Macedon Ranges Council will make a bid to take over part of the vacated former Kyneton Primary School site.
The proposal comes as the state government moves to find an organisation or group to manage and use part or all of the 1.2 hectares of land on Baynton Street by calling for expressions of interest in the site.
The council would turn four lots on the site into open public space but would avoid taking on the dilapidated historical buildings that would require $3.68 million in safety repairs alone.
The decision split council in a 5-4 vote as councillors weighed up the undesirable site fragmentation and opportunity to create gardens, a playground and other recreational spaces.
Mayor Janet Pearce said there was a risk no single applicant would be successful in securing management of the entire site and opportunities would be lost.
“I understand how very important this site is to the community,” she said.
“The issue is if the council does not put in an EOI and no group is successful for the whole site, and someone else puts an EOI for this open space area, then, I feel, council would have lost the opportunity for the greater community to retain that large area of four allotments that are interconnected to current facilities and areas that council has authority of.”
The council says it will withdraw its bid should an alternate submission be received for the whole site that is supported by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning – which is managing the process.
However, some felt the council’s very act of applying may tempt fragmentation of the site.
Cr Roger Jukes said site development had the potential to revitalise and reconnect the town centre but it needed a whole-site approach and funding that the council couldn’t commit.
He named it “one of the biggest opportunities since the founding of Kyneton” but urged councillors to leave it to the community and state’s EOI process.
“This is a very critical site in the centre of Kyneton. The vision that’s needed is quite substantial and needs significant investment in the planning,” he said.
“I think we’re selling it way too short. A mediocre effort will result in a mediocre outcome. The vision for this land is sadly lacking… This is a real future-building, town-building project, and that’s why I can’t support the officer’s recommendation.”
Cr Jennifer Anderson agreed the site was “meant to be dealt with as a whole”.
“The community was quite clear in our consultation that they really did not want council to be the manager of the land. That was the feedback that came back to me: they want to be the managers,” she said.
“We should let it play out in the community and see what happens there.”
Many community groups have voiced interest in the site. Ahead of Friday’s meeting, The Kyneton and District Town Square Co-op echoed concerns about fragmentation of the site.
“At the very least, councillors should make certain that council involvement does not encourage fragmentation,” said Rob Bakes, co-op board member.
“Fragmentation would be the death knell for the community’s cherished town square vision.
“The essence of this vision is direct community responsibility for our town square and the powerful engagement and sense of belonging which will result from this.”
“The Kyneton and District Town Square project is a once-ever opportunity to achieve something truly wonderful for our community.”
The final vote confirmed the council would make a submission to the EOI process to manage the four allotments as outlined.
A division recorded councillors in favour of the motion were: Pearce, Bleeck, Mees, Gayfer and Twaits. Those against were: Anderson, Jukes, West and Radnedge.