[:en]Rare and tiny yellow orchid deprives Albanian community group of $15m windfall[:] - Albanians In The World

[:en]Rare and tiny yellow orchid deprives Albanian community group of $15m windfall[:]


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[:en]Intransigence, bad timing and a very rare little yellow flower have combined to deprive a community group on Melbourne's west of a possible $15 million windfall. Back in the late 1980s, Melbourne's western fringe seemed like the perfect place to buy cheap land that might one day be worth a fortune. The paddocks surrounding the fields the Albanian Australian Community Association bought for a song in 1989 will one day house thousands of new homes. But the wave of property wealth that swept over thousands of hectares in the city's west – much of it controlled by well-connected property developers – will pass the Albanian group by. Not even the biggest population boom in the nation's history will enrich them. And the small golden moths orchid is, partially at least, to blame. "Our land, it's a shocking situation," said Asip Demiri, one of the founding members of the association. The association paid $415,000 for its 21 hectares – or about $20,000 a hectare – which sits just over the fence from Caroline Springs, a successful development by Lendlease. Today, under its current "conservation" zoning, the Albanian community's land would sell for about $120,000 a hectare, or about $2.5 million – although finding a buyer for it would be tough. If it were zoned in the same way as most of the surrounding grasslands, it would be snapped up in an instant for about $740,000 a hectare. Upwards of $15 million. But while work has begun on string of other housing developments much further out on the road from Melbourne to Melton, this land lies dormant. The Andrews government is offering to acquire the Albanian group's land – but for nothing like the millions others will get. Instead, it is one of 18 properties that will be included in the proposed Kororoit Regional Park. From about 2005, developers were interested in snapping up the Albanian group's land, with one making an offer of $4.3 million. But agreement couldn't be found within the community group for a selling price – or even whether it should be sold at all. Instead, as the bulldozers turned the surrounding paddocks into land ready for new homes, the Victorian and federal governments combined to deem the Albanians' block highly valuable grassland that must be preserved. After negotiations involving Melton's mayor Justin Mammarella – who was last week pre-selected as Labor's candidate for the area – the Brumby government left the group's land out of a massive rezoning for housing in 2010. Instead it will serve as a park for people living in the thousands of homes that will be built by developers who have been quietly buying or taking up options on land in the surrounding areas. A spokesman for the planning department said that the land owned by the Albanian community had extremely high environmental values and had been deemed a conservation area in 2010. "The property contains a significant quantity of rare native grassland, and supports a variety of threatened native flora, including some of the last remaining specimens of the small golden moths orchid," he said. Once common in Melbourne's west, the orchids have fallen victim to the city's expansion, which has now restricted them to a wild population of about 400 plants, all found in and around the land owned by the Albanian group. An environmental expert from RMIT said the site did have "very high strategic biodiversity value", and was now more valuable than adjacent areas. Mr Demiri has kept all of the documentation over the land over the years. One email, from a Lendlease officer – who later set up his own property group now negotiating land deals involving many of the surrounding properties – advised the Albanian group on the various ways they might develop their land. Mr Demiri says he was introduced to that Lendlease officer by Mr Mammarella, who did not return calls last week from Fairfax Media. Planning Minister Richard Wynne is poised to sign off on a precinct structure plan for the area. Mr Demiri's persistent and aggressive campaigning on the issue over a decade has alienated himself from the association. He said it was a disgrace the land had been deemed precious grasslands while identical nearby fields are owned by private individuals who, with arrangements with developers, will make windfall profits. After the matter was reported in local media, the association penned a letter saying Mr Demiri "has absolutely no authority to speak on our behalf". Secretary Adzi Ceni said that Mr Demiri had a lot to answer for, and that without his constant sniping a community centre for the Albanian group might have been built by now. He said the community group knew there were restrictions on its land, but still hoped to be able to build something valuable to their association on it. The planning department has recently offered to buy the land from the Albanian community association. The spokesman for the department declined to say how much had been offered to the group. He said it was a voluntary offer, and not a compulsorily acquisition. Opposition planning spokesman David Davis said Mr Mammarella had to explain what role he had played in land deals in the area when he was on the council. "Why was some land zoned for residential development while other land was blocked?" Mr Davis asked. "There are serious questions about the processes when he was the councillor for the area in the mid-2000s, and the community deserves a full accounting." The Age[:]

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