East Street land rezoning dispute continues

By Colin MacGillivray

KILMORE Racing Club’s application to rezone land adjacent to the racecourse on East Street is in the hands of an independent planning panel, with parties hopeful of it being finalised before the end of the year.

The club last year applied to rezone the land at 15-35 East Street, opposite the club’s headquarters, which has been used as overflow parking for events at the racecourse and serves as Kilmore’s bushfire place of last resort.

The club said rezoning the land to general residential, rather than public use, would correct a zoning anomaly and bring the land into line with the surrounding properties.

Club chief executive Ben Murphy said the club had no immediate plans to sell the land.

Some Kilmore residents, including Kilmore and District Residents and Ratepayers Association, KADRRA, protested the move at a recent panel hearing, saying they believed the land was gifted by the previous Shire of Kilmore to the Kilmore

Racecourse and Recreation Reserve Trustees for $1 in 1984 on the condition the land remain for public use.

The trustees subsequently sold the land to Kilmore Racing Club for $1 in 2004.

Despite the objections, Mr Murphy said no submitters to the planning panel had produced evidence there was a condition for the land to remain for public use.

“We have not seen any evidence of the objectors’ claim regarding the land being gifted to remain for public use, despite extensive searches by the Mitchell Shire Council and other parties,” he said.

“Council has also had its own legal advice prepared that confirms all land transfers have been completed in a lawful manner. All objectors have had the chance to review the council’s legal advice.”

KADRRA president Vyvienne Whitehurst described the situation as ‘quite the conundrum’.

“The community expected the Trustees to look after [the land] for them. The trustees now say they owned the land as individuals,” she said.

“State and local law states a private owner, owners or entity cannot own public use land. The land is still zoned public use and has been since 1984.

Ms Whitehurst said the racing club now stood to reap millions of dollars in profit from the sale of land it paid $1 for.

But Mr Murphy said the club had no immediate plans to sell the land off.

“We are undertaking the amendment to rectify a planning anomaly and to have the land zoned the same as the land surrounding it,” he said.

“A rezoning in its self does not affect the way the land is currently used. If the land was used for another purpose in the future, the club would continue to work with Mitchell Shire Council and the local community to ensure that parking was not an issue on days like bet365 Kilmore Cup.

“We would look to upgrade the parking area on the racecourse reserve and look at other alternatives for not only parking cars, but finding ways for patrons attending our large events to use alternative modes of transport to get to and from the racecourse reserve.”

Former State Member for Pascoe Vale and current convenor of resident action group network Planning Democracy Kelvin Thompson said he shared Ms Whitehurst’s concerns.

“I believe that both the 1984 and 2004 transactions raise legal and ethical issues – how can a public asset be simply given away to a private owner, who is free to deal with it as they please?” he said.

Mr Thompson said current legislation required councils to give at least four weeks’ public notice of intention to sell or exchange land, obtain a valuation of the land from an appropriately qualified person and allow interested parties to make submissions on the proposed sale.

He said he belied the Shire of Kilmore failed to follow those steps when gifting the land to the racecourse trustees in 1984, but that the legislation that applied at the time was unclear.

“I wasn’t there at the time, but those who have spoken to me say this never happened,” he said.

“I am quoting from a 1989 Act, and the first transaction happened in 1984. I am trying to find out whether the provisions in 1984 were the same as those set out in 1989, or if they were different, what provisions applied then.”

The planning scheme amendment to rezone the land was on public exhibition during the independent planning panel process.

Council will consider the recommendations of the panel when it issues its report, before the amendment is referred to the State Planning Minister for final gazettal.