Submissions on Ryman Healthcare's $200 million-plus plans to turn the former bayside grazing estate of Ansett Airline's founder Sir Reg Ansett into a retirement village close at the end of next week.
Ryman's land at Mount Eliza on the picturesque Mornington Peninsula was originally part of Ansett's estate and environmentalists initially wanted the prime 22ha beachfront block to be preserved as a wildlife habitat.
The sweeping waterfront site overlooks Port Phillip Bay, is known as the Moondah Estate and is about 45 minutes from Melbourne.
It was originally developed as the country estate of James Grice in 1888. During Ansett's time, he turned it into a luxury hotel, but the property later became a campus for the Melbourne Business School which sold out to Ryman around 2016.
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Ryman will preserve historic features including the grand entranceway gatehouse in the scheme for 300 apartments, 91 assisted living suites, a 120-room hospital and 393 carparking spaces.
Last year, it scaled back plans for the seaside project but environmentalists say they still remain worried about the threat to a koala habitat and other wildlife in the area.
The business said last March it has heard residents' concerns and responded.
Today, a Ryman spokesman said the overwhelming message from those who had lived in Mount Eliza for decades is that they love their village community, they want to retire there and have healthcare available if necessary.
"The new Mount Eliza village will also significantly reduce demand on existing health services, free up housing stock in the area, and give the local economy a massive boost at a time of increasing unemployment and economic uncertainty," he said.
Koalas were not listed by government authorities as significant in Victoria and Ryman's consultant assessed the likelihood of them living on or near the site.
"The ecologist found that although the site and its surrounds may be occasionally used by Koalas to move between sites where the their preferred tree species are present in higher abundance, there are only two such trees in the area. That is not enough to support a population of the species within the site itself," Ryman's spokesman said.
Social media page Save Reg's Wedge is followed by those who oppose the project. The title, Reg's Wedge, refers to Ansett and the shape of the waterfront site.
"Time is now, object to council before May 15, protecting our local koalas who live in Mt Eliza at 70 Kunyung Rd. We want to preserve this land. Say no to big business destroying the home of Aussie koalas in Mt Eliza."
The objectors' say bushfires have already killed many koalas and their site map shows it next door to Kunyung Primary School and neighbouring entrances to that and the development.
This month, the objectors posted on their site a letter from Mary Drost who leads a residents' action group.
"This an amazing coastal site with threatened species and where I actually saw a koala in the trees," Drost said.
"We will all be affected detrimentally if all these natural sites are decimated with no protection for what little wildlife remains and koalas gone forever," she wrote.
She was voicing her concerns to local state MP David Morris, "urging him to take action in Parliament to have the Government take this land over so that it is permanently protected.
But it would be great if you each just took a couple of minutes to send in an objection, the more the better and they see the objections come from all over Melbourne."
The social media page acknowledges the need for more aged care but says it should not be in Kunyung Rd next to the school. Concrete dust during about five years of construction, excavation, service, rubbish and delivery trucks, worker and visitor cars, ambulances, loss of trees and wildlife mean they oppose the scheme.
The Mornington Peninsula Shire says that in 2018, Ryman undertook community consultation on its proposals. The site was within a special use zone and identified with a heritage overlay under the local planning scheme.
That meant all planning permit applications would proceed via formal advertising and a chance for all parties to provide their thoughts.
Graham and Ann Henderson of Mount Eliza are on Ryman's waiting list. They understand opponents' concerns like entranceway proximity but say adverse impacts can be resolved.
Grahame Gordon says he and his wife also want to move into the new project: :Older people who have a house with a bayside location and a lovely aspect should be able to achieve the same ambience when they enter a retirement village. I find it insulting that the opposition parties are trying to deny us that opportunity. The Ryman site offers older retirees a magnificent setting in their final years."
Gordon doubts koalas' loss, saying that was only a convenient banner for the opposition parties. The site was not heavily forested, he said, "and I would be very surprised if any koalas regularly visit the few trees that are there."
Ken and Halina Broadbent from the area haven't decided whether to buy but say there are no Koala's in Mount Eliza.
"There maybe some in Mt Martha 10km away but they haven't been seen there for years neither," Ken Broadbent said.
The council has made public Ryman's reports on town planning, lighting, trees, architecture, biodiversity, heritage, waste management and bushfires. Ryman's arborist report said the site has about 580 trees, the oldest a row of 15 Golden Monterey Cypresses.
A tree consultant wrote to Ryman development manager Adrianna Pavlekovic in February: "The mature Australian native, Victorian native and indigenous mature trees especially the Sugar Gums towards the front of the site /interface with Kunyung Rd supports local biodiversity by providing a critical alternative source of habitat for native fauna in the absence of remnant indigenous trees within the modified landscape."
The site is in a bushfire prone area and mitigation aspects, including in the type of materials used in building, were outlined.