The Catholic Church in Bendigo has said its 15-hectare block of bushland in Golden Square will soon be developed after nearly eight years of legal challenges and community opposition.
Catholic Diocese of Sandhurst business manager Cameron Fraser said civil work had begun on the $6 million Aspinall Street development which will see 80 new houses built.
Work has also begun to secure the boundary of a 7-hectare nature reserve.
"We think the development strikes a really good balance between respecting the environment and providing much needed residential land to the community,” Mr Fraser said.
But locals who have twice taken their protest against the development to a state tribunal say they are “greatly distressed” to see it finally go ahead.
“That forest is why many of us moved here in the first place,” Aspinall Action Group spokesperson Cheryl Hardie said.
“It’s a harbour for animals, for birds and rare orchids and the number of bees!
“It’s just a delight to look at now...soon all I’ll see from my property is, not a forest, but a row of houses.”
Mr Fraser said the Diocese had begun drainage works and the construction of a retention basin as part of stage one of the subdivision – 29 “premium lots”.
The development will be undertaken in three stages offering a total of 80 lots, with Tweed Sutherland Real Estate appointed agents for the development.
Tweed Sutherland director Darryn O’Keefe said he anticipated strong demand for the premium lots being offered for sale.
“This development presents a rare opportunity to build so close to the Bendigo CBD and connected to outstanding community and natural amenities,” Mr O’Keefe said.
“We expect a high demand for this premium location when registrations of interest open in August.”
The Diocese has owned the land since 1888.
It first lodged an application to build 78 lots on the site with the City of Greater Bendigo in 2008.
In early 2010 an amended application was approved by council – a decision which was challenged by concerned locals at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
In 2011 VCAT overturned council’s decision stating that future proposals would need to adopt a more “organic response to the highly significant native vegetation” on the Golden Square land.
Three years later the Diocese came back to council with a new $6 million plan which included the 7.15 hectare nature reserve. That was approved by council, only to be challenged once again at VCAT.
In June last year VCAT decided to uphold council’s decision, despite claims by the Aspinall Action Group that the site could contain a previously unknown species or subspecies of wallaby grass, as well as a further 37 indigenous species.
The City of Greater Bendigo said it was working through final permit conditions for the entire site and the Trust for Nature covenant was currently being drafted for approval.