarke, Mayor Egan and Crs Ranken and Ashton. Against: Crs Brooker, Perkins and Dumaresq.

This Council, as controlled by the Clarke faction, has been utterly consistent during its term. From its ill-fated support of the Pigeon Bank development application in 2017, though its risible community consultation project right through to this current application, which is in some ways the clearest demonstration yet of their contempt for the green wedge concept and for our green wedge Shire.