Sandown collision course

Councillors have bucked against plans for up to 16,000 residents on the Sandown Racecourse site. 233074_01 Picture: GARY SISSONS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Greater Dandenong councillors are bucking against the early plans for a proposed high-rise housing estate of up to 16,000 residents at Sandown Racecourse.

In a further step towards the track’s seeming demise, Melbourne Racing Club is expected to brief councillors on its latest formal rezoning plan on 16 April.

A draft plan by developer Urbis last year proposed a four-stage development of 7500 dwellings – a new suburb with more residents than in the new Keysborough South estates.

High-rise apartment blocks up to six or seven storeys tall were among the housing mix .

Greater Dandenong mayor Angela Long said the draft plan, if enacted, was an over-development.

“They weren’t even in the ball park,” she said.

“I’d prefer a lesser density and more sporting arenas that can be used by the kids living in those apartments.”

“But the final plan hasn’t come to council yet so they might change the design.”

Cr Long was concerned about traffic impacts on Princes Highway and the surrounding area. She noted Corrigan Road would be duplicated under the plan.

“We want to see how dense it is. I do have an open mind, I don’t have blinkers on but it has to be the right development.”

She personally felt the loss of major sporting venues such as VFL Park and Sandown on “this side of town”.

“I was hoping we would keep it.”

Sandown has long been home to horse racing meets, motor-racing as well as community festivals and events.

It was first used as a trotting track in 1888, with a bitumen race track opened in 1962. The course’s grandstand was earmarked for Victorian heritage listing in 2019.

Cr Jim Memeti said he wouldn’t support multi-storey apartments or “full-blown” housing on the site.

The development should instead mirror the predominantly one and two-storey dwellings in surrounding streets.

“You don’t want people living in there with no backyards.

“There’s a lot of angst in the community. I know a lot of residents say to just leave the track as it is.

“They are really concerned about the traffic on surrounding streets. There are already traffic jams.

“So they’re asking how is it going to improve the area.”

Cr Rhonda Garad said the draft plans would lead to similar traffic congestion and “planning mistakes” as in Keysborough South.

“We think the community will reject it when it goes out to consultation.”

Last year, then-councillor Peter Brown unsuccessfully stood for election to the Melbourne Racing Club committee on a ‘Save Sandown Racecourse’ platform.

He conceded that the track’s demise was seemingly inevitable.

The project was a “gold mine” in rates revenue for the council. And a new suburb was a welcome economic and jobs boost for the Victorian Government, he said.

Mr Brown said the State Government ought to manage the project. “It’s too big for a local council with inexperienced councillors to manage.”

Noble Park resident Giorgio Migliaccio campaigned about a decade ago against the noise from car racing meets. The noise had “calmed” significantly however in recent years, he said.

He was worried about the impact on parking at the already congested Sandown Park railway station, as well as thousands of extra cars on nearby roads.

Services such as the need for an extra school needed to be considered.

“Now is the time for the council to start talking to the State Government to say what we need in this area to support this.”

City planning director Jody Bosman said the briefing was an opportunity to discuss “details and elements” before the proposed rezoning was finalised and tabled at a council meeting.

“At this stage, it is anticipated that a formal report could possibly be tabled in May or June 2021, which would in the normal sequence of planning scheme amendments be the commencement of the process of formal preparation and exhibition of the proposal.”

According to the MRC, the course has been losing $5 million a year.

MRC chief executive Josh Blanksby recently told that the club was going through the rezoning application to “understand the possibilities” of the site’s future.

“It takes on a lot of the race meetings for the industry and that’s fantastic for wagering and for horse preparation and for metro-prizemoney but the Melbourne Racing Club is the one that wears that cost.”

There were no imminent plans for sale, he said.

An MRC spokesperson said: “The MRC will continue to consult transparently on its plans through each stage of the process as it works through them.”