Opponents of the development celebrating the council’s decision on Friday near the site.
Campaigners are cautiously celebrating a Baw Baw Shire decision to deny a planning permit for a new service station on the highway at Yarragon.
First published in our 2 August 2018 print edition. Get your copy free from retailers across Baw Baw!
The permit applicants were seeking to build a service station, ancillary control building/convenience store, and two convenience restaurants “to operate 24 hours a day 7 days a week” off the Melbourne-bound lane of the M1 just west of Hazeldean Road.
While the land measures 8.48 hectares, the development will occupy 3.68 hectares of the site. As well as the buildings, it will include car parking for 67 passenger vehicles and 23 truck spaces.
Yarragon traders and many residents expressed concerns that the economic and visual impact of the development could badly damage the town, especially if popular food chains were to move in and take business from the Yarragon CBD 250 metres away.
Councillors unanimously rejected the proposal at their 25 July meeting on the recommendation of council officers.
“We feel like we’ve won a battle, [but] not necessarily the war because it could go to VCAT (the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal) and we would need to wait for that,” Yarragon Business Association president Lee Richards told the Baw Baw Citizen on Friday.
“But we were very heartened by the process. We were also heartened that the council planner had gone to great length to be quite rigorous in their process of testing the application.
“They found against the application because there were very solid planning [reasons] not to do this.
“It’s not just that the majority of the community doesn’t want this… but there are planning reasons for not doing this as well.”
The thorough work by the planner could be critical should the applicant challenge the council’s decision at VCAT, which has the power to overrule Baw Baw’s decision.
But a spokesperson for the applicant said the report had findings in their favour too.
“I’d like to commend the council officers for their comprehensive report, and particularly the commentary on pages 13 to 18 of the attachment which indicates they believe the majority of grounds raised by the objectors are without basis or lacking in substance,” the spokesperson told councillors at their 25 July meeting.
“We believe strongly that the proposal still results in a sound strategic outcome. The site falls within your defined settlement boundary that you’ve established though extensive community consultation, council has already acknowledged that the site’s agricultural value has ceased, and we believe the proposal will assist in starting the transformation of the precinct which council has foreshadowed for the site, which can’t occur until the drainage issue is fixed.
“Don’t let the emotions of the objectors prevent you from considering the facts before you, and pursuing a project which will deliver real and significant benefits to your shire.”
But Ms Richards said Yarragon’s business model was unique and had helped shape the town into a tourist destination, not just a stopping point.
“I think the councillors heard a lot of the community concerns and the reality of what is Yarragon and what makes it unique and attractive,” Ms Richards said.
“From a business perspective, it’s a tourism town. We’re attracting tourists, tourists come and stop and stay with us because they love the town, they love the rural atmosphere, it’s unique, the shops are unique, it’s small, it’s owner operated.
“To put something half the size of the CBD of Yarragon again here, it’s huge. It’s monstrous. To do that creates another commercial centre in Yarragon, which looks like every other place along the freeway.
“It just takes away what Yarragon is, and that’s the main reason. If it was just a small service station, if it were just a few more shops, it’s not the same thing as having another full centre with everything that goes with that being built here.
“We’ve got a really good business model here. It works well. But to stop the traffic [at the proposed service station site] rather than in the village and not have those people walk around and experience Yarragon, it’s going to impact not just those takeaway coffee and food businesses, it will impact everybody.
“We need a vibrant business community for the vibrancy of the town and the economic health of the town.”
Ms Richards warned that some of Yarragon’s stable and long-term retailer tenancies could be brought to an end by large chain stores opening up a short distance up the road with signage encouraging motorists to skip the township.
“Some people have said ‘oh, it’s just the businesses whingeing,’ but it’s not,” Ms Richards said.
“There is a lot of community support to not have something built here, and we’ve had very short notice [but managed to] put a petition out. We didn’t go out and knock on doors or spruik on the street, but in six days we got over 1,000 signatures, which is pretty amazing.”
One of those community supporters is Roy Lindsay, one of many residents to turn out for a celebratory photo shoot near the proposed development site on Friday. Mr Lindsay said he wasn’t so much concerned about the service station itself, so much as the shops and large development it would bring to the edge of town with it.
“As a resident I just don’t like the thought of such a monstrosity in the area taking away jobs,” Mr Lindsay told the Baw Baw Citizen.
“The Strzeleckis are behind, and they would be the backdrop to this monstrosity which would be illuminated 24 hours a day, which would wreck the place.
“That and it will close down businesses if it were approved.”
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