‘Wedge tactics’ divide council

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KINGSTON’S green wedge is in danger of being “carved up” for residential development, with an elite Melbourne private school among those set to profit, according to environmental activists.

Defenders of the South East Green Wedge secretary Barry Ross slammed Kingston Council’s decision to move to rezone a strip of land in Braeside to “an appropriate form of residential zone”.

The land, which includes even-numbered properties between 732 and 928 Springvale Rd, 327 Governor Rd (currently a service station), the JV Marine boat dealership, and a bus depot, was due to be excluded from the green wedge as part of Kingston’s Green Wedge Plan, approved by council in August 2012.

However, it is the sudden inclusion of land at Mentone Grammar’s playing fields at Keysborough and seven hectares at McMahons farm that has angered activists.

“The possible widening of the potential residential zoned land to include Mentone Grammar playing fields and farm land is ad hoc and opportunistic,” Mr Ross said.

“Council spent a lot of money [$300,000] on the green wedge plan, including surveying Kingston residents, and it’s now as if that plan was never produced.”

Councillors Rosemary West, Tamara Barth, David Eden and Steve Staikos were outvoted four-five by councillors Geoff Gledhill, Ron Brownlees, Tamsin Bearsley, John Ronke and mayor Paul Peulich in a bid to stop the rezoning move at a council meeting last week.

Cr Rosemary West condemned the council decision, warning that “every landowner in the green wedge would feel entitled to the windfall gains that would follow if this kind of zoning was approved”.

Council officers will now work on a planning scheme amendment to submit to state Planning Minister Matthew Guy for approval.

Cr West said it was “unlikely” that the plan would be approved by the planning minister. She said Mr Guy had said the state government “did not want residential development in the green wedges” when he attended a community form in Kingston in November last year.

However, she is puzzled as to why some councillors seem to be keen to support residential development in the green wedge.

“It has been estimated that Mentone Grammar could make $60 million out of the deal,” Cr West said. “Is it proper for a private school to be speculating and profiteering at the expense of the community’s best interest in maintaining the green wedge and the buffer to Braeside Park?”.

Mentone Grammar was not available for comment due to the school holidays.

Mayor Paul Peulich had warned his fellow councillors at a September council meeting last year that backing possible planning amendments in the green wedge without the benefit of a council officers’ report “raised alarm bells”.

“It means the rigorous process that this council has had in place does not apply…so I would call for transparency to be restored,” he said at the time.

Cr Peulich was elected mayor in October. He voted in favour of the latest bid to ask the planning minister for advice on rezoning parts of the green wedge.

He did not respond to calls from The News for comment before deadline.

Cr Steve Staikos said he would like a supporting report from council officers which gave a strategic reason for any rezoning.

“I would like time to consider the consequences of such a rezoning if it were to be successful, and time for an officer’s report to be prepared before considering such a proposal,” he said.

Defenders of the South East Green Wedge secretary Barry Ross said he feared Kingston’s green wedge faced “death by a thousand cuts”.

“There is a danger that someone will eventually say ‘this is too small now, it’s not worth keeping’,” Mr Ross said.

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