Should the Doncaster Church become a Highrise developer, or provide community gardens ?

We would like to share this great letter from Anonymous in Doncaster, a mid 20’s resident with some great suggestions, and some concern for where the Church of Christ in Doncaster has it’s focus….  It’s worth reading both parts below.

I particularly LOVE the suggestion that the church, or even the developers be encouraged to provide open community involvement space, such as a community garden. The idea that people in high rise apartments are enabled & encouraged to get outdoors and meet their neighbors is magnificent. The might just get a little feel of what existing residents love about this community…

Dear Les,
I’m just letting you know I fully support the Residents Against Inappropriate Development In Doncaster (RAIDID) Group and everyone at RAIDID deserve plenty of encouragement for all the excellent work they are doing. It is much needed!! The fact is you are fighting a huge battle to defend, protect and

advocate for positive town planning within Manningham. Thank you. Don’t ever give up.
I have found RAIDID to be a hard working and focused group. I did speak to you at the Council forum on 9th November 2011 and signed the petition that day. I also telephoned Mr Warren Welsh in December 2011 and found he was very open to discussion, although I called him out of the blue after I saw the

article about the outcome of the Victorian Ombudsman complaint. He was definitely correct when he said the people of Manningham are unaware of what is happening and not vocal enough. When I read 600 objections in Stonnington to one proposal, that’s fantastic! However, the guy who wants to buy the air rights for a project in South Yarra is getting the go ahead, so I guess, Stonnington is only saying “no” to certain projects. I am enclosing a letter which I have sent to Doncaster Church of Christ after I read about their intention to submit a planning application of their own in Doncaster Hill. I hope that it is helpful in some way to the Hepburn Road group.
Who knows when this madness will end and sound town planning will reign again but I am heartened by some of the following examples of people banding together to fight development and some common sense opinions as there is a similar battle, throughout Melbourne municipalities:
I have found the reporting in the ‘Melbourne Eastern Weekly’ and ‘Manningham Leader’ to be very useful in keeping up with the news about development in the area as there is always something brewing. A new plan or debate somewhere. What I would like to see and I am sure RAIDID and other Manningham residents would like also, is for both of these publications to provide as much information about development, the candidates and how the election works, in the lead up to the Manningham Council elections in November this year. I had never paid any attention to local council matters, until moved back to Manningham two years ago (from Whitehorse) and was astonished at the level of development and development plans in the pipeline. I would really like to know each of the election candidates’ stance on development and how they have voted in the past. It would be useful for residents to know as this will affect us for the next four years. I do hope you place information on the Coherence website for anyone who does not read the papers!
By the way, did you know that when I went to the Manningham Council office, Customer Service desk that there were brochures about the Doncaster Train Feasibility Study? It is relevant to people but I am suspicious that the Council is making information available about the Doncaster Train Feasibility Study simply because it advocates for the train line to be built, which ultimately enables it to have an excuse for more development, thereby, bringing/ attracting more people to Manningham so it can generate more rates $ and justify building all of those townhouses and apartments so they are filled up like sardines. An ulterior motive I believe, as it doesn’t display the information about planning objections or planning maps in the front office. More communication is definitely needed and I rely on the Coherence website for the latest news.
Best Regards,
– Anonymous Supporter.

Copy of the letter sent to the Doncaster Church of Christ.

Mr Russell Croxford, Senior Minister
Doncaster Church of Christ,  2 Short Street, Doncaster, Victoria 3108
1st February 2012
Dear Mr Croxford,
In response to hearing about the planning application proposal to be submitted by Doncaster Church of Christ, I ask you to reconsider and continue to pray about God’s vision for His church. I am writing to you because it is important for you to understand the concerns of your congregation and the community, to allow you to see a different perspective. This will enable alternative suggestions to be

discussed and a positive solution to be found to benefit the community. The pace and scale of development within Doncaster and the wider Manningham area is of great concern for residents and a contentious issue as you would well know. Although the church may be located within the ‘Doncaster Hill’ area, this does not automatically call for the church having to match or keep pace with the development by building a tower of its own.
As a young adult who attended Doncaster Church of Christ for some time, a few years ago, under the leadership of Mr George Warren and yourself, I always found it to be a good church with very down to earth, welcoming people and bible based teaching. When I heard about the development application, I was shocked that the church would jump on this shaky and greedy bandwagon. Are you copying the Coptic Church’s $8 million development proposal? Just because everyone else it seems is cashing in by becoming property developers, the function of a church is to provide spiritual enlightenment. Its function is to share God’s love with the community. To preach the gospel. To facilitate worship. Need I say more, I’m sure you know how to do your job! It is a Christian responsibility to be salt and light to the world. Just because people do certain things, Christians do not need to imitate them, because it is cool or trendy or topical. We are to strive to learn to be our like Jesus, not imitate the world. Jesus ran his own race; he didn’t need to follow anybody but God.
The church facilities, from what I have seen are adequate. There is enough space for worship services and all are well keep, not run down. So I am left questioning the motivation behind the decision to add to our over- development problem, rather than to support the local community. Why are you “getting in on the act” so to speak? Are you unhappy with the way the church currently is set up and where it’s heading? If you are worried that Doncaster Church of Christ will become irrelevant or insignificant in the future because it will be dwarfed by tall buildings, then yes, the fears are well founded. Is this what you mean when you say “we can’t stay the way things are”? This seems like a reaction based on fear or greed or based on competitive thirst. We can’t deny the trend we see around us, but we can try to stem the flow of excessive development being foisted upon the community. Maybe this is taking the ‘moral high-ground’, but it is better than taking the “if we can’t beat ’em, join them” attitude.

In my opinion, to keep Doncaster Church of Christ relevant to Doncaster, keep engaging with the community, practicing Christianity and outreach in positive ways — start today, with or without the shiny new building.
Are you bored with how Doncaster Church of Christ currently looks? The only problem I ever experienced was a shortage of car parking space behind the church. Often I parked in Short Street and Hepburn Road as they are near by, local streets which are convenient. The proposed tower in Hepburn Road will be off- putting to people like me, who want to attend a normal local, friendly church. Do you know at City Life and Hillsong (some of Australia’s mega churches) there are car parking attendants and traffic jams? I don’t go to church to get more stressed out but to help me to manage a stressful life with spiritual balance.

The Hepburn Rd tower will only make things more difficult for Doncaster Church of Christ in the foreseeable future. It will be difficult to attract new members/ visitors if the surrounding local streets are chock full of cars because of this new tower, whether they are visitors or residents, which would adversely affect attendance numbers. If there are parking permits/ restrictions put in place this will also not help. A person cannot park there, and enjoy church if they are worried they could get booked! Even if nobody drove and we all took the bus to church, or all of those Hepburn tower residents walked to Doncaster Church of Christ, hypothetically of course, these two streets are particularly busy at today’s standards so we cannot afford further congestion. Think of the residents of these streets who will have to put up with more noise, more people wandering the neighbourhood and a potential rise in crime. How is this positive? Not to mention the environmental impact of more people draining our water and electricity resources. High density living only creates more competition and stress as more people are squeezed into small spaces.

Having been raised in a mainly secular environment, I can tell you, there are many people out there who do not have an issue with God. Their issue is with ‘The Church’ (as an established institution) and how it’s run so that’s why they don’t practice any organised religion or participate in a faith community. One of the most off putting things, is when the church is seen feathering their own nest and serving themselves first. Being hypocritical, selfish, divisive etc are characteristics seen at times, which never bring people to Jesus. I do not think that the latest proposal will bring people to your church door. Instead, they will run away, saying “why should I listen to that Senior Ministers’ sermon when this is what his church is all doing?” It appears that you are motivated by money and not using the money the church currently has, to help the community or demonstrate God’s love in any way.

For many people (Christians and non Christians), it could be interpreted this way!
A proliferation of new developments (giant town houses and but worse still, apartments) have sprouted throughout Manningham, within residential areas and further development plans in the pipeline.

Understandably, many people feel that the expanse of development is compromising the liveability of Doncaster and surrounding areas. Some development is good (such as the expansion of the On Luck Chinese Nursing Home and the renovation of Shoppingtown). Some are necessary but too much of anything, becomes unhealthy. Residents are worried because from what we have seen in the past few years, virtually any kind of development proposal can easily receive the tick of approval. It is like a free for all development party at local residents’ expense. It is unwelcome, yet it’s being shoved down our throats like it’s good for us. We are waiting to see common sense and decency return to town planning.

Unfortunately, it appears that the church is behaving more like a Judas (a betrayer, a collaborator with development), rather than a Jesus (a helper) who is a saviour that we all need.

The big problem Manningham faces is that excessive and rapid development of our suburbs is a permanent mark on the landscape which impacts negatively on the community. No one wants to live next to a monster town house/ apartment and very few people want to live in them. It is a very different area to what I grew up in (and I am in my late twenties). There are now town houses popping up all over. For example, within the last two years, in my childhood street, seven homes have been bulldozed, and within a blink, been replaced by fourteen imposing, ugly double storey town houses. Within this street, I attended the auction of one of these new double storey town houses in the middle of last year. One retired neighbour said there were too many stairs, which isn’t suited to our ‘ageing’ but active retirees. The property didn’t suit me (a first home buyer) as it sold in the high $700,005. At the end of last year, the Real Estate Agent phoned me to say the sale fell through and asked if I was still interested. Now, the property has been leased and I wonder who lives there and how long they will stay.
The thoughts expressed in this letter, are my own as I am not a member of Residents Against Inappropriate Development In Doncaster (RAIDID). I would like to remain a private person, but I whole heartedly share the groups’ concerns about over- development and how DD08  zoning (Design and Development Overlay Schedule 8) provides plenty of opportunity and encouragement to build mini- cities in the suburbs. Many new double storey townhouses and apartments do not suit the elderly, even if they can afford them by selling an existing house. Nor do they suit the young, with prices way about the median of $500,000; development is definitely not giving us an even playing field for affordability, as it is always used as a justification of its ‘benefits’. New residential developments are only tailored to YUPPIES with money who are happy to live in a big grey mushroom box with tiny rooms inside. Therefore, most new developments, often built in haste, are not really tailored for the majority of Manningham residents household structure (young families/ extended families/ adults still living with parents/ elderly singles or couples) where most people prefer single storey houses/ units/ villas/ town houses and semi detached dwellings.
The worst aspect of the rapid property development is the pressure placed upon local residents for further development. It doesn’t end with just a few new townhouses or one apartment complex. Many residents feel powerless. Both my next door neighbour and a lady who lives further down the street have been approached by real estate agents asking about their intention to sell. Not one phone call but several and leaflets too. Why, well, it’s clear that local residents are being harassed because they are elderly and own a good sized block of land which holds development potential and real estate agents will just keep hammering until they get an answer. Some people will fight the good fight, but others who are tired of maintaining their property, money hungry or go to a nursing home (which was the case for one of my neighbours) sell their property and this is opportunity, opportunity, opportunity for developers. It is happening at the expense of our lovely quiet, clean, safe residential streets and people feel trapped.
Due to the pace of development and the pressure on residents, many people say “why bother  complaining?” An unreasonable expectation has already been set that the community should accept defeat and just ‘move out and move on’, get used to it and quietly suffer with this price of “progress” with our curtains closed. Rate payers and their families concerns have been pushed aside. It is simply unfair. The community feels like it’s being stream-rolled, disrespected and silenced. If this is the price the community has to pay to “re-invent ourselves” as you say on your website, then I’d rather not have this “progress” as it creates a lot of upheaval and disharmony within the community, instead of bringing people together. It creates winners and losers. It creates more problems than solutions.
As a Christian, I have many issues with the proposal, particularly coming from a local church, which I worshipped at and believed to be good and decent.

There are also several problems which the proposal presents, as outlined in this letter; however, there are several ways in which Doncaster Church of  Christ can help the Manningham community:
1. Withdraw your planning application:

From what has been described;it is a grand plan which is not suitable for a church and only contributes to a growing vision of a very tall and fat City of Manningham with a large number of inappropriate high density developments. I cannot see a good reason for needing more apartments with the proposed Hepburn Rd apartments in the same vicinity anyway.

Residents already think we have problems now. Help relieve the anxieties of the people living in the Hepburn Rd/ Short St area as there is already an enormous battle going on around the potential Hepburn Rd tower apartments so why add to it? More than 73 objections were received (and sadly, ignored) to this one proposal, proving that it is unwelcome, impractical and simple not needed. It is more important to have suitable roads, space, access and parking around multi- storey developments, therefore in such a small area of Hepburn Rd/ Short St, it is not feasible to have two (or really even one) large apartment complex. If there were 180 or 100 flats, where do the cars fit? Even if nobody had a car and everyone took the bus, it is still a lot of strain on our infrastructure so I would appeal to Doncaster Church of Christ to re- think the plans to create something which is sustainable, necessary and liked by the community and the congregation. There is no condemnation in Christ, only hope for transformation for us as individuals and a community. It is never too late to change, as God allows U- Turns.
2. Use the new MC2 centre instead of changing the current church building structure and site:

If you require more space for community and church orientated activities there are only two things to do. Firstly, hold activities in the church building at times which don’t clash with regular services. Secondly, use the new MC2 centre that the Council is building across the road for large gatherings and functions. The Council has said that this is a space designated for community groups and is to be used as a community hub. Apologies for sounding critical, but the reality is that regular Christian churches are dying off in Australia as Islamic,  Buddhist and Christian Pentecostal faiths are growing. I see it is more important to maintain Doncaster Church of Christ attendance and grow participation, before setting up in a new building. Get the people through the door first and make sure they are committed; otherwise you will have a sad, expensive, luxurious empty church building, rather than a happy, crowded house of God.
3. Support the Manningham community by participating in the conversation about what constitutes good development:

Jesus was a man who was all about assisting the poor, the down trodden, the people who couldn’t speak for themselves, the oppressed, the vulnerable and stood up to injustice. It may not look like it in 2012 from the outside, by I’m not exaggerating when I say Manningham residents are fighting a David and Goliath battle. We are people who need God’s help. Many residents want to keep Manningham family friendly so it is a healthy and happy place for children, adults, retirees, the elderly and young people. Many new developments are ugly beasts which eat away at the privacy, open space and views of the area which we love. Could you enjoy your backyard knowing the eyes of the apartment residents are watching you sip your morning coffee/ do your gardening/ play cricket with your kids/ sun bake or swim in your pool? Could your veggie garden grow properly when the sun is blocked by a large building?
I recommend you study Manningham Council’s DD08 future blueprint plans, if you haven’t already. See council%o20endorsed%2027%20september%x202011 draft %o20strategvactionplan.pdf

Ask yourself, is this really good for you and your family? What do you see? There are more sites earmarked for development.

Have you seen the Doncaster Hill website – Current.htm? Do we really need more??
Have you taken a walk/ drive around Doncaster/ East Doncaster/ Templestowe lately and seen how many developments are on the go right now in suburban streets? A lot is the answer! That’s why ‘The Church’   (as an organisation) should be helping/ supporting residents. Doncaster Church of Christ would certainly win new fans if it did and redeem its reputation too.
4. If you really wanted to renovate the church, OK but there is no need for a tower:

With an $11.5 million budget, you can do many things. You could build an eco- friendly new church complex (take St. Alfred Anglican Church and New Hope Baptist Church in North Blackburn as examples of old buildings being modernised tastefully within a small site), incorporating the heritage protected chapel and an auditorium, kitchen, a few multi- purpose rooms for the community etc… and still have spare change.
How about a community garden? Would you consider this in the new plans so there is a meeting place and some greenery for the congregation and the community to enjoy? A community garden would at least help residents of the Hepburn Rd apartment tower (if it becomes an unfortunate reality) to come together in an outdoor activity, combating the generalised negativity and isolation which occurs as open space decreases. A community garden could easily be implemented as it does not cost a lot, only a small plot of land set aside and some manpower. It would encourage community participation by people inside and

outside the church; camaraderie and it would then be something positive for families, couples and singles of all ages. A community garden would be a distinguishing factor (positive selling point) which is a facility that no other church in Manningham or Whitehorse, has to show, to my knowledge. It would make this church special and relevant to the community) Hence, helping you to resolve the anxiety about irrelevance/ being ‘over looked’ in the future. The only thing you will realistically be over looked by is the giant shadow of the Hepburn Rd tower if you allow it.
If Doncaster Church of Christ has $11.5 million to spend (a fortunate position to be in. while other local churches are struggling), it doesn’t have to be all spent on the church. How about donating to Box Hill or Maroondah Hospital for new equipment/ beds? Or Doncare or LinC to help Manningham charities (although we may appear on the outside to be affluent), many families, young people and elderly are struggling with schooling, living and health expenses. Alternatively, you could do some charity work directly, as I’m sure members of the congregation would know of people in the community who need a helping hand. All of the above can be “a gift to the community” as you say when interviewed by the Manningham Leader and it would do more good and have a much more long lasting, positive effect than a tower ever would.
5. Scale down your plans to ensure appropriate heights are observed:

The church complex or the separate residential apartment building should be no more than two storeys, in order to keep with reasonable height and character of the neighbourhood. If it is three storeys or more, it would stick out like a sore thumb, especially if the tower is taller than the existing office buildings on Doncaster Road. It should blend in. It should not have to ‘compete’ with the heights of ‘Doncaster  Hill’ as the church needs to represent God, not mammon/ wealth/ luxury/ modernity. Many churches are in the business of running retirement villages or aged care facilities (eg. Templestowe Orchards Retirement Village and Baptcare), but branching out into residential apartments in a tower style and running an owners corporation that just goes against our Christian beliefs. Will the church have the time and resources to operate it? I thought church pastors were over-worked and under paid so how can you manage this? It seems like a money making venture, what else? A church is an organisation like any other, however, it is designed to serve God and represent the body of Christ. It is a community based business, not a profit driven business.

It is a Christian responsibility for a church to set the best example it can to the community so that its evangelism would be effective. If you are preaching the gospel of money making over the gospel of Jesus and decent values, then why would anyone bother being a Christian? The world and secular society gives us all that. Instead, if you are preaching the gospel of Jesus which includes peace, love, gratitude, kindness and love for our neighbours then people will take notice, instead of thinking “just another self- loving, hypocritical church.”
Think about creating a longer term sustainable future, for the church itself and the community, rather than short term profit and external appearances. All of us must prioritise God if we are to call ourselves Christians and attempt as much as possible, to live with our words and deeds in accordance, otherwise we are “double minded” as James says. To effectively carry out Christian “mission in Doncaster” as the website says, I believe that the actions and words of the church must match and be transparent as people are not fools, they can see when someone isn’t being genuine. To have good intentions and do good deeds isn’t’ easy, it does take resources and effort but not fancy equipment or buildings. After all, when God and Moses were talking at the burning bush, He asked, “look what is that in your hand?” Moses obeyed and used a simple staff/ rod to lead people, he didn’t need an iPhone! My point is trying to look and act fancy will not do the trick for effective evangelism. As we know, bible bashing also doesn’t work either. The only effective tool is God’s love and power. He can work whether you’re in a space age building or a run- down shack. I pray that the Holy Spirit works through this letter as you think through and consider these issues, suggestions and points of view which not only belong to me, but also have been expressed throughout the Manningham community, to assist you to make good decisions as you look forward to the future of Doncaster Church of Christ with God at the centre, leading the way.
Best Regards,
– Manningham Resident.

One Response to “Should the Doncaster Church become a Highrise developer, or provide community gardens ?”

  1. Reg says:

    It should be noted that inner city Melbourne have preserved it’s churches intact.
    Council, by stealth and against the wishes of community, have effectively sealed the fate of our beautiful Church by zoning it for a nine storey development within a mandatory height of 29 meters.
    I doubt that the latest plans will incorporate what was envisaged back in 2003.
    Council Minutes June 2003
    2.4 2a Church Space – Precinct 2
    The front heritage building of the Church of Christ, on the south side of Doncaster Road, is presently adjoined by a gravel car park on the corner of Doncaster Road and Short Street.
    It is proposed that the front area of the car ark be acquired to form a small urban plaza at the time when the site is redeveloped, with outdoor seating in a landscaped setting.
    It is envisaged that it would form a sunny lunchtime space, physically integrated with the old church building, which has potential to be used for a café / restaurant in the future.
    An outdoor café space will help to activate the Doncaster Boulevard, and given its central location has potential to become an informal meeting place for locals.
    Refer attached plan: Precinct 2 Master Plan).
    Indicative Costs:
    Land Acquisition Subject to negotiation with developer.
    Development $250,000 plus Public Art funding

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