A northern Tasmanian council has approved a plan to turn a former primary school into a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre.
The Meander Valley Council voted five-four on Tuesday in favour of the planning application, which seeks to convert the Meander Primary School into a 22-bed rehabilitation centre for women with children, called the Home of Hope.
Mayor Craig Perkins was not surprised by the close vote.
“It was a close decision when we considered it last May and June, so I’m not surprised again that it was as tight,” he said.
The application attracted 96 submissions from the community, with the council estimating just over half opposed the development.
Seven people addressed the council meeting, with three supporting the proposal and four opposing it.
Opponents said they feared the centre would reduce amenity and security in the village, and several criticised Christian group Teen Challenge Tasmania, which will run the centre.
Meander Area Residents and Ratepayers Association spokeswoman Bodhi McSweeney said her group would appeal against the decision to the Resource Management and Planning Appeal Tribunal.
“We have legal advice that the classification isn’t correct, and there are a few other points within their application that require addressing, and our legal people will be looking at that,” she said.
They have 14 days to lodge the appeal.
Community divided by proposed centre
The proposal has divided the small community of Meander, with allegations of personal abuse and businesses caught in the middle of the conflict.
Teen Challenge Tasmania executive director Tanya Cavanagh told the council meeting she had endured harassment from some people opposing the project, including abusive phone calls, allegations of impropriety, and being refused service from some businesses.
She said Teen Challenge would not back down on plans to open the centre later this year.
“This just reaffirms our focus, and ensures that we keep doing what we’re doing because that’s what’s important,” she said.
“It’s helping people get their lives together and restoring families.”
Ms McSweeney said opponents of the project had also been bullied.
“We had our seats vandalised the night before one of our events, they spread machine grease all over one of them,” she said.
Councillor Bob Richardson, who voted against the application, said the tension in the community was clear.
“There are some people that won’t fraternise with others or use the facilities at Meander because the opposite group will be there,” he said,
He said some local business people felt caught in the middle of the conflict.
“Do they say because that person is doing some trades work, therefore they must be against us?” he said.
“There seems to be that sort of divide: if you’re not with me you’re against me. That’s sad.”
This piece by Laura Beavis was originally published on ‘ABC News’ March 14, 2017.