Proposed 304-home residential development in tourist town of West Gippsland

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Concerns are being raised over a proposed 304-lot development for the small West Gippsland village of Yarragon which will lead to substantial growth there.

Yarragon Business Association chairman Michael Fozard said he was concerned the development would be built on 45 hectares of prime farmland.

“There is a finite resource, once you build it, it’s not there…it hasn’t been replaced,” he said.

He did not believe the development would create a significant increase in business in Yarragon given the village’s tourist orientation, but he said there would be a greater need for services such as banks and doctors.

“Never, ever would I want to see us replicate what happens at Pakenham and Cranbourne,” he said.

Yarragon Business Association President Michael Fozard owns Fozigobble Cafe in Yarragon.(ABC Gippsland: Madeleine Spencer)

Yarragon resident and Baw Baw Planning Alliance member Inge Mitchell agreed on the need for more services and also raised concerns about the lack of a sustainable design framework for the housing estate and development.

She said this could be done by creating larger natural strips to accommodate larger trees to shade roads and more energy-efficient homes.

“We accept that Yarragon is growing, we are happy that more people will live in the town…we need to reach a stage where we can become self-sufficient,” Ms Mitchell said.

A street with a number of houses in different states of construction, large trash cans are on the street in front of each house
A nearly completed 76-home development in Yarragon sits next to the 45 hectares proposed for the new development.(ABC Gippsland Madeleine Spencer)

A three hectare block has been set aside by the developers for future community services such as a retirement home for the elderly.

But Ms Mitchell said she feared that, without a specific plan, it could be developed into further batches after a similar situation occurred with a Trafalgar development.

A spokesperson for developer Millar Merrigan said non-commercial facilities would be built on site and advised of “community needs”.

The developer said it was guided by environmental best practices.

“The same guidelines have ensured that new homes are built to reduce the impact of heat and weather,” the spokesperson said.

Millar Merrigan manager Christopher Constantine said the development would go a long way to addressing existing drainage issues at Yarragon.

Lack of communication from the board

Ms. Mitchell expressed concern about the lack of communication between local government and community groups ahead of bids on the opening of the proposal.

The Yarragon and District Community Association of which Ms Mitchell is a member had scheduled meetings with Baw Baw Shire East Ward Councilors and the council planner for May 2021, but the meetings were later cancelled.

Inge Mitchell stands in front of a small fence and a tree in Yarragon
Inge Mitchell would like the development to include a more environmentally friendly design.(ABC Gippsland: Madeleine Spencer)

“Local knowledge is really important…but there’s a barrier put in place for our community, to actually be able to have that communication with those who decide for us,” Ms Mitchell said.

Baw Baw Shire was asked to comment on this meeting.

Baw Baw Mayor Michael Leaney said the developer was aware of the town’s needs.

“Of course in a growing population we have to provide available land for residential development and this particular piece of land was identified in Yarragon just over a decade ago,” Mr Leaney said.

More community spirit

Despite its small size, Yarragon has 29 volunteer community groups and local newsletter editor Judith Conway said there could be benefits from expanding the community.

“It’s going to create a bigger pool of people who can be involved in the community,” Ms Conway said.

Judith Conway stands at home next to a table with two cups of tea and a cake sitting on it
Judith Conway hopes an increase in population will boost volunteer activity in the city.(ABC Gippsland: Madeleine Spencer)

She said she was surprised to find that residents of another recently built development had started their own mothers’ group.

“I think people who make statements… [that] nobody’s gonna talk to anybody anymore, just because they’re not talking to them doesn’t mean the conversations aren’t happening,” Ms Conway said.

She said she thought it was inevitable that Yarragon would change but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“Most people [in Yarragon]I would say they’re fatalistic, so even though they’re a bit sad that the city is changing, they recognize that people have to live somewhere,” she said.

Submissions on the proposal can be made on the Baw Baw Shire Council website.

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