Stonnington Council is set to take a landmark vote on a controversial policy that could compel hundreds of home owners and businesses to sell their properties to the city for conversion into parks.
But nearly all owners are being left in the dark about whose properties have been selected, with the council choosing not to publicly release the list of 450 identified sites in South Yarra, Toorak, Armadale, Glen Iris, Prahran and Malvern.
In the first stage of its strategy, the council will decide on Monday whether to apply a new planning control – known as a Public Acquisition Overlay – to five privately owned properties in Prahran, marking them permanently ‘‘reserved’’ as potential public space. The designation gives the council the option of buying the land at some future date.
The Prahran properties are among hundreds of private and publicly owned sites identified in a confidential report commissioned by the council, which is looking to reverse the decline in the amount of open space available in the municipality after years of intense development.
But the policy is bitterly resented by some land owners, who claim they will be left in ‘‘limbo’’ by a government that is laying a claim to their land but has made no formal commitment to buy it.
‘‘The council hasn’t made any offers. They’re saying: ‘We’ll reserve it and when you’re ready to sell, the council will buy it off you’. But if the council decides it’s time, they’ll just compulsorily acquire our property and we won’t have a choice,’’ said factory owner Maria Sardellis.
‘‘It’s all in their hands. In the meantime, our lives get put on hold for 10 or 20 years or however long. Obviously, no one else is going to want that land now.’’
The planning amendment envisions creating a ‘‘pedestrian link’’ between four streets by converting the five properties into so-called ‘‘pocket parks’’, some of which will be separated from each other by distances of up to 50 metres.
A spokesman for the City of Stonnington has stressed that the council is not compulsorily acquiring the properties but using the planning control to ‘‘flag its interest in potentially purchasing these properties in the future’’ should the owners decide to sell one day.
‘‘The application of a[n] [overlay] does not require an authority to then and there proceed to acquire the property and it may be some years before the property is actually acquired by council,’’ he said.
In the interim, owners would still be able to sell their land on the open market.
But veteran Stonnington estate agent Philippe Batters said the designation would act as a ‘‘blight’’ for any affected property, depressing its value and hampering any real chance of selling to anyone but the council.
‘‘It’s going to have a very detrimental impact for owners who get the designation. Plenty of others will be in for a nasty shock if the council turns out to have picked their property to be one of the hundreds that are being considered.’’
Owners can apply for compensation if they believe the designation has caused them financial loss, the council said.
The council’s strategy has identified up to 450 private and publicly owned sites that are suitable for conversion into parks and open spaces, which includes potentially ‘‘undergrounding’’ car parks, decking over rail lines and redeveloping council flats.
The council has no plans to release the complete list of properties identified as ‘‘strategic opportunities’’ that could be designated for purchase over the next 20 years.
Plans are already under way to apply an overlay to two properties in Carters Avenue, Toorak. The Age also understands that several home owners in Armadale were notified last week that an overlay is also being considered for their land, which is next to Toorak Park and estimated to be worth more than $1 million for each block.
Planning expert Professor Roz Hansen said that while Stonnington undoubtedly needs more open space, the council should be focusing on better using publicly owned spaces before jumping to the expensive option of purchasing individual, privately held blocks.
‘‘Creating pocket parks in a highly urbanised environment doesn’t add a lot of amenity simply because they’re so small and have limited use. There are better opportunities reclaiming surplus road space like Melbourne city council has done.’’
Prahran area residents are also concerned that the small, isolated ‘‘pocket parks’’ could become a focus point for anti-social behaviour and crime.