Church looks to higher authority for approval

By David Kavanagh | posted on June 13, 2019

THE pastor who last month had an application to build a church in Denmark rejected by Shire councillors has taken the case to the State Administrative Tribunal for review.

Baptist Pastor Graeme Ritchie submitted an appeal application to the independent dispute resolution body last Thursday after failing to find “alternative solutions” at a meeting with Shire staff earlier in the day.

“If we don’t go to SAT, we have to go through a new development application and the whole long process starts again, which is just ridiculous,” Mr Ritchie said.

“Council could then turn around and still say no.”

Mr Ritchie said of a number of sticking points that could not be reconciled at last week’s hour-long meeting, the most noteworthy revolved around the proposed building’s size and venue capacity.

Under the original plans, the church that would be built on Lot 166 at 987 South Coast Highway would be 560 square metres in size, reach a maximum height of 6.3 metres and feature an assembly hall with seating for 180 people (‘No faith in plans’, 30 May).

“I think they were really more concerned about the actual number of people, reducing it from a 180-seat capacity down to … 100, 120 or whatever,” he said.

“We could be open to looking at seating capacity, but to actually change the size of the building is another discussion altogether and the Denmark Baptist Community hasn’t come to any conclusion on that just yet.”

Mr Ritchie said the Shire was also concerned about parking and feared the 46 car bays required by planning guidelines would not meet demand if the venue were to be used for large events.

Mr Ritchie argued events that attracted a significant number of people to the venue would occur “infrequently” and would benefit the town.

“I’m sure we can get around that by negotiating with surrounding areas who can provide off street parking,” he said.

Denmark Shire Director of Assets and Sustainable Development David King was at last Thursday’s meeting alongside Senior Town Planner Jasmine Tothill.

“Given that the proponent has verbally advised they will be seeking a review of the decision at SAT, it would be inappropriate for me to relay any information relating to our informal discussions at this stage,” Mr King said.

“In the event of an SAT review, it would be hoped that a resolution can be found at formal mediation and [that the case wouldn’t have to] proceed to a full hearing.”

Under the Planning and Development Act 2005, an aggrieved applicant has the right to engage SAT to review a council’s decision within 28 days of it being made.

Mr Ritchie submitted his appeal application to SAT within 16 days of the Denmark Shire’s decision.

A directions hearing will determine the next course of action, which could include methods of alternative dispute resolution instead of a full hearing.

“I think there could be a bit of give and take, but I think also the councillors themselves need to realise [their decisions have consequences],” Mr Ritchie said.

SAT has overruled decisions made by local governments in the Great Southern before.

In January, the Tribunal overturned the City of Albany’s ruling to refuse landowner Graeme Robertson’s plans to build a lime pit on the Nullaki Peninsula (‘Nullaki concern’, 17 January).

Last year in August, the body overturned the City’s February 2017 refusal of a development application for a service station near the Chester Pass roundabout.

Spokespeople for the Minister for Local Government David Templeman and Minister for Planning Rita Saffioti each told the Weekender they were not responsible for or were unable to comment on matters relating to SAT and local government decisions.

A spokesperson for Attorney General John Quigley said Mr Quigley could not “comment on or intervene in a matter determined by the Tribunal.”

“The government and the judiciary are independent of one another,” the spokesperson said.

“The Tribunal operates in accordance with the main objectives set out in section nine of the SAT Act 2004 which includes resolving questions, complaints or disputes and making or reviewing decisions fairly and according to the substantial merits of each case.”