By Colin MacGillivray

A Hidden Valley resident has accused Mitchell Shire Council of mismanagement after the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, VCAT, gave a green light for a 6.4-metre-high outbuilding at a property in Dolomite Rise.

Hidden Valley Association secretary Julie Robinson said plans for the outbuilding were opposed by neighbouring residents, with some lodging objections on several grounds after council advertised the plans in 2021.

“There are no drainage schematics or landscaping schematics, and two nearby properties sit significantly lower in the landscape [than the proposed building],” she said.

“We’ve already got erosion issues for my next-door neighbour because of the [water coming off the] hill. This isn’t connected to stormwater drains and it’s a huge building, so inevitably our properties are going to be swamped and we will be left dealing with the issue of erosion.”

Ms Robinson said she believed the 185-square-metre building would constitute a second dwelling on the block.

“As [proposed] it contained everything that made it a dwelling. There are four items in law that constitute a dwelling – it must have a toilet, it must have a shower, it must have a food preparation area and it must have a kitchen sink,” she said.

“This building had all of these elements, albeit the kitchen sink was on the plans as a fully planned workbench. You can call it by any other name, but water has to fall into a receptacle and that receptacle, inevitably, is a sink.”

The Hidden Valley Design Review Panel approved the plans, which were debated at a council meeting in March last year.

Councillors voted to approve the building but with a condition that its height be reduced from 6.4 metres to 4.2 metres.

Cr Fiona Stevens said the compromise meant the building would ‘fit in better with the character and amenity of the area and [would not] be as prominent on the landscape’.

But the property owner challenged council’s ruling at VCAT, with tribunal member Sarah McDonald overturning the decision and reinstating the height of the building at 6.4 metres.

Ms Robinson was dismayed at the decision and said she believed council mistakes had paved the way for the VCAT decision.

She said the building was made possible because the property had two building envelopes on its title instead of one – a fact she put down to a council mistake.

“We have been able to find historic adverts, which state ‘a choice of two generous-sized building envelopes’, with the preferred site being Dolomite Rise, which is where the person who ended up buying the block put his house,” she said.

“The second [envelope] was left extant on the title. We were able, under freedom of information … to read the draft delegate notes for that block when it was subdivided in 2003. Even council’s own notes mark it as a choice, but someone, somewhere did not put that down on the title.”

Ms Robinson said she believed council also erred in advertising the plans initially.

“Council’s legal team spotted the fact that because the overlay of Hidden Valley is a comprehensive development zone schedule one, there legislation that says if a proposal is generally in accordance with the Hidden Valley Comprehensive Development Plan, it is exempt from notification,” she said.

“Technically they shouldn’t have advertised this. We were told if it got to VCAT and the member spotted it, they could throw the case out.”

In her ruling, Ms McDonald found the building did not contravene the Hidden Valley Design Guidelines.

“There is no requirement under the Hidden Valley Design Guidelines or the Comprehensive Development Plan … that require an outbuilding to be small or modestly scaled,” she said.

Council chief executive Brett Luxford said council voted to reduce the height of the building because it sat high in the landscape and there were no other outbuildings in the vicinity that matched its height, but said council was satisfied it did not constitute a second dwelling on the property.

“The outbuilding was proposed within the second envelope, and there is no section within the title restrictions that states that it cannot be built on both building envelopes,” he said.

“The only restriction is that more than one dwelling on a lot is prohibited, as well as further subdivision.

“The outbuilding does not have all the characteristics required to be defined as a dwelling on the planning scheme.”

Mr Luxford said drainage and sewerage would need to be controlled around the limits of the building.