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By Peter Douglas

Development of the iconic Burnham Beeches estate is set to move forward, with Yarra Ranges Council unanimously voting in favour of recommendations set down from an independent planning panel.
At its Tuesday 27 March meeting, Council stamped a seal of approval on the development after a lengthy, controversial planning amendment, which will see the historic Norris Building returned to its former glory.
In addition, the co-developers – celebrity chef Shannon Bennett and business partner Adam Garrison – will develop the estate to include a residential hotel (including ancillary bars, dining areas and functional facility), two licensed restaurants in the Piggery building and a microbrewery with associated licensed food and drink areas.
Also planned are a shop and licensed food and drink areas, and staff and guest accommodation.
Although the planned development has caused much discontent within the community, Cr Noel Cliff told council that now was the time for action.
“I think this is going to be one of those once-in-a-lifetime things where you’ve got to make a decision, or we’re going to lose an asset,” Cr Cliff said.
“The (Norris) building, which has been lying in a destitute condition for quite a few years now, is deteriorating.
“There is going to come a time, if we keep putting this off … it’s going to deteriorate (further) and a developer is going to say ‘bulldoze the damn thing’.”
Cr Cliff said council has a duty to protect a nationally significant asset.
Cr Tony Stevenson agreed with Cr Cliff’s sentiment that the building can be restored “to its hey-day”.
“This can be something very special again, with the right care, with the right support and right direction,” Cr Stevenson said.
“This is a unique property and will provide a unique experience. There is nothing like it in the Dandenongs and it can become something everyone will be proud of.”
Although the restoration of the Norris Building has been widely welcomed, the panel’s recommendation has failed to appease the almost 90 objectors to the amendment, which was exhibited in late October last year.
The public submissions were considered by the independent panel in December last year.
Hills resident Peta Freeman, who also spoke at the hearing, addressed council in a last-ditch plea for council to reject the recommendations.
Among the issues Ms Freeman reiterated included traffic and parking, patron numbers, fire danger, trading hours, waste water removal and the intended use of the Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens driveway.
“Although it’s positive to see some modifications have been made … in response to these issues, sadly, many of these concerns have still not been addressed to the satisfaction of the majority of submitters,” Ms Freeman said.
Although, it was the future of about one dozen historic beech trees she implored council to help save.
The developers plan to undertake road works on Sherbrooke Road to create a ‘safe’ intersection at the main entry, which it is thought will impact on the number of beech trees in the area.
“As I’m acutely aware, the likelihood of successfully persuading you to vote against the panel’s findings and recommendations … are fairly low, I would like to ask you to instead focus on just one aspect of the panel’s recommendations,” Ms Freeman said.
“ … the applicants intend to remove 10 to 13 of the landmark beech trees that make up the Avenue of Beeches … for which the property is renowned.
“Not only is the Avenue of Beeches a landmark in the Dandenong Ranges … but it is the only Avenue of Copper Beeches on the National Trust’s Significant Tree register, with only four other individual beech specimens classified in Victoria.”
Ms Freeman expressed to council the panel had recommended a review to see if the trees could be retained, though no review had been forthcoming.
She said there was still no clear guideline on how many trees could be removed amid the works to the intersection.
 

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