As we noted in a previous article , a council officer told us earlier this year that ‘community engagement’ with the broader community in regard to desired uses of the Old Shire Offices site and the War Memorial buildings was expected to take place in June/July. We were told it would involve drop in sessions plus the opportunity for formal submissions. However, this wide community consultation and feedback has not occurred.
Instead, at the Council meeting on 28th August, six out of seven councillors (Cr John Dumaresq was a lone voice against the motion) voted to ‘Commence an urban renewal process for Council land at 895 and 903-7 Main Road, Eltham, to deliver enhanced social, economic and public realm outcomes and a built form reflective of Eltham’s preferred character’ and to ‘test market feasibility to achieve the desired outcome at no cost to Council through an Expression of Interest process then subsequent Request for Proposal process’.
So rather than opting to first ask the community what it would like to see happen on these sites, Council has chosen to ask developers what they would like to build there…
If the Council is keen on community engagement and transparency, why did this item go straight to a Council meeting where residents cannot speak, rather than first to the Future Nillumbik Committee where residents can speak for 3 minutes, and then, following that, on to a Full Council meeting?
Fortunately, these two sites are within the Eltham Activity Centre and community consultation on the review of this area is open until 16 September. You can let the Council know what you think should happen with these two important sites via their website.
As with the vote on the Sale of Reserves, it appears the process had already been set in motion before the vote was taken. Workers were marking on the roadway by the Shillinglaw trees and the War Memorial the day before the vote and core samples were already being taken from the site the day after the official council decision.
Nillumbik Council then went onto issue a media release, which is a blatant misrepresentation of Council’s intentions. It contains no mention of the important social or environmental history of the sites nor the present uses, for example the preschool. According to council the sites are merely ‘land..vacant for almost 25 years and adjoining council facilities‘.
The EOI Background Information is at least consistent with the media release in that it makes no mention of the history of the sites or the current use of 903-907. However, in contrast to the warm and fuzzy descriptions of possible community facilities presented for the public’s eyes in the media release where it talks of ‘a range of community benefits and uses, including gathering and meeting places, spaces for community celebrations and place activation‘, the Site Information for developers states, ‘Whilst Council is not wedded to a particular type of development on the site; it does consider that a hotel, senior independent accommodation and/or commercial offices with some retail would meet its high level objectives for the site.’
Perhaps you might remember the massive concept design, presumably provided by Council, the Diamond Valley Leader featured on its front page a few months ago – 5 storeys rising from the Main Road level so even more storeys from further back on the site?
The Site Information Memorandum also states ‘Council’s objective in undertaking this project is to maximise its financial return for the community, with consideration for the sale to be in the form of new high quality community facilities and space being constructed on the residual land contained on the site.’ Does ‘residual’ land mean the left over bits? Does it mean a five storey 120 bed hotel/retirement village would have the prime location and the community would get the scraps?