A legal battle has erupted over the licensing of The Cottage ‘‘rehab centre’’ in Shepparton’s St Andrews Rd.
Greater Shepparton City Council has applied to VCAT to have the centre shut down after claiming it did not apply for the appropriate planning permits when it opened in June last year.
Local residents have also come forward, airing a range of grievances, including noise complaints and allegations of increased crime.
They have further questioned the appropriateness of the location of the centre, considering its proximity to nearby schools.
Residents are also angry a permit was never sought last year, a process that would have allowed them to become aware of the centre and voice objections before it opened.
Loretta Hendy, who lives adjacent to The Cottage, said her health had been ruined and her husband had been forced to seek alternative employment.
‘‘It’s destroyed our lives. My partner has had to leave his job, he was a night-shift driver and he’s left his job now because he can no longer leave me alone in the house. I suffer from anxiety and panic (attacks),’’ she said.
The Hendys only became aware a rehabilitation centre or crisis accommodation unit had been established in April this year following media reports, but said they suspected something had changed as early as November last year.
‘‘It looked like a transient living environment. I could hear people fighting at night. I could hear people yelling. There (were) always way too many people on the properties than is meant to be there,’’ she said.
The Cottage company secretary Robert Bryant said the organisation had been hesitant to advertise its services for fear of a community backlash.
‘‘This is what happens when it becomes public. NIMBY (not-in-my-back-yard) becomes the issue,’’ he said.
Mr Bryant said he initially believed The Cottage did not need a planning permit because it was operating under an exemption offered to crisis accommodation.
‘‘What I didn’t pick up is that the rule is for 10 habitable rooms, and then the exemption doesn’t apply. That being the case, we have more than 10 habitable rooms so the exemption doesn’t apply,’’ he said.
The Cottage comprises four adjacent residential blocks and offers accommodation for up to 23 individuals. Staff attend from between 7.30am and 10pm. The facility is not supervised overnight.
Residents pay a non-refundable $2000 up-front fee and are then garnished 75 per cent of their government benefits, or pay a flat fee of $250 per week.
The Cottage is operated by not-for-profit organisation SHADAC Inc. Three of the residential blocks are owned by a company called Clearer View Pty Ltd, of which Mr Bryant is a shareholder.
Clearer View Pty Ltd receives about $2000 a month in rent from SHADAC Inc, according to Mr Bryant. The remaining block is rented privately from a landlord who lives in Canberra.
Whether The Cottage is operating as a rehabilitation centre or as a crisis accommodation facility will become key to the looming VCAT hearing and simultaneous order from the council to obtain a planning permit.
The hearing could temporarily shut down The Cottage and the planning permit application could determine whether it must permanently close its doors.
Planning decisions about the location of residential rehabilitation facilities, including private providers, are the responsibility of local government, according to the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services.
Council sustainable development director Geraldine Christou said the council had no choice but to begin simultaneous actions against The Cottage via VCAT and its own permit granting processes.
The council became aware of the facility in February this year following a complaint from residents, she said.
Media coverage of The Cottage first appeared in August last year.
The council ordered The Cottage to make an application for a planning permit with a deadline of May 8.
The application was made on the deadline day and the council made an application to VCAT on May 10 to have The Cottage temporality closed.
The council is taking submissions on The Cottage’s planning permit, closing on May 28.
Monsignor Peter Jeffrey Parish Priest, Mooroopna, Chairman SHADAC Inc wrote a Letter to the Editor sharing his thoughts on The Cottage. Read the letter here.