By Cam Lucadou-Wells
VCAT has approved the felling of 25 mature river red gum trees for eight extra townhouses at Yarraman Village estate – despite the opposition of Greater Dandenong Council.
The developer, The Village Building Company, has been building a 158 townhouse estate at 48-146 Hanna Street, Noble Park.
As part of its 2016 permit, the north-east parcel of trees near the Eastlink Trail was to be retained as public open space.
At a VCAT appeal in August 2020, the developer applied to amend the agreed permit.
In opposition, the council argued the trees enabled a “green spine” along the estate’s eastern boundary.
This “offset the density of the overall development”, the council submitted.
It also opposed the extra dwellings on the grounds of environmentally sustainable design, neighbourhood character and ResCode non-compliance.
Also opposed was EastLink operator ConnectEast due to the tollway’s potential acoustic impact on the dwellings.
On appeal, VCAT Senior Member Geoffrey Code noted the council had issued a subdivision permit in November 2017 that included the “townhouse land” as within ‘Lot S7’ instead of public open space.
“The Council could have ensured the creation of POS if it had certified an amended plan showing Lot S7 as POS.
“At the hearing, the Council did not provide any explanation for this course of action.”
In modifying the permit, Mr Code trimmed the VBC’s request for 167 dwellings to 166.
This was in order to retain the most prominent river red gum.
Mr Code stated land at the top of Mile Creek’s banks would contribute to 11 per cent public open space at the site – well above the 5 per cent minimum.
The “biodiversity impacts” of removing the trees weren’t in “serious” dispute, despite river red gums having “local conservation significance”.
The noise impacts from EastLink were acceptable, Mr Code found.
In March, councillors had railed against the VBC’s altered plan. Cr Peter Brown declared the “established” trees and open space reserve as an “integral part” of the original 158-dwelling permit.
After the VCAT approval, Cr Brown said the council should explore a Supreme Court appeal or compulsorily acquiring the treed land.
“Fight fire with fire.
“Funds are available in the Public Open Space reserve and the allotment is not large.
“We have clearly demonstrated at VCAT as has the other submitter that the retention of the site as is, is in the public interest.”
He said it may be a case that both the developers and the council had been “deficient” but “the losers are the residents and the environment”.
“I believe the conduct of the developers in this matter borders on misleading and unconscionable.
“There is clear evidence that Council could and should have done more to make the permit more restrictive.
“However the conduct and representations of the developers warrants judicial review in my opinion.”
Nine neighbours objected to the proposal on the grounds of the developer promising a community green space, the loss of trees and the narrow streets within the estate.
Greater Dandenong has one of the lowest rates of tree canopy coverage (9.8 per cent) in metropolitan Melbourne.
As part of its Greening Our City strategy, it is seeking to increase the coverage to 15 per cent by 2028.