By Peter Douglas and Derek Schlennstedt

The Victorian Government has revealed a $4.72 million commitment to developing the planned Olinda Precinct Project.
Monbulk MP James Merlino and Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Lily D’Ambrosio, on Saturday 18 November made the announcement, which they said would give Olinda families and region the community parkland they deserve.
Since the former Olinda Golf Club site’s closure was confirmed, the picturesque site, which sits adjacent the newly named Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden, has been the centre of much debate over its future use.
Though, the Victorian Government is adamant the project plans have been developed in close consultation with locals and will include a sports oval, nature-based play area, picnic facilities and upgraded parking.
Designs for the precinct are expected to be released early next year, with construction to start by mid-2018.
Mr Merlino said it was an exciting project for the hills.
“The community has been advocating for this site to be transformed to a public park for all types of recreation; we’ve listened and we’re getting it done,” he said.
“I look forward to bringing my own family here to kick the footy, enjoy a picnic and make the most of this beautiful setting.”
Ms D’Ambrosio said this park is destined to become the heart of the local community.
“We are thrilled to be transforming this former golf course into a beautiful space for the Olinda community to enjoy for generations to come,” she said.
The government believes the project will support the growing needs of the Olinda and hills communities, while preserving the unique character of the historical township.
As part of the Olinda Precinct Project, the Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden will be extended by 6.4 hectares.
Meanwhile, the announcement came on the same day the Olinda Parklands group held a rally to dispute a plan they say has been ‘rubber-stamped’ without adequate community consultation.
Near Mr Merlino’s Belgrave office, the group displayed signs, expressing their disappointment over the process.
The group argues the plans have been already completed behind closed doors.
Member for Eastern Victoria Region, Ed O’Donohue, has previously lent his support to their cause, recently raising the issue in Victorian Parliament.
“This action I seek is that the minister put on hold implementation of the Olinda precinct master plan until there is further community consultation about the implementation of the (Olinda precinct) master plan,” he told Parliament.
“The beautiful Dandenong Ranges has one of the jewels in the crown in the precinct in Olinda.”
Mr O’Donohue said Parks Victoria had undertaken a process to examine the site’s best use, but questioned the consultation process.
Residents who live close to the golf course were also concerned about the plans that were unveiled on Saturday, with a map which showed only one entrance to both the footy oval and the new precinct.
“My only major concern is the traffic … they are a looking at having one entrance where all the playground goes in and out, the footy oval goes in and out, all the rhododendron visitors goes in and out, and this is just going to be gridlock … throw a bushfire threat in there and it’s a bit of a problem,” a resident said.
The plans will eliminate the current entrance to the footy oval, forcing visitors to use the Olinda Precinct parking lot which will cater for the current football oval, the new parkland and also the Rhododendron Gardens.

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