YARRA Ranges councillors have had their hand forced by the developer of a new Chirnside Park estate and will now buy parkland previously promised to them for free.
Cr Fiona McAllister said the council was ‘‘being held ransom’’ by developer Sunland Group, which threatened to take the matter to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal if the land — believed to be worth more than $1 million — was not purchased.
Under a verbal agreement with the council, Sunland had agreed to provide 0.8 hectares of parkland, which will be used as an activity area for families, as part of the 178-dwelling development at Kimberley Drive and Black Springs Road.
However, after receiving its planning permit in August last year, Sunland appealed against this earlier agreement and said it would provide only a 5 per cent public open space contribution (or 0.31 hectares), the minimal requirement.
Sunland has said that, unless the council bought the remaining 0.49 hectares, it would bring the matter forward at an April 15-16 VCAT hearing, where other conditions on the $16.22 million site would be addressed.
Councillors voted 6-2 in favour of purchasing the land.
Cr McAllister, who along with Cr Andy Witlox voted against the purchase, said the park would ‘‘undoubtedly’’ be beneficial to the community, but ‘‘strongly objected’’ to purchasing the land.
‘‘What I’m not happy about is us bowing down to a developer who has reneged on a promise,’’ she said.
‘‘It feels like we are being held ransom by a developer in this instance and we are not choosing to wait for an appropriate legal process to argue our case. If we set a precedent in this, what’s to stop every other developer that we deal with in future large developments thinking they can pull the wool over our eyes?’’
Cr Terry Avery said it was a sensible move to purchase the land.
‘‘I don’t want to be at the mercy of VCAT,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t have faith in VCAT; I’ve seen so many poor decisions come from VCAT and if it doesn’t go our way, that land is gone and we will never get it back again.’’
Yarra Ranges director of planning, building and health Andrew Paxton said ‘‘at no stage during the application process’’ did Sunland indicate it would go to VCAT.