Billboard blow – VCAT overturns council refusal

Castlemaine residents who opposed plans to erect a large advertising billboard in Johnstone Street have been left in shock after the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal overturned Mount Alexander Shire Council’s decision to refuse a permit for the sign.
Council received 28 formal written objections to the proposed sign at 42-44 Johnstone Street, which is 12.6 metres long and 3.35 metres high, with an advertising area of 42.21 square metres and an additional 0.65-metre-high cladding area, all atop supports measuring 2.25 metres high.
Objections related to traffic safety, impacts on the residential nature of the area, township entrance, parkland amenity, heritage appearance of the town and potential for setting a precedent for other similar advertising billboards.
The applicant, Melbourne-based Total Outdoor Media, stated the billboard would “add visual interest to an otherwise mundane streetscape, without affecting road safety or amenity”. But in their report recommending refusal, council officers stated that the location’s “recognised landscape values would not benefit by being obscured and interrupted with a large, elevated, 42-metre-square commercial billboard”. In a unanimous decision at its April council meeting councillors voted to refuse the application for the residential street, which is in a commercial zone.
Johnstone Street resident and local businessman Genis Wylde said the VCAT decision was an indictment and undermined council’s sovereignty.
“It’s disturbing that council’s decision can be overridden by an authority that knows nothing of our area,” he said.
Mr Wylde had prepared an extensive submission for the hearing.
“I like to think of Castlemaine as a bit of a ‘Brigadoon’, it has been bypassed for so long without significant interference.
“I have a business in Mostyn Street and I am often approached by people looking for the supermarket as it was done in a way that was sympathetic to the town’s heritage,” he said.
“This sign will provide no visual or economic benefit to the town,” he said.
Mr Wylde said he was also extremely concerned about safety.
“It’s nerve-wracking enough now turning into my driveway, there is often a screech of brakes, people swerving around me over the double lines,” he said.
Resident Lee Bower said that she was also extremely disappointed with the decision.
“There are 14 right-hand turns along that stretch of road. I hate to think what could happen if someone is distracted by the sign.”
Ms Bower said it was also a real blow to opposing residents that one of the VCAT conditions, in a bid to minimise signage and distraction, was to remove the existing ‘Welcome to Castlemaine – Hot Rod Centre of Australia’ signs to make way for the existing business signage and cater for the billboard.
Residents say the decision hinged on a generic letter from VicRoads to VCAT which cited no safety concerns and are calling on the road authority to do a full safety assessment of the site.
Council’s manager of development services Shannon Meadows thanked the community members who made such a significant effort in their detailed submissions to VCAT.
“It was disappointing that VCAT overturned the decision, but we do not intend to appeal it,” Mr Meadows said.

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