Move to cash in on public land

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COUNCIL have resolved at their 18 February meeting to negotiate the sale of a parcel of public land on Evelyn Street to the Department of Justice.

The motion to continue negotiations with the state government authority was set to be heard behind closed doors in closed council, before Cr Glenn Aitken moved that it be brought into the public section of the meeting.

The Evelyn Street land is a short walking distance from the Police Station and Magistrates’ Court.

Cr Aitken was heavily critical of council’s decision to move ahead with negotiations.  He told The Times “what you’re looking at is a sweetheart deal with one market. This is government working with another level of government, it is not an open market. This was brought up with the view of holding in closed council, with limited knowledge of the public so it wouldn’t blow up into public arena.”

Crs Aitken, Steve Toms, and Quinn McCormack all opposed moving forward with the sale of the land.

Cr Toms said that negotiating the sale of the land “opens the floodgates”.

“Why fix what isn’t broken. It’s not for this council to rip away open green space. The Department of Justice says their searching of premises has been exhausted, it has not been,” he said.

“This community expects better. We’re doing away with protecting open space. This is a gross mistake to disrespect residents. Think carefully about the type of message you want them to see.

Cr McCormack said “there are alternate sites available” for the Department of Justice.

“This area has a need and a demand. It is used as breathing space to get away from court and the police station,” she said.

“There are trees there that you can’t replicate, it won’t be the same. This doesn’t make any sense, there are so many options in the CAA for a building of this size.”

She said selling open space would run the “risk of turning this city into a ghetto.”

Cr Aitken said that Dandenong Council was spending “millions” on green space, and was disappointed that Frankston had not done the same. He told council the matter was similar to the “sale of land north of Beach Street for $8.2 million” in 2004, a parcel of land he estimated to be worth “around $65 million” today. He also compared the sale of the land to the sale of the site that the South East Water building was constructed on.

“To proceed further on this matter is a breach of trust,” he said.

The motion to “reaffirm the importance of protecting public space” and “resolve no further action be taken on this matter” was voted down 6-3.

An alternate motion was moved to proceed with negotiations with “all funds quarantined for purposes of purchasing a quality site within the CAD” passed 6-3. The successfully passed motion stated that “council is to continue to insist upon the inclusion of a quality and living encompassing green wall on the site.” 

Cr Brian Cunial argued in favour of selling off the land. He said “everyone knows the value of open space, but [this piece of land] is not of a very good quality.”

Cr Bolam said the building would create up to 187 jobs. He said it was important to remember that “if trees are taken down, the onus is on the developer” to replant them.

Councillors noted the land was currently used illegally as a makeshift car park.

Cr Aitken said that bringing the matter out from behind closed doors was important, even if it received negative attention online.

“Council is under attack, this is the thing that may bring council under an absolute welter of attack. It will add fuel to the people saying council should be removed. Council must be seen as holding responsibly the land that has been passed onto them in trust and good faith,” he said.

“Some of these people that exert themselves so hard on Facebook, their efforts end up going into the treatment plant at south east treatment works and thundering down the peninsula and released at Gunnamatta.”

He said that he expects the matter to come back before council before any final decision on the sale is made.

First published in the Frankston Times – 25 February 2019

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