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Monday, May 26, 2014

Conjuring up permission

-->Proponents of a 103-place child care centre in Jetty Road, Drysdale have resorted to some heavy-handed conjuring tricks to show that the centre would be appropriate in a Rural Living zone.*

The proposed childcare centre would be on the eastern side of Jetty Road, just south of its junction with Cowies Road. The proponents attempt to conjure up a 'locality' that includes both the west and the east of Jetty Road; and then assert that the development of new housing estates on the western side of Jetty Road makes a centre on the eastern sside compatible with the current character of the locality:
“The locality has changed significantly since the VCAT decision of 2005 and the general area is now earmarked for, and in the process of residential development and subdivision.” (05.3)
“ ... the locality is one in which residential development and subdivision is now occurring.” (05.14)
“ ... the locality is being developed as a suburban residential locality.” (05.25)
“ ... a location which is a significant developing and growing residential precinct.” (07.1)

That attempted conjuring trick doesn’t alter the fact that ‘The general area’ has two quite distinct parts: to the west is the Residential 1 zone of the Jetty Road Growth Area; to the east is a Rural Living zone, in which the site of the proposed centre is located. CoGG’s decision as to whether to permit the proposed centre to be built must be based on the planning zone it is in, not on the zone it abuts (across Jetty Road).

In a second conjuring trick, the proponents argue that while CoGG’s Structure Plan for Drysdale and Clifton Springs aims to retain the “rural character” of the site of the proposed centre, together with land to its south, “it does not specifically suggest the retention of the Rural Living zone” (05.9). That’s true, but the proponents fail to show that the proposed 878m2 building (which they describe as, “a sensitive response ... that is respectful of the surrounding area” [07.2]) would be at all “Rural” in character and would, therefore, retain the site’s rural character.

As if to recognize the weakness of those two tricks, the proponents pull this rabbit from their hat:  Rural Living zones may be rezoned as residential anyway – with the heavy implication that decisions on their current use should be made on the basis of some unknown future status:
“ ... it is not inconceivable that, upon a further review of the structure plan, land zoned rural living and contained within the settlement boundary would ultimately convert to a residential zone.” (05.10)

Well yes ... but it is also "not inconceivable" that land zoned Rural Living (such as that in which the site of the proposed centre is located) ‘would ultimately convert’ to ‘Light Industrial’ or ‘Rural’!

What happened to rural living?
The proponents' conjuring tricks to show that the proposed child care centre is compatible with the area’s zoning as Rural Living raise the question: what sorts of development are a) appropriate and b) inappropriate in a Rural Living zone?

Rural Living zones permit low-density housing, with the aim of protecting and enhancing the area’s natural resources and biodiversity, together with its landscape and heritage values. The zones are ‘green spaces’, often forming a buffer between a town and its rural surroundings.

On the face of it, such a major commercial venture as a 103-place child care centre is obviously incompatible with the character and aims of a Rural Living zone. However, the regulations defining these zones contain a crucial loophole. While certain types of development within them are prohibited (e.g. nightclub, office, cinema, amusement parlour), others can occur at the discretion of the local council.

The proponents argue that their proposal falls within the council’s discretion, as follows:
“03.1 The land is within a Rural Living zone as designated by the Greater Geelong Planning Scheme.
03.4 A child care centre is a section 2, permit required use in the zone (clause 35.03-1)
03.5 It is noted that as a child care centre is NOT a prohibited use in the zone the planning scheme must, by inference, anticipate that the use would be able to be located in the zone in certain circumstances.
03.6 It would be wrong to treat the proposal as though it were a prohibited use.”

The crucial phrase there is “in certain circumstances”. The circumstances of this application are that people in Drysdale value the area’s Rural Living zones, want to retain their rural character and regard large scale commercial developments within them as inappropriate. This is evident in the numerous objections to Milemaker Petroleum’s current application for planning permission to build a Caltex service station in a Rural Living zone, near the Jetty Road / Portarlington Road roundabout. Most objectors to Milemaker’s application said that a service station would be inappropriate in a Rural Living zone and would be inconsistent with CoGG’s Structure Plan for Drysdale, which aims to retain the town's "rural character". Further, at a public meeting in Drysdale on 30 April, around seventy local people rejected the proposed service station unanimously as inappropriate in a Rural Living zone.

An objective judgement?
Citizens have a right to expect CoGG to be even-handed in exercising its discretion over what is and is not permitted in a Rural Living zone. CoGG’s the Greater Geelong Planning Scheme (2011) has this to say about the site of the proposed child care centre: "Maintain rural residential character" (Greater Geelong Planning Scheme 21 14-10 ‘Drysdale Clifton Springs Structure Plan map’). A 103-place child care centre is neither "rural" nor "residential'. On the face of it, then, the proposal conflicts with the Greater Geelong Planning Scheme.

However, the draft Drysdale Clifton Springs Structure Plan (2009) contained this telling remark, revealing that the council was biassed against Rural Living zones:
"Rural Living land is an inefficient use of land and is most often a constraint to future residential growth opportunities." (p. 10).

People in Drysdale can’t know whether that bias against Rural Living zones persists in CoGG today. Given its documented existence in the past, however, if a decision on this application is to seen as even-handed, objective and professional, it must do two things explicitly:
a) reject that bias against Rural Living zones explicitly
b) acknowledge - explicitly - that local people value the area’s Rural Living zones and want to retain them.

* For more details on the application, see "Proposed child care centre in Drysdale challenges council's planning policies" on this blog ( 20 May 2014.

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