Hepburn Shire Council has made the decision to deny an application for a controversial 'glamping' site despite council officer's recommendations to allow the permit to be granted.
The 'glamping' site, which includes the building of 11 permanent structures including four yurts, three dome tents and four caravans on 153 Charlies Road, Elevated Plains, was previously refused by council in 2020.
Consequently, the applicant, David Penman, who operates Clifftop at Hepburn and previously put an application to council regarding a 'sky barrels' accommodation, appealed the decision to Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), who determined the decision be upheld.
However, council officer's recommendations stated a 'Notice of Decision to Grant a Permit' be issued with conditions for the "use and development of a camping and caravan park, and one associated business identification sign."
Council's senior planning consultant Alison Blacket said, despite the applicant's proposal having issues "directly related to bushfire risk and no onsite manager," VCAT found "all other aspects of the application were generally compatible with the objectives of the farming zone."
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Ms Blacket added that this updated application included a "Bushfire Emergency Management Plan" and was not objected by the Country Fire Authority (CFA).
"An application for a caravan park based on merits of proposal and the merits of application has been assessed twice now and the objectives of farm zone have been met," she said.
A total of 24 objections had been received regarding the proposal including its risks to life; conflict with farming uses; inappropriate use of Charlies Road as well as amenity impacts.
During Tuesday's council meeting several councillors voiced their concerns in response to the council officer's recommendations.
Councillor Don Henderson questioned the integrity of the council's planning and environment act saying, "if someone could make a successful application to make a camping and glamping site, is that really the intent of the planning and environment act to allow caravan parks to perforate [agricultural land]."
He added, if this permit were allowed, "it would set a precedent that [council] is allowing caravan parks where farms are."
"It may be allowable but do we allow the next one in Dean or Newlyn? Our council plan says that we must protect valuable farmland."
Similarly, objections were widespread among Hepburn residents.
One woman said the 'glamping' facility would "negatively affect 50 residents" and their "self-sufficient way of life."
"This application will abolish our simple lifestyle, it makes no contribution to farming activities and in fact, could inhibit the operation of existing small scale farming," she said.
"It does not bring any benefits to us only dis-benefits."
Another man said the application posed an issue of safety and could be a source of potential disaster in the event of an emergency.
"Dangers have not been properly addressed in the developers application," he said.
He also made particular reference to the application not taking into account the hazards Charlies Road being unsealed, tree-lined and steep presents for those unfamiliar to the area.
"Residents are cognisant of the need to be attentive on three blinds spots and any oncoming vehicle [from Charlies Road] will only be visible at the summit and as such visitors to and from the glamping site would have no such preparedness."
The owner of Mannings Farm in Elevated Plains said he hoped council's decision was balanced and took into account the needs of community and did not prioritise developers.
A vote against the motion to grant a planning permit for the 'glamping' site, led by Councillor Lesley Hewitt, was carried unanimously during Tuesday's meeting.
Cr Hewitt said, while the current application had attempted to address its previous shortcomings in previous proposals, there were many aspects which remained unconvincing.
"The proposal is inconsistent with the protection of agricultural land; it would fragment existing productive rural area and lacks proper bushfire planning," she said.
Councillor Brian Hood supported Cr Hewitt's motion saying he would "not be comfortable" if the grant were permitted.
Hepburn Shire Council mayor Tim Drylie, who acknowledged all objectors and councillors, also supported Cr Hewitt's alternative motion.
"It would not present a good outcome for our community," he said.
"The application's bushfire planning and design for a shelter submitted is not detailed enough for me to have confidence that they'll be accepted [by VCAT]."
Cr Drylie said he was especially concerned for the safety of the site to visitors and the community due to Charlies Road not meeting CFA access requirements according to a traffic engineering assessment.
The applicant, if dissatisfied by council's refusal, can appeal to VCAT.
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