The Community/Council Plan recognises the importance of open space and states that Council “will actively seek new opportunities to increase and optimise open space” because it also recognises that Glen Eira has the least per capita open space in metro Melbourne (a per capita ratio that is further declining as development continues). Reading this it would be reasonable to assume that when Council is presented with a rare opportunity to acquire the heavily discounted 7100 square metre Alma Sports Club site for $3m (located in a densely populated minimal change area), Council would at least seriously consider the opportunity and allow residents to express their wishes. Alas not so.
When presented with this unique opportunity early this year, Council has rejected the offer without any meaningful dialogue with the club and has yet to discuss the offer in an open Council Meeting. The end result of Council’s rejection appeared in the The Age, 28th July, 2012 – the site is now “expected to sell for about $8 million and, following a rezoning, make way for a $100-million plus village with commercial and residential components, according to sources”. GERA believes this offer (an $8m site for $3m) was worthy consideration and open discussion at a Council Meeting. By rejecting the offer, Council has shown a lack of vision and a failure to invest in the future of Glen Eira.
The 85 year old Alma Sports Club, located in the narrow, dead end Wilks Street, Caulfield North, occupies a 7100 square metre site. The site (in a residential area and only accessible from Wilks Street) features squash courts, 3 entous cas tennis courts, bowling green, car park and a generous club house with recently renovated facilities (restaurant, function rooms, bar and a cabaret venue).
In recent years, the not for profit, community focussed club has experienced financial difficulties. Wanting to preserve the amenity of the area, the Alma Sports Club approached Council to informally discuss a possible sale of the land/lease back agreement – the basic concept proposed by the club was for Council to buy the site for the cost of the mortgage ($3m) and allow the club to continue operating by a lease back agreement. Unfortunately, this proposal never progressed beyond the informal stage as Council (i.e. the Administration) categorically rejected the offer. No discussion/decision occurred in an ordinary Council Meeting.
There are only two public records that the club approached Council with this discounted offer of sale of land/lease back agreement:
- The Record of Councillor Assembly for 31st January, 2012 (included in 20th March Council Meeting Minutes Section 8bi – refer below link) is, as usual, uninformative. Residents should be aware that Councillor Assemblies are in camera briefing sessions between the Council and the Administrations – by law decisions cannot be made at Assemblies, they can only be made at minuted Council Meetings.
- At the Council Meeting of 28th February, 2012, a public question was submitted by the Alma Sports Club, however, the question was read and answered at the meeting nor was it recorded as being taken on notice in the minutes of that meeting (as required by local law). The public question arose out of frustration at Council’s refusal to discuss the potential sale and leaseback agreement with the Alma Club. The question and response was later attached, without any preamble, to the last page of the Council Meeting Minutes, 20th March, 2012.
Now at the beginning of August, 2012, the Glen Eira Leader (7/8/2012) reports that the site is to be auctioned and the club disbanded. As the above linked “Age” article indicates, the site
- is valued at $8 million (even though significant site demolition costs will need to be incurred)
- will be subject to re-zoning to a higher density zone
- is expected to become “a $100-million plus village with commercial and residential components, according to sources”.
The fact that this land is located within a minimal change area and has limited access (dead end, narrow street) will not preclude a major development. The minimal change area policy, which generally restricts development of a lot to two dwellings, also states that where the lot size is larger than average (without an accompanying definition of larger than average lot size) higher density development will be permitted. GERA accepts that at 7,100 square metres the site qualifies as “larger than average lot size” – in this pro-development Council the question is not if it will be permitted, it is how big will it be.
GERA finds it deplorable that this issue has never been discussed at an open Council Meeting and that Councillors and the Administration, by refusing to discuss a sale/lease back agreement, have allowed a site with enormous potential for providing passive open space to be lost forever.
In reviewing Council’s performance on this issue, residents should bear in mind the following
- In refusing to enter into any meaningful dialogue with the Alma Club re the potential sale/lease back agreement Council has again failed, despite it’s rhetoric, to increase Glen Eira’s open space. Additionally, in failing to discuss the opportunity in an open Council Meeting, Council’s claims of open, transparent, accountable governance are called into serious question.
- Council’s response to the Alma Club public question includes the following “Council is operating within it’s own financial constraints. It is imperative that we spend ratepayers’ funds responsibly. There are dozens of clubs within Glen Eira. There is no prospect of Council using ratepayers’ funds simply to provide financial support to the operation of any private club”. In GERA’s opinion this statement is woefully inadequate and lacks vision as
- it fails to recognise the uniqueness of the clubs holdings (acquiring a site valued at $8m for $3m),
- since no meaningful dialogue has occurred on the Alma Club’s proposal Council has no idea of what the lease back agreement would entail (potential rental income?)
- while the order of the steps in the process that was used to develop the Maccabi Victoria Sports Foundation building of the Leon Haskins Tennis Centre (in Bignell Road, Bentleigh East, which comprises eight tennis courts, a Pavilion and Club Room) on Council Land differs from the Alma Club sale/leaseback proposal the end result is the same – i.e. private club facilities on council land
- Council’s current budget is predicting a $5-6m surplus, it therefore has the money available to purchase the heavily discounted site. Plus Council has a discretionary spending fund. While GERA recognises the need to budget and plan, GERA also recognises that unexpected opportunities arise and the sale of the Alma Club is an unexpected opportunity that Council should act on. Council has consistently found funds for the unexpected – yet in this case lacks the will and vision. Some, but not all, examples of unexpected funding in the past 12 months are
- $2.2m to purchase 2 house lots adjoining Packer Park in 2011 (the combined size of the lots being approximately 20% of the 7100 sqm site being offered for $3m)
- $1m+ to expand the GESAC carpark and relocate the playground
- $750,000 to take advantage of a $250,000 state government grant to remodel the playground in the Murrumbeena Park
- Council could also raise the funds by
- increasing the Open Space Contribution Levy, which is a levy payable to Council by developers when a site is subdivided and which is intended to provide Council with funding for the acquisition of parkland. The State Government determined maximum rate payable on this levy is 5% of the land value – as mentioned in an earlier GERA Open Space posting, Glen Eira open space levy rates vary across the municipality and rarely is the full 5% charged.
- deferring some planned expenditures, for example
- warm season grass planting
- concrete plinthing ($500,000 for Caulfield Park)
GERA believes that Council (Administration and Councillors) have a lot to answer for over it’s handling of the Alma Club issue – not only for the usual lack of open, transparent and accountable governance and a failure to involve the community but also for a lack of vision and a failure to invest in the future of Glen Eira