By MICHELLE PINI
Photo by CLAIRE PINI
Published in Warrandyte Diary
AS Richard Aumann nears retirement, many are wondering what will become of the property that has housed the Aumann family orchard since 1895.
The property also happens to occupy 66 acres within the Green Wedge. The result of a Hamer government initiative in the 1970s, the introduction of green corridors in the peri-urban areas of Melbourne, encompassed the land on which the Aumann business was already established.The Aumanns opposed the zoning of their property (as have other established farms) since the policy was introduced. Mr Aumann says although there was a process of consultation, affected landowners “were in the minority” and thus ignored.
Mr Aumann believes the imposition of this zone on his family’s agricultural business, as well as the expansion of suburbs around it, has created unique issues and conflicts, which have impacted on the cost of production.
He also believes the property’s capital growth (unlike neighbouring farms in Templestowe or Doncaster) is limited by its Green Wedge zoning, as the permissible subdivision is restricted. “It’s no longer a viable proposition to relocate as there are not many buyers for the current business as it stands,” he says.
The impact of the urban sprawl on agriculture is not unique to Warrandyte, but the question of how properties established prior to such impositions should be managed is one, which Warrandyte MP Ryan Smith, believes should be discussed.
“I absolutely agree with the preservation of the Green Wedge,” Mr Smith says. “But under the current planning regulations, the Aumann land can be subdivided into approximately six properties. That landscape is going to change – the question is, what is the best possible use for that land? “For example, is it best to have that area of open space changed to accommodate six dwellings, or to intensely develop one corner andpreserve the rest with no development?”
Planning Minister Matthew Guy’s controversial reforms to the Green Wedge have extended land uses in this category. Options for development now include a range of commercial uses including restaurants, group accommodation, residential hotels, function centres and schools among others.
Mr Guy and Mr Smith have argued that changes enabling a wide variety of uses enable councils to consider applications on their merits. Critics, however, believe that the policy of conserving green wedge areas is not best served by individually considered applications, as that opens the door for developers to exploit loopholes at VCAT and allows the concept to be gradually undermined.
Cr Sophy Galbally said: “Statistics show that global warming is rapidly increasing. Areas like the Green Wedge will become even more vital for the health of future generations. I would not want to be responsible fortaking part in denuding the life-giving Green Wedge for the financial gain of a few individuals.”
Cr Paul McLeish agrees. “I remain strongly of the view that we must continue to retain, protect and conserve the Green Wedge and associated low density residential buffer zones,” Cr McLeish said. “The few larger properties in our RCZ, such as the Aumann’s, need special attention, as any transition from their current ownership and/ or usage presents both opportunities and risks.”
He presents the view that privately owned properties of that size make them attractive to development and therefore long-term conservation is difficult to ensure. If supported by the community, says Cr McLeish, a transition to smaller, but still multiacre lots may allow the responsibility for management of these areas to be “supported by more than the current handful of people”.
This issue of the maintenance of privately owned properties for the preservation of protected areas is also a contentious point. Mr Aumann says he is not against the concept of the Green Wedge and he understands that newer residents want to maintain the lifestyle and amenity they’ve chosen. But, he says, the “weakness of it is that the beneficiaries make no financial contribution”.
He believes that areas of the Green Wedge, for those enterprise owners who were here before its introduction, should be reviewed to allow for, what he believes, is a more equitable management solution. Mr Aumann cites cluster developments where landowners are each responsible to maintain open areas as providing a possible solution.
“Our forebears made a lot of sacrifices to hold and maintain that property. I believe we have a responsibility to maximize the return for our descendants,” he said.
Mr Smith says: “We can decide that the current permissible changes should be upheld, but we should be having an open discussion about it.”