CAMPAIGNERS opposed to the sale of de facto parkland adjacent to Bellbird Park in Drouin are celebrating after Baw Baw councillors rejected a motion to sell the land for development on Wednesday.
Above: a sign stuck to an empty shop's window in Drouin celebrating the council's decision.
First published in the 29 May 2015 edition of the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen. Get your copy today for free from retailers across Baw Baw.
Council officers had recommended the land be subdivided and sold as it was considered surplus to need, but Drouin ward councillor Tricia Jones moved an alternative motion calling for the land to not only be retained but zoned as parkland.
“We have over the last few moths received emails, letters and phone calls showing why this land is a well used and appreciated area,” Cr Jones said on moving her motion.
“The parcel of land was bought [by the Shire of Buln Buln] almost 50 years ago. It was bought for enjoyment as well as passive and recreation.
“I believe it should be used for enjoyment.
“Let’s look forward to the future and keep our asset.”
The public gallery was packed with over 60 people during the meeting, most of them Save Bellbird Park campaigners. They cheered and applauded as Cr Jones’ alternative was passed with support from Drouin ward councillor Terry Williamson, Warragul’s Gerard Murphy and Mikaela Power and North Ward’s David Balfour and Debbie Brown.
Warragul’s Joe Gauci and Mount Worth’s Murray Cook and Peter Kostos voted to sell.
Cr Cook foreshadowed an alternative motion that would have seen just under half of the affected land sold, but that never went to a vote as Cr Jones’ motion passed.
Many residents of surrounding streets spoke to submissions at the start of the meeting.
“A big pull for us to live in this area was the landscape,” one speaker said.
“This land is not excess to need. With recent residential rezoning of farmland [nearby] it is even more important to keep this land.
“When developers have to set aside land for parks in new estates, why is the council considering selling this off in an already established area?”
Another speaker said the park was well-loved and maintained by locals.
“On paper it may not be marked as part of the park, but in truth it is. Physically you can see it is a part of the park,” another speaker said.
“Just because you can excise this area off doesn’t mean you should.”
“One shire in this state, Stonnington, is wanting to acquire houses to extend existing parkland. This shire is trying to sell it off.
“In Melbourne lord mayor Rob Doyle will acquire houses and land to create parkland. Our council wants to acquire parkland to build houses.”
Another nearby resident said “if I’d wanted to live in Pakenham I would’ve purchased a property there.”
The council’s planning scheme was raised by a number of submitters and councillors as a reason the council should not sell the land. The scheme and other planning documents put emphasis on open land and rural feel.
“The planning scheme this shire adopted is something the council should live and breathe,” one submitter said.
“The sale of this land conflicts directly with that planning scheme.”
“Every public consultation, every discussion I’ve had, whether it was Baw Baw 2050 [or other planning documents], the public response was always ‘we love the parks and gardens in Drouin,'” another submitter added.
“It was always the underlying assumption that we would keep the existing parkland.
“You (councillors) worked hard on the Precinct Structure Plan and other strategies, you want to be remembered by those.
“Once this land is gone, we ain’t getting it back.”
One of the youngest people to ever make a submission to councillors, a boy who lives nearby, said: “I like to kick the footy in the park with my Dad.”
Cr Kostos was heckled by people in the gallery when speaking against Cr Jones’ motion. When trying to explain Bellbird Park was not being sold, as the campaigners had implied, he was met with retorts of “yes you are!”
When he went on to say Bellbird Park was already one of the largest recreation areas in Baw Baw one gallery member yelled “well you should be proud of it!”
But Cr Kostos’ primary point was he believed a partial sale would have little effect on the park.
“Those blocks total half an acre,” he said
“If this motion fails and the alternative happens to get up, having two houses in this particular piece I don’t believe is going to stop people from using the park.
“I get the impression from the commentary from the people that we are going to get rid of the trees. There are a lot of misconceptions about this motion.”
Residents said the open space made them feel safe in using the park, and a member of a nearby sporting facility said the land was the only safe pedestrian route to some of the Bellbird Park facilities.
Cr Murphy said the recent addition of hockey facilities to the park had taken public open space away from the people, and rezoning the land to parkland would be a kind of compensation.
The land has been used as parkland despite its zoning for decades, a point noted by Cr Brown.
“I know they’re zoned residential, but the zoning is one item we’d like to fix up,” Cr Brown said.
“For the last [decades] it has been seen as open recreation area.
Cr Brown said there was a need to have open space not tied to a sporting facility.
“We need areas where people can do what they want to do without being restricted to sport,” she said.
“We should not be driven by financial gain only.”
Cr Williamson attempted to abstain from the vote but ended up supporting the motion.”
“The two proposals have merit,” he said.
“The compromise would’ve worked, but then you think if you put two houses there, and a lot of the trees are taken out, those houses are going to look awfully bare and it actually splits the two sides of the park.”
He added jokingly: “In the back of my mind [is] another park we could sell, tell everyone that.”
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