Drysdale & Clifton Springs Community Association (DCSCA) officers were among more than twenty speakers at a City of Greater Geelong (CoGG) Submissions Panel hearing yesterday at City Hall.
CoGG established the Panel to review its proposal to levy a Special Charge on landowners in the Central Road area of Clifton Springs. CoGG wants to levy the Special Charge to recoup money it has committed to a new, $1.5 million drain to serve the area. CoGG has split the cost of the drain with Melbourne-based Pinnacle Holdings, which wishes to build a retirement village in Central Road.* The Panel consisted of Cllr. Jan Farrell (Chair) and Cllrs. Rod Macdonald and John Doull, whose two wards include the area in which the proposed Special Charge would be levied. The Panel was supported by three officers from CoGG's Engineering and Planning departments.
Cllr. Farrell welcomed us to the event and thanked us for attending. She assured us that anyone who wished to speak would be heard respectfully; and she encouraged people to feel relaxed and comfortable in what were, for many people, quite intimidating surroundings. Cllr. Farrell emphasized that the Panel had no power to take decisions about the proposed Special Charge. Its function is to recommend a course of action to the full council. Essentially, the Panel will recommend one of three broad options:
1. Levy the Special Charge in its present form
2. Levy an amended form of the Special Charge
3. Abandon the proposal.
If the Panel recommends either option '1' or '2', it will also recommend how the Special Charge should be administered - including when and how people will have to pay it. Cllr. Farrell described the proposed Special Charge as 'the most complex Special Charge scheme that I've seen in my five years of chairing these Submission Panels'; and Cllr. Doull assured us that 'What we (the Panel) want is an equitable and fair outcome from the process'.
Each person who spoke to the Panel faces bills of many thousands of dollars under the proposed Special Charge, which they described as 'criminal' and 'extortionate'. All speakers said that local landowners shouldn't have to pay the proposed Special Charge until they subdivide their land to sell it at a profit. In its original submission, DCSCA suggested that a possible way forward would be to place covenants on title deeds so that the Special Charge is payable only when the value added by the drain is realised. (While it won't be affected if CoGG levies the proposed Special Charge, DCSCA made a submission concerning the proposal and spoke to the Panel because it is a significant voice in the community.)
In discussions between Panel members and CoGG officers, it became apparent that if the proposed Special Charge is implemented, it would have different effects on different landowners in the area. Some landowners would have to pay the Special Charge only if they subdivide their land. Their properties have been rezoned recently (under planning Amendment C146) from 'Rural Living' to 'Residential 1'. This means that they can - if they wish - subdivide their land and sell it under a standard set of planning rules called a Section 173 Agreement. If they subdivide, they pay the Special Charge; if they don't subdivide, they don't pay the Special Charge. In contrast, the remaining properties in the area to be served by the drain are zoned 'Rural Living'. This means that their owners can't subdivide and sell their properties. Consequently, these landowners face a Special Charge of many thousands of dollars and can't subdivide and sell their land to pay the bills. Clearly, this situation is inequitable and the Panel will have to recommend how to resolve it.
Cllr. Farrell said that the Panel will take two to three months to prepare and submit its recommendations to the council; and that the council will then discuss the recommendations. Everyone who made a submission concerning the proposal will be notified in advance of the council meeting at which the recommendations will be discussed, so that they can attend if they wish.
Anyone can ask a question to the council in the 'Question Time' section of each council meeting. To do so, dowload the form from the relevant page of the CoGG website:
* For the background to this issue, see three earlier articles on the blog: Landowners to pay for developer's drains? (April 1 2010); A 'Special Charge' for developer's drains: DCSCA submission (April 12 2010); and Chasing a 'phantom value' (May 2 2010). See also DCSCA meets Cllr. Rod Macdonald (3) (12 August 2010), DCSCA meets Cllr. Rod Macdonald (2) (7 May 2010) and DCSCA meets Cllr. John Doull (2) (21 April 2010).