The opening up of 130 new residential lots across Moyne Shire hinges on the signature of Victoria's planning minister after councillors voted through a major planning scheme amendment.
The C70 amendment, which implements the council's rural housing and settlement strategy, has been almost 15 years in the making and will open up land for development in towns and hamlets throughout Moyne.
The resounding view from councillors, planning experts and locals who spoke at the monthly council meeting on February 28 was that while the amendment didn't give every town exactly what it wanted, it was a crucial step forward and a basis for future planning work.
Deputy mayor Daniel Meade said it was important to capitalise on the huge amount of work that had gone into the amendment.
"I think (130) lots is a great start and the reason I'm supporting this today is I see it as a launchpad and as a starting point for future work where we can really see some opportunities to encourage growth in Moyne and in particular some of our smaller towns," Cr Meade said.
Cr Damien Gleeson said the choice for councillors was either to adopt the amendment or reject it.
"What's before us is a report that we either accept or don't accept," he said.
Principal town planner Andrew Grey from the consultancy firm Stantec addressed the meeting to underscore the risk councillors ran if they rejected the amendment simply because it didn't please everyone.
"These documents have to get buy in from all the authorities ... so to have that in place and for a (planning) panel to say it can underpin an amendment means it really needs to be pushed forward now, because if it's not pushed forward now it's a massive step back," Mr Grey said.
"(You would) essentially go back to the start, and state policy now is much more protectionist about protecting agricultural land and the environment ... so now that you're 95 per cent of the way there it's much better to push ahead than go back and fight all those fights again."
When the state government planning panel released its report into the proposed amendment in December some ratepayers were unhappy.
Hawkesdale's John Bos went so far as to claim the council was letting the shire's small towns "die on the vine".
But councillors and the economy and place director Jodie McNamara were eager to emphasise the amendment didn't rule out further strategic work to continue opening up such small towns.
Ms McNamara said the next steps had already started with a couple of small towns including Hawkesdale.
Cr Jim Doukas said the extra strategic work would lead to better results for Moyne's smaller towns, but council officers needed to get it done sooner rather than later.
"Hopefully within the next 12 months those small townships that require more strategic work will have it done and everyone will be a lot happier and Moyne Shire will have a lot more people and a lot more development in it."
IN OTHER NEWS
Long-time Southern Cross resident Sally Morris addressed the meeting to say while the final form of the amendment didn't give her family exactly what they had wanted, adopting it was far better than continuing the "13 years of uncertainty" that they had gone through to reach this point.
"We urge you as councillors for a prompt resolution to this issue so we can all move on and put into action the recommendations of this innovative and much-needed amendment," Ms Morris said.
The councillors voted unanimously to adopt the amendment exactly as it came back from the planning panel.
Mayor Karen Foster said it targeted areas where the demand for housing was highest and where rezoning wouldn't harm agricultural production.
"If approved, this amendment will help Grassmere, Hawkesdale, Koroit, Crossley, Illowa, Killarney, Southern Cross, Tower Hill and Woolsthorpe grow with additional lots for housing," Cr Foster said.
"Most importantly the amendment strikes a balance between managing the increasing demand we are seeing for this type of housing while ensuring we are protecting important farmland.
"This amendment will help drive growth in these settlements while making sure we protect the agriculture industry, which is the largest economic driver for our shire and our region by directing rural living developments into appropriately zoned land."
The document will go to Victorian planning minister Sonya Kilkenny for final approval, with the potential 130 additional lots riding on her signature.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.