Belgrave’s VCAT battle draws to a close

The artist's impression, as it appears on planning application. 165840_02

By Mikayla van Loon

One of VCAT’s longest hearings has just wrapped up and will now decide the future of the former Belgrave Motors site which has been proposed for a major development.

Running from June to early September, the VCAT hearing was initially meant to last for a total of eight days but the complexity of the case pushed the hearing to 15 days.

“There aren’t too many VCAT cases that are longer or more bitterly fought than this one,” Tecoma resident and Belgrave Tecoma Township Group treasurer Karl Williams said.

Having been rejected by the Yarra Ranges Council planning department before it ever made it to a council meeting, 85 residents submitted their objections to VCAT to express their concerns with the development.

Mr Williams was among a handful of people who was involved in the hearing and was heard by the tribunal as a self represented party.

Yarra Ranges Council was the most significant party involved in objecting to the development.

“Councils don’t always follow through on their rejection of an application by being represented at VCAT,” Mr Williams said.

“But in this case, Yarra Ranges council did apply to be a party for the hearing, of course, objective to the applicant.

“And here’s the important point. They backed it up and threw as many resources into this hearing as they’ve ever done before.”

Yarra Ranges Council utilised the expertise of a legal firm and three expert witnesses in town planning, traffic management and urban design to refuse the five storey supermarket, childcare centre and office complex.

Emerald Tourist Railway, or better known as Puffing Billy, have also fought tooth and nail to ensure this proposed building does not go ahead, as the visual bulk of the structure would crowd the rail corridor and be devastating to the surrounding trees.

“The key points about this proposal was that it was extremely large, almost 5000 square meters and almost 98 per cent of the entire block was going to be built upon,” Mr Williams said.

“Which means every tree on the site would be removed, as well as a number of trees outside the development on the perimeter, including some very large canopy trees between the development and the railway station and that’s that loss of visual amenity.”

Arguments from both residents and Yarra Ranges Council were based on how inappropriate and out of character the building was in terms of the rest of the town and the traffic impact on an already dangerous intersection.

“One of the important concerns was the massive surge in traffic that would necessarily result. The cornerstone of this development is a full line supermarket, about 3600 square metres with 280 car parking spaces.

“The traffic movements alone were of great concern to Yarra Ranges Council and to the Belgrave Tecoma Township Group.”

Mr Williams said adding to these concerns is the soon to be built Belgrave station car park which will already increase parking capabilities by 470 spaces, meaning a potential increase to traffic congestion in the area.

Although there was not much indication as to how the VCAT commissioners would vote in the final decision, Mr Williams said objectors put forward a strong case.

“Council and the objectors started off on strong grounds because the planning controls for the site are fairly strong. They don’t allow a supermarket of this size to be built.

“But the applicant had been working on this for four years and he had drawn up 480 pages of plans which attempted to get around these concerns.”

Mr Williams said the fate of the 2-14 Monbulk Road site won’t be handed down for at least six weeks.

In the meantime, residents who donated $38,000 to employ a town and urban planner, will continue to fundraise money to defray some of the expenses, with Mr Williams aiming to reach $10,000.

The fundraiser can be found by searching for ‘Chuffed Saved Belgrave Township.’