Pearcedale temple dispute

The Green Wedge land in the Pearcedale has been earmarked for a proposed temple development. Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS 365405_02

by Violet Li

Pearcedale locals have banded together for two years to fight against a $4.5m temple development in the Mornington Peninsula Green Wedge.

Non-profit multilingual Hindu organisation Melbourne Ayyappa Seva Sangam (MASS) is seeking a planning permit for a place of worship on the corner of Dandenong-Hastings Road and South Boundary Road West within the Watson Ward in rural Pearcedale.

The envisioned development, more specifically a Hindu temple, would include a main temple complex, eating hall, toilet block, a storage shed, and a lake, and will necessitate the removal of existing vegetation and other earthworks.

It would be open to patrons between 7am and 10am and 5pm to 8pm seven days a week. The maximum number of patrons on-site at any given time was expected to be around 150. Special ceremonies would be held twice yearly with the temple open for 24 hours.

Locals and individuals from the broader community established a Peninsula Green Wedge Protection Group to oppose the development and advocate the protection of Green Wedge land across Victoria in February 2022. More than 800 members have joined the group.

There have been 307 formal objections made to the Mornington Shire Council so far, which are mainly concerned about the negative environmental impacts.

As the Council failed to judge within the required 60 days, the application has now been referred to the VCAT to gain approval.

Peninsula Green Wedge Protection Group has launched fundraising on GoFundMe to invite legal representation and key witnesses to support its case at VCAT. Around $20,000 has been raised, yet still far behind its $60,000 target. Pearcedale resident Craig Gobbi will represent the group at the hearing.

Though unable to decide on the application, the Council was still required to form its position to be pursued at VCAT proceedings.

It resolved not to support the application with councillors unanimously voting no during a meeting on Tuesday 31 October.

Eighteen submitters attended this meeting to speak against the development.

Council planning officers agreed with objectors that the development was contrary to the protection of Green Wedge land as well as being an inappropriate location, size, and scale.

They also suggested it would impose unacceptable impacts on the environment, flora, and fauna, and produce unacceptable visual impacts, noise and light pollution, traffic congestion and accidents, and fire risks.

Watson Ward Cr Kate Roper showed support for her locals and emphasised the purpose of setting up Green Wedge zones was to protect those lands from uses and developments that would diminish their agricultural, environmental, and cultural heritage values.

She believed the proposal would be very appropriate and warmly welcome in any of the larger towns nearby, but not in the middle of farmland with such a large footprint.

The Department of Energy, Environment, and Climate Action was consulted, and it objected to the granting of a planning permit due to concerns about the removal of native vegetation and unacceptable impacts on biodiversity values.

The Department of Transport was also referred, and it acknowledged the issues of increased traffic.

On 17 October, the Council approved a temporary permit for a religious event at the same site.

A compulsory VCAT mediation meeting on 22 November 2023 failed to negotiate a middle ground.

The upcoming nine-day hearing will start on 19 February.