Ryman Healthcare's $200 million-plus plans for a new Australian village have been labelled "inappropriate" by a territorial authority across the Tasman.
But the largest NZX-listed retirement village company, with a market capitalisation of $6.7 billion, says it is considering whether it will appeal the rejection.
The Mornington Peninsula Shire, based in an area about an hour out of Melbourne, backed the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal's decision this month to refuse Ryman's proposed development at Mount Eliza.
"This council also affirms the view that the proposal for a large-scale residential aged care facility and/or retirement village, on land which lays outside the urban growth boundary, is inappropriate development at odds with the amenity of the surrounding green wedge," the shire said.
The [tribunal] hearing involved the New Zealand-based company's attempts to overturn the refusal of the development by the shire council, the authority said.
Mornington Mayor Despi O'Connor backed the tribunal's rejection of Ryman's plans.
"The protection of the green wedge and the essential separation of the built environment to the natural environment is so important to the character of the Mornington Peninsula," O'Connor said.
The tribunal's decision upholds the importance of that issue for the community," she said.
The broader community's "huge effort and their ongoing commitment to protecting this unique feature of the Mornington Peninsula" were also cited by her.
Ryman's plans for the 8.9ha site involve seven buildings. It proposed 181 independent apartments, an 82-bed hospital, 48 assisted living suites, a stand-alone place of worship, bowling green, swimming pool, activities area, beauty salon, cafe, lounge and 357 car parks.
Permits were required for demolition and alteration of heritage buildings, the tribunal said.
It also noted the site's special characteristics.
"The land contains a large number of established trees and other vegetation, including open lawns. It also hosts significant native vegetation in the mostly undeveloped portion of the site which slopes steeply towards Moondah beach. Title to the land extends to part of the foreshore, with stormwater draining from the property to a concrete outlet on the beach," the tribunal said.
Not all about Ryman's application was rejected: the tribunal said the site was appropriate for aged-care, just not of the scale which Ryman wanted.
Yet an aged-care proposal would "positively facilitate" re-use of the heritage property, the tribunal noted.
Ryman had simply gone too far and wanted too much.
"We consider that the siting and scale of two proposed buildings would unreasonably detract from heritage values of the site and from the open landscape setting that reinforces the mansion as a key local landmark," the tribunal said.
Critics have cited koalas in the area as one reason to oppose development.
The tribunal heard evidence from ecologist Aaron Organ about koalas which might "occasionally use the site and surrounds to move between more abundant food sources, there are only two trees on the land which are preferred by koalas and insufficient to support a population of the species within the site".
The objector group, Save Sir Reg's Wedge, called Dr Jeff Yugovic to give expert evidence about potential impacts on ecology. The areas of remnant native vegetation were more extensive than mapped by Organ, Yugovic told the tribunal.
Moondah Beach is an important natural and recreational asset that supports significant native vegetation and includes sites of geological and geomorphological significance, Yugovic said.
The ecological values of the foreshore should be enhanced, particularly through the removal of imported material on Moondah Beach, he said.
David King, Ryman spokesman, said on Sunday: "It is possible to appeal the ruling. We're digesting the decision but we are pleased [that the] tribunal has approved the site for aged care and retirement living. We're also pleased everyone got to have their say and that we had a good hearing."