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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

VCAT tells residents, 'Pay for developer's drain'!

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) has just told residents of the Central Road area of Drysdale that they must pay the cost of a developer's drain.

DCSCA has been supporting Central Road residents who have been fighting a unanimous decision by City of Greater Geelong (CoGG) councillors to compel them to pay for a drain for a developer's proposed retirement village. The residents must pay a 'Special Charge', because the council asserts that they will gain a 'special benefit' from the drain, i.e. the potential to subdivide their property and sell it for a profit.

On February 6, the residents took their case to VCAT, which reserved its judgment on the issue. (See ‘Council’s “Special Charge” not cut and dried’ on drycliftdays 8 February)

VCAT has now decided in favour of the council, saying that the 'Special Charge' would stand unless residents could prove that they would gain NO ‘special benefit’ from the drain - showing that there would be little ‘special benefit’ was not enough. Further, the VCAT judge accepted that the proposed drain is a public health issue because the 2 words ‘public health’ were in the initial report to council. CoGG described the drain as a matter of public health only after residents pointed out that, according to local government law, a scheme can't proceed if a majority of residents oppose it ... unless it's a matter of public health!

In an article about the Central Road issue in the Independent (3 February), CoGG's Manager of City Services, Gary Van Dreel was reported as saying that CoGG would levy the 'Special Charge' only when properties were sold or developed; and local ward councillor Rod Macdonald was reported as saying that existing owners could defer the ‘Special Charge’ if their properties remained undeveloped. However, neither of them mentioned that owners who defer paying the ‘Special Charge’ will face an even higher bill, because CoGG will charge them compound interest on the outstanding amount - at 5% for the first five years and then at 9 to 10% thereafter. So CoGG’s ‘benevolence’ in allowing residents to defer payment is, in fact, a means of compelling residents to pay even more money, even though when they do so, CoGG will have long acquitted itself of the debt.

Elections to the council will happen later this year. It will be interesting to listen to sitting councillors as they defend their unanimous decision to compel pensioners and retirees in the Central Road area to pay thousand of dollars per household for a developer's drain.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Council's 'Special Charge' not cut and dried

On February 6 2012, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) reserved its judgment on whether the City of Greater Geelong (CoGG) can levy a 'Special Charge' of many thousands of dollars on residents from Central Road, Drysdale.

The residents had asked VCAT to examine a unanimous decision by CoGG councillors on January 26 2011 to compel residents in the Central Road area to pay $1,149,476 (77 per cent) towards the cost of a new drain to service a retirement village in the area. The retirement village is planned by Melbourne-based property developer Pinnacle Holdings, yet the council wants local landowners to contribute - via the 'Special Charge' scheme - between $2,000 and $250,000 towards the cost. Unless VCAT stops the proposal, just under half the households in the area will face a bill for more than $10,000 each.

The residents - many of them retirees on fixed incomes - have argued that since the drain will enable Pinnacle Living to build and profit from its retirement village, Pinnacle Living 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. From that perspective, the 'Special Charge' is a way to recoup the cost of the drain from the people who will gain a 'special benefit' (profit) from it. (For the background, see, 'VCAT to examine Council's "Special Charge" scheme' posted on January 13 on this blog.)

'Deferral' ... but at what cost?
In an article about the Central Road issue in the Independent (3 February), CoGG's Manager of City Services, Gary Van Dreel is reported as saying that the council would only levy the Special Charge when properties were sold or developed; and local ward councillor Rod Macdonald is reported as saying that existing owners could defer the Special Charge if their properties remained undeveloped. Neither of them mentioned a crucial point: if owners opt to defer payment of the Special Charge, CoGG will charge them interest on the outstanding amount.

However, Cr. Macdonald - who holds the council's Planning portfolio - is quoted as saying, 'It is the vendors' responsibility when they sell to come to an arrangement on the money that's due.' Such an 'arrangement' could rest on a vendor showing just how much 'special benefit' (if any) they gained from the drain's installation aand making a payment accordingly. This is a step forward from CoGG's current policy, which is to simply asserty that a property-owner will gain a 'special benefit' of thousands of dollars without providing any proof (e.g. assessments by independent real estate agents). Cr. Macdonald would appear to be offering a far more equitable version of CoGG's Special Charge scheme and, if this is the case, CoGG is to be applauded.

DCSCA has been assisting the Central road residents in their opposition to the proposed Special Charge and in light of Cr. Macdonald's satement, we shall read the VCAT decision with interest.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

DCSCA meets Cr. Rod Macdonald (8)

On 3 February, DCSCA Committee members met Councillor Rod Macdonald in Drysdale. This was the latest of the quarterly meetings that DCSCA has initiated with the two City of Greater Geelong (CoGG) Councillors whose wards coincide with DCSCA's area - the other is Councillor John Doull.

Transport issues on the Bellarine

(i) Jetty Road. Cr. Macdonald said that Jake McMinn - CoGG's 'cycling supremo' - will work with DCSCA's Neil McGuinness concerning current and planned bike lanes on Jetty Road, especially in light of the current road works at the junction with Wyndham Street.

(ii) Drysdale High Street. VicRoads recognizes that the rail trail cycle/pedestrian crossing on the bend in Drysdale High Street is 'high risk' and are seeking the best way to make it safer. Next, we asked whether the traffic lights in Drysdale High Street could be fitted with a 'flashing amber' signal (like those in Ryrie Street) as a way to reduce traffic delays. Cr. Macdonald said that according to CoGG's City Services & VicRoads, the High Street lights have motion detection cameras fitted, so including 'flashing amber' wouldn't reduce traffic delays.

(iii) Drysdale bypass. Cr. Macdonald urged DCSCA to continue to press for a Drysdale bypass including, perhaps, forming a special sub-committee for the purpose. He offered to work with Council, state government and other organisations to have the bypass built sooner rather than later.

Open Spaces
(i) The foreshore. We told Cr. Macdonald that the Commonwealth government has given DCSCA funds (through its 'Caring for Country' grants programme) to revegetate the area around the new lookout and signage at The Dell. We said that DCSCA has called a meeting (including a site visit) of interested parties on 9 February to discuss how best to use the money. Cr. Macdonald believes that there are other government grants available for foreshore activities and will give us more information about these grants.

We expressed our concern that the groynes that were constructed at Clifton Springs to prevent continuing erosion of the cliffs appear to be having no effect. That section of the foreshore is in Cr. Doull's ward and we have raised our concerns with him. However, we raised the issue with Cr. Macdonald because the problem of erosion along the foreshore isn't limited to just one ward.

(ii) Lake Lorne. We raised the continuing absence of any work on the walking/cycling track around Lake Lorne, first raised by DCSCA many years ago. Cr. Macdonald said that in 2012, work will begin on Stage One (mostly fencing and general track alignment) and that work on Stage Two will begin in 2013.

(iii) Spring Street. We asked how to ensure that CoGG's 2012/2013 budget includes money for trees at Spring Street. Cr. Macdonald said that officers have put in a 'budget bid' of $15,000 for this project.

2012 Clean Up Australia Day (Sunday 4 March)
We said that we were looking at Lake Lorne and McLeod's Waterholes as target sites and that we will need a CoGG rubbish bin. More information will follow closer to the date.

DCSCA's next quarterly meeting with Cr. Macdonald will be on Friday 4 May 2012 at 9.30 am (to be confirmed). Any residents of the Drysdale/Clifton Springs area are welcome to ask DCSCA to raise any issue of concern with Cr. Macdonald.