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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Leave Beacon Point alone ... almost

Close neighbours of the Beacon Point Reserve in Clifton Springs want it left just as it is ... apart from some improvements.

On 28 March, around twenty people met at Drysdale's SpringDale Neighbourhood Centre to discuss a proposed Master Plan for the Reserve. The meeting was called by the City of Greater Geelong's Recreation and Open Space Unit and by Thompson Berrill Landscape Design, engaged by CoGG as consultants to create the Master Plan.

Many of the people attending the meeting were members of the Beacon Point Friends - a group that emerged from a DCSCA Public Meeting in 2010. Everyone said that they like the Reserve's peace and tranquility and the opportunities it offers for 'passive recreation' such as walking (with or without a dog!), kite flying or just taking-in the panoramic view. Some improvements were suggested, ranging in scale from more frequent mowing, through planting some trees for shade, providing steps down to the foreshore, through to building a toilet block.

Caught in a bind
As the residents suggested improvements, it soon became apparent that they were caught in a bind: improving the Reserve will increase its attractiveness, prompting increased use and, perhaps, reducing the peace and tranquility which residents value so much and want to retain. Something as minor as countering the current infestation of blanket weed by, for example, mowing more frequently and/or re-seeding with grass will make the area safer to walk on - especially for people unsteady on their feet - attracting more people to walk there.

Even leaving the Reserve as it is won't prevent it from attracting more visitors, because the number of open spaces in Clifton Springs and Drysdale is reducing, as the council rezones one after another to allow still more housing. As several people at the meeting stressed, the Beacon Point Reserve is now the only major public open space left in Clifton Springs. As rezoning proceeds, each remaining open space increases in value - both economic and social.

As an illustration: in 2010, DCSCA supported residents in the Spring Street area of Clifton Springs in their successful fight to prevent the council turning their open public space into a housing estate. At the time, ward councillor John Doull said that the council estimated that the land in question was worth more than a million dollars, so the council didn't want to see it 'locked up' as Open Space for community use.

Keep our open spaces
The Beacon Point Reserve is part of DCSCA's Open Spaces Network - a program to preserve and enhance open spaces in Drysdale & Clifton Springs, protected from development, each with its own ‘Friends’ group and all linked by a network of cycling/walking trails.

The creation of the Beacon Point Reserve Master Plan is already late. On 4 August 2011, ward councillor John Doull told DCSCA that the Master Plan would be completed by December 2011 and that in his view, the Reserve should be essentially an open space with minimal ‘infrastructure’ (e.g., a toilet block, a BBQ) and, perhaps, a discrete ‘artistic/sculptural’ element.

The meeting at SpringDale heard that a Draft Plan will be presented to a second consultation meeting for comment, before being submitted to the council for approval and then made available for comment by the broader community.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Waive that Charge or it's 'wave goodbye'!

There is growing astonishment at City of Greater Geelong (CoGG) councillors' unanimous decision to compel residents of Drysdale's Central Road area to pay thousands of dollars each for a developer's drain.

The councillors' decision was reinforced by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Appeal Tribunal (VCAT), to which residents appealed - and lost. The residents have nowhere else to go. VCAT's decsion can be appealed in the Supreme Court, but this would be an extremely expensive undertaking - specially for this group of people, which includes many retirees on fixed incomes.

Many of the residents now fear that they will only be able to pay their 'contribution' to the cost of the drain by selling their homes and leaving the area.

Why pay for someone else's drain?
The drain will service a retirement village planned by Melbourne-based property developer Pinnacle Holdings, yet the council wants local households to contribute - via the 'Special Charge' scheme - between $2,000 and $250,000 each towards the cost. The residents have argued that since the drain will enable Pinnacle Holdings to build and profit from its retirement village, Pinnacle Holdings should pay for it. The council has responded that while the drain's primary purpose is to service the proposed retirement village, its presence will enable nearby residents to sub-divide and sell their properties at a profit - a 'special benefit' as the council calls it.

(For the background, see, 'VCAT to examine Council's "Special Charge" scheme' [January 13] and 'VCAT tells residents, "pay for developer's drain"!' [February 29] on this blog.)

Growing interest
The Geelong Advertiser ran a story about the issue ('Drysdale residents face million-dollar plumbing bill', by Shane Fowles) on Friday 2 March. The article said that VCAT Vice-President Michael Macnamara had made it clear that while the residents had no case in law, he had considerable sympathy for their position. It quoted Mr. Macnamara as follows:
'The overall tone of much of what was said on behalf of the ratepayers was that the council had in effect sold out to the developer and sold the applicant ratepayers down the river in the process. ... I see the force of what has been said in that respect and express my utmost sympathy for these ratepayers in their unhappy situation.'

The Advertiser article also said that Mr. Macnamara had said that he was 'inclined to think' that that the benefits of the proposed drain wasn't woth what the residents are being charged. In the Advertiser's online forum associated with its story on 2 March, most commentators expressed astonishment that an elected council could treat its citizens this way.

On the evening of March 2, Channel Nine News also ran an item about the VCAT decision and the 'Special Charge'. On Wednesday March 7, Channel 9's A Current Affair ran an item about the issue, interviewing several local people. The City of Greater Geelong was notable for its absence from the story. To see the ACA story, go to the 'Why live in Drysdale' blog:

Friday, March 2, 2012

Squeezing a Jetty Road bottleneck tighter

Construction work in Drysdale's Jetty Road is likely to expose cyclists and pedestrians - including children at the Clifton Springs Primary School - to increased traffic volumes at a dangerous bottleneck.

For almost six months, pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles in Jetty Road have had to contend with extensive and hazardous road works associated with the creation of new housing estates to the west. Storm water drains have been installed, a major new intersection is being created at Jetty Road's junction with Wyndham Street and a secondary intersection where Jetty Road crosses Griggs Creek.

This enormous construction effort will widen sections of Jetty Road considerably, enabling much more traffic to use it. However, it will leave untouched the narrow stretch of Jetty Road where it crosses Griggs Creek, making a dangerous bottleneck even more hazardous. Once the current road works are completed, this dangerous bottleneck will include on its western side a shared walking/cycling path just 1.5m wide. To its immediate north and south, that path is 2.5m wide. There will be no path at all on the eastern side of the bottleneck, increasing its danger still further.

What is a 'top priority'?
These developments fly in the face of the City of Greater Geelong's Cycle Strategy, which has among its top priorities the creation of cycle lanes along Jetty Road (Priority A: 10). When the DCSCA's Neil McGuinness asked Adam Farrimond (CoGG's Engineering Department) about this apparent contradiction, the reply was that cycle lanes will be created by, 'Improvements to line marking and signage’ and that cyclists who are uneasy at using the 1.5m path in the bottleneck, 'also have the alternative of using the on road path.'

In other words, if you're a cyclist who's worried about negotiating a 1.5m path shared with pedestrians, take your chances by cycling on the narrowest section of Jetty Road!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Bogged in their own hole!

Early this week in Drysdale's Ryan Court, City of Greater Geelong contractors and officers had to be rescued from holes of their own making!

The contractors were attempting to mow the site of an 'urban dam' - a two-feet deep, unfenced hole in the ground that was dug in March 2011 to catch storm water from a nearby housing estate. The hole soon filled with rainwater that failed to drain away as promised and that collected chemical foams and oil slicks. In July 2011, pressure from local residents and the Drysdale & Clifton Springs Community Assciation (DCSCA) led local ward councillor Rod Macdonald and council officers to promise that the dam would be filled-in and the site re-vegetated.

Nine months later, in November 2011, after continuing pressure on the council by residents and DCSCA, the 'urban dam' was filled-in. Residents and DCSCA received new assurances from council officers that the site - now a muddy slick - would be re-vegetated and steps taken to prevent vehicles from entering it.

Once again, nothing happened. Residents and DCSCA called on council officers continually to keep their word. and three months after the dam was filled-in, in late-February 2012, contractors arrived to prepare the site for revegetation. By this time, a thick mat of weeds had grown over the site and this, plus some recent rain, made mowing impossible. Indeed, the contractors became bogged on the site and had to be rescued by another, larger vehicle!

From dam to 'black hole'
The contractors became bogged because council officers became bogged-down around this issue. Having created the 'urban dam', officers then created a bureaucratic 'black hole' into which all the pleas, reminders and requests from Ryan Court residents and DCSCA disappeared, never to be seen again. There is a huge e-mail 'chain' between residents, DCSCA and council officers over this issue. To print it out would require more trees to be felled than are due to be planted on the site! Had the promise made by Cr. Macdonald and relevant council officers in July 2011 been kept, the job could have been completed immediately. Instead, a hole that two days to dig has taken twelve months to restore!

In those twelve months, one Ryan Court resident became a grandmother! Gracie Rose was born in July 2011, so she's now eight months old. A lot has happened to Gracie Rose in her first eight months - indeed, a lot more than has happened to the urban dam at Ryan Court! Council officers' latest assurance to Ryan Court residents is that tree-planting will happen 'next week' (i.e. the week beginning 4 March). Given residents' experience of previous assurances by council officers, Gracie Rose might just see a tree planted on her birthday!

For the full, nine-month story of the Ryan Court 'urban dam', see these earlier postings on this blog:
'Who you gonna call? Dam busters!" (1 August 2011)
'Busting "urban dams"' (17 August 2011)
'How many more sleeps for Gracie Rose?' (13 September 2011)
'Gracie Rose grows up, but urban dam remains unfilled' (11 October 2011)
'Combined celebrations for Gracie Rose! (22 November 2011)