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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Council rebuffs service station objectors

Last night, objectors to a planning application heard that they were lucky to get a hearing.

A City of Greater Geelong Development Hearings Panel deferred its decision on an application by Caltex franchisee Milemaker Petroleum to build a third service station in Drysdsale.

The original Caltex application had skipped over basic issues such as safety, pollution and congestion. A council planning officer had effectively rewritten the application, spending considerable time and expertise adding 6 pages of amendments and conditions to make it more likely to be accepted. Nonetheless, the Panel judged the application incomplete, as it said nothing about the effects on neighbouring households of the increased noise and light that a service station open 24 hours a day would generate.
Objectors at the Panel argued that the officer’s rewritten application still left many risks of congestion and pollution unresolved and asked whether and how they would be addressed in the interim. Panel chairperson Melissa Garrett replied, ‘We don’t have to hold these Panels at all, you know. They’re not in the legislation. It’s something that Geelong council has decided to do.’

Depend on the developers
Panel member John Bryce, from the council’s Infrastructure Management department, told the objectors that they needn’t worry about increased traffic congestion in Jetty Road, because a new North-South road in the adjacent Development area would take some traffic off Jetty Road. When asked when the new road would be built, Mr. Bryce said, ‘I don’t know. You can’t know. It depends on the developers.’

That phrase ‘It depends on the developers’ puts the council’s philosophy about the urbanisation of the Bellarine Peninsula in a nutshell. If all the council can do is depend on the developers, Mr. Bryce’s Infrastructure Management department seems unnecessary. Indeed, if all the council can do is depend on the developers, it might as well close its whole Planning Department.

Tests for light and noise
The next stage in this saga is that Milemaker will arrange to have tests done to establish the likely noise and light effects of a 24-hour service station at this location; and the results of those tests will be examined by council experts. The Development Hearings Panel will then reconsider the Caltex application, but hasn't decided when, leaving objectors unable to plan for the event.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

In whose interest – Caltex or community?

A City of Greater Geelong planning officer has effectively re-written a firm's application for planning permission to make it more acceptable.

The application came from Caltex franchisee Milemaker Petroleum, which wishes to build and run a service station near the junction of Jetty Road and Portarlington Road, Drysdsale.

The council officer dealing with the application effectively rewrote it, spending considerable time and expertise to add 6 pages of amendments and conditions to make the application more acceptable. Objectors to the application were not offered such time and expertise.

Whose comments count?
As part of rewriting the application, the officer asked four council departments to comment on the application. The Officer’s Report adopts all their comments. Then the public was asked to comment. At least sixteen local people objected to the application; no-one supported it. The objections were diverse and many were raised by several objectors.

There were many detailed technical objections, showing that the application was an inadequate, superficial document. Basic issues such as safety, pollution and congestion were just skipped over, even though the application came from a firm that operates many service stations already. The officer addressed some technical objections in rewriting the application, while dismissing other objectors’ concerns as wrong or irrelevant.

Re-zoning by stealth
Many objectors had argued that a service station would be inappropriate in a Rural Living Zone, inconsistent with a variety of planning laws and regulations and an eyesore at the town’s entrance. In response, the Officer’s Report (p36) argues that Rural Living Zone qualities at the site in question are largely compromised by its proximity to a busy intersection - and that this is also true of neighbouring properties.

This is rezoning by stealth. Either the site is in a Rural Living Zone or it isn’t. No such dissembling marked the council’s response to a recent application by a local resident to rezone nearby land from Rural Residential to Residential. The council told him firmly that it didn’t want to lose the rural environment. The recent history of development in the area shows that had this applicant been a property speculator or an oil company, he would have received a more favourable response.

Diverse objections dismissed
Other objectors said that the proposed service station would pose risks of fire, traffic accidents and pollution; that these risks, together with the lights and noise from the service station would destroy local amenity (especially if it opens 24 hours/day), inevitably reducing neighbouring property values. Objectors refuted the need for a third service station in Drysdale, especially one just a few hundred metres from the existing ones; and asked why there was no consideration of how the planned Drysdale bypass would affect the junction.

Finally, objectors said that the council had managed public consultation on the application so badly as to prevent many people from commenting on it. This charge was compounded when the council released the 38-page Officer’s Report on 14 April - just two days before a council Development Hearings Panel is due to decide on the application. This gave objectors – including those at work - very little time to respond to this lengthy and complex document.

A clash of interests
This application highlights a clash of interests. On one side is the narrow commercial interest of a multinational oil company – Caltex; on the other side is a local community alarmed by yet another threat to its green space, its character and its values. The decision on whether to locate a service station in a Rural Living Zone is 'discretionary', so the council's Development Hearings Panel can use its discretion to support one side or the other of that clash of interests. Which will it be - Caltex or community?