A $14 million, 68-unit development in Warrnambool which will create at least 80 jobs has been fast-tracked under a state government plan to get shovel ready projects off the ground in the wake of the pandemic.
Work is expected to start before Christmas on the Mortlake Road project with developer Mark Schneider saying the project would not only help the city's housing crisis but boost Warrnambool's economic recovery.
But those living nearby have raised concerns with MP Roma Britnell about the approval process, which they say meant they had no opportunity to air their objections directly with those making the decision and their avenues of appeal were non-existent.
Original plans for a 93-apartment village and shop complex next to the city's fire station were significantly scaled back earlier this year after 18 objections raised concerns about traffic, privacy, the density of the development and its design.
Mr Schneider, of Mortlake Road Pty Ltd, said the project would inject $14 million into the Warrnambool economy during the construction phase, and would employ at least 80 people during construction as well as several full-time jobs in the long-term.
"The pressure on Warrnambool's housing is well documented, and the need for alternative housing options is long overdue in Australia's most liveable city," Mr Schneider said.
He said there had already been strong interest in the project from single working women and two-person retiree households.
"It is expected the project will be completed as quickly as the building work permits," he said.
"This is a very exciting project, not only does it respond to Warrnambool's housing needs, but also contributed significantly to Warrnambool's recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic."
The project was given the green light under the government's Building Victoria's Recovery Taskforce, which was created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic for "shovel ready" projects.
The development underwent assessment by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning in consultation with Warrnambool City Council, as part of the process.
Last month, Planning Minister Richard Wynne told the developers he had decided to amend the Warrnambool planning scheme to allow the project to go ahead.
But Ms Britnell called on Mr Wynne to explain why he had bypassed community consultation.
She said the project bypassed the usual council approval processes with applications to the taskforce submitted directly to the department for review and approval.
"This development had a number of objections, which were passed from the council to the department, but there was no further consultation with the residents," she said.
"I've asked the Minister to explain what consideration was given to those objections that were originally put before council before the approval process was taken out of local hands and given to bureaucrats at the department."
Ms Britnell said she had no opinion on the development but was concerned it seemed to have been approved under the cover of the pandemic.
"The issue is with the process by which this was done and the lack of ability for those who had issues with the development to have their concerns heard and considered," she said. "The minister owes these residents an explanation."
In response to objector concerns, Mr Schneider said the initial planning application was reduced from 93 dwellings and three shops to 68 dwellings and three shops.
He said further concessions were also offered, in particular an additional access from the service road into the traffic lights in front of Northpoint Shopping Centre to alleviate traffic concerns.
Two blocks of three-storey apartments at the rear of the site were deleted in favour of one and two-storey townhouses to reduce overlooking and bulk to the westerly neighbours.
"We believe that this reduction in scale and improvements to traffic flow, is a very reasonable and genuine attempt to alleviate the objectors concerns," Mr Schneider said.
Other facilities in the development include provision for a medical centre for one practitioner, a 36-seat food outlet and a takeaway venue.
A community hub with a meeting room and consulting suites will be available for visiting professionals such as financial advisors, occupational therapists or beauticians.
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