The developer behind a $100 million retirement village is questioning whether Warrnambool is open for business, saying he was "astounded" councillors rejected the proposal.
Country Club Living director Cameron Gull, of Ballarat, said he had worked with council officers for 18 months and was astounded this week's 4-3 decision to reject it was made in just 11 minutes.
The proposal includes a retirement village with 192 dwellings, golf course and a 52-lot housing estate which would be developed over the next 10 years.
Councillors had raised concerns over the proposed golf course on land zoned public open space being for private use, and the vote was lost despite officers recommending they approve stage one while awaiting a report on the golf course.
The developer has flagged going to the state planning minister to intervene and make a decision, and is considering whether to take it to the Victoria Civil Administrative Tribunal or resubmit the application.
"We question if Warrnambool is open for business?" Mr Gull said.
But the council's chief executive officer Peter Schneider said he had a clear message and that was "Warrnambool is open for business".
Mr Schneider said one of the first things he did in the job was hold a round table with developers to talk about investment.
"We are definitely open for business. That's what we are all about," he said.
Mr Schneider said data showed Warrnambool approved planning projects cheaper and quicker than comparable counterparts.
While a number of councillors expressed concern about public open space, Mr Gull said the community needed to be made aware the Gull Group actually owned the land that was designated for open space.
He said the application was only seeking to investigate the opportunity to lease back a portion of the open space land after it was purchased by the council under planning scheme requirements.
"Under the North of the Merri Development Contributions Plan, the council must pay the applicant for the land burdened under the flood plain," he said.
The council said the area of the proposed development situated within the floodplain would, should a subdivision proceed, be vested in council and, as with other open space in Warrnambool, would then be maintained by council, the council said.
"No payment would be made by Council to the developer for the land," it said.
Mr Gull said the par-three golf course area would be enjoyed and maintained by the 300 village residents while also providing a 36-metre-wide landscaped river corridor that was designated for public open space and walking tracks.
However, under the proposal, the area would be accessible by the wider community and would also be regularly used by students at the neighbouring special needs school, he said.
Mr Gull said the proposal was a development plan application which outlined the footprint for the site and not a planning permit application where detailed issues were decided upon.
He said the Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority had given clear undertaking the detention basins could be within the 100-year flood zone and a golf course was an acceptable outcome within a flood plain, however, it only required further investigation in the planning permit phase.
Mr Schneider said the area set aside for a proposed golf course was zoned public open space and to put a private golf course there was not in accordance with public open space.
He said the developer had the opportunity to come back with a revised plan.
Mr Gull said the 52-lot subdivision sought to address housing availability, affordability and diversity, and the whole development was "multi-generational" that would contribute extensively to the local economy.
The developer claimed the proposal was "hijacked" by some councillors who did not afford the proposal the necessary attention and the benefits to the community.
Mr Gull said councillors were briefed last month about the proposed development plan that was scheduled to be presented at the September council meeting but it "mysteriously" disappeared from the agenda.
He said he attempted to contact Mr Schneider by phone and email, and eventually was told by the council the oversight was an "administrative error".
There were repeated attempts to get a more detailed explanation, Mr Gull said, but they were still awaiting a proper explanation of what exactly the administrative error consisted of.
Mr Schneider said the item was due to go on the September meeting agenda but it got missed, and that was something that he apologised for.
While Cr Ben Blain said the proposal should have a larger, wider road designed to accommodate any extension of Bromfield Street over the river, Mr Gull said the bridge was an unfunded concept.
He said under the Victorian planning scheme, the bridge and road were the responsibility of the council and not the applicant.
Mr Schneider told The Standard in May that a bridge at Bromfield Street would "probably not" be pushed up the priority list at this stage, and land would need to be built up to allow for the floodplain, costing as much as $10 million.
Mr Gull said despite mayor Vicki Jellie's comment Wollaston Road needed an upgrade before "this should be determined", any such upgrade was a council obligation.
He said the council's own traffic and engineering department was currently re-designing the Wollaston Road interface as part of the proposed project and this council upgrade and design was discussed during the application.
Mr Gull said their senior planning consultant tried to contact Cr Jellie in advance of the council meeting and was told it was not appropriate to discuss this matter. However, he said some other councillors welcomed the opportunity to discuss the application.
Cr Jellie said she had returned the call and left a message saying it was her practice not to discuss issues with applicants or objectors so close to a decision to ensure there was no perception of bias or influence.
"Councillors are given all aspects of information pertaining to any planning matter through their briefings with council officers," she said.
There were three objections to the proposal.
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