By Michael Davis

WHEN Mike Kazacos inherited his parents’ 125-hectare property at Balnarring, on the Mornington Pensinsula, six years ago, the last thing on his mind was owning and operating a golf driving range.

“My parents had worked really hard to turn the land from a desert into an oasis,” he said. “They planted trees, all sorts of vegetables and even grazed a few cattle on it. They lived in the property for 30 years.

“My children also spent a lot of time with their grandparents, so I consider myself the custodian of the land and hope to one day pass it on to my children.

“But as I have no experience of farming, I set about simply trying to improve the property cosmetically. 

“Then, after mowing a paddock one day, I thought of the idea of a driving range,” the self-confessed golf hacker said.

Little did he know he was about to embark on a long, drawn out process before he could realise his dream.

Eventually his plan was finally given approval by Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) despite previously being knocked back by Mornington Peninsula Shire Council and opposed by 51 objections and a 300-signature petition.

Now he hopes the facility will be up-and-running in the next six to 12 months.

“I am appreciative of the people who lodged objections and because of them the driving range will be aesthetically more pleasing and better from a cosmetic point of view. I have no quarrel with any of them (the objectors),” he said. 

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruled that the range, in Sandy Point Road, Balnarring, was an appropriate use for the 20-hectares used by his parents as a grazing site.

The land is in the so-called ‘green wedge’ with Balnarring to the west, Balnarring Beach and Merricks Beach to the south-west, and Somers in the south-east.

It is surrounded by properties with single dwellings and a variety of agricultural uses, including cattle, sheep and horse breeding, and donkey husbandry used for mental health therapy.

Kazacos appealed to VCAT after the council refused the 16-bay range on the grounds of increased traffic, noise, activity, environmental and visual impacts associated with the proposal adversely affecting the rural character of the area.

The council was concerned with the incompatibility of the proposal with adjoining agricultural land use and the loss of productive agricultural land because of the change in land use. 

It considered the driving range would be a poor planning outcome in the green wedge zone.

Objectors were concerned with impacts on rural amenity arising from noise and increased activity with patrons and cars, parking on the site, and increased traffic safety on Sandy Point Road. They were also concerned about detrimental impacts on Tulum Creek, which runs through the property.

Objector Pam Bannister said the proposal was too much of an urban-type of recreational facility that was out of character with the rural setting around the site. She considered the proposal jarred with the local landscape.

However, Kazacos said his proposal was consistent with the policy directions of the peninsula’s planning scheme to protect and respect the area’s rural character.

VCAT members Christopher Harty and Phil West ruled that recreational activities, including a golf driving range, were allowable in a green wedge zone “qualified by a desire to respect the rural character of the area, natural features and biodiversity habitat and avoidance of unreasonable impacts on agricultural land uses”. 

“The proposal does not dominate its surroundings and hence does not contribute to what we would consider a transformation of the character of this rural area,” they said.

The council’s concerns that the range would lead to a loss of 20 hectares of agricultural land was also brushed aside as it would “not lead to a permanent loss of agricultural land”. 

The members also said that the proposal “will not result in the loss of koala habitat … and that the effects on birds and other fauna species from increased human activity will not be significant”.

“We accept that the proposal is well back – 240 metres from Sandy Point Road, behind the existing dwelling and large lake, and well-screened by existing intervening vegetation.”

The members said a combination of distance from Tulum Creek and other areas of native vegetation on the northern boundary of the site, and the location of the golf driving range bays and car park closer to the existing dwelling “provides us with comfort that the proposal does not represent an unacceptable environmental impact”.

The members “set aside” the council’s earlier refusal and granted the permit.

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