CONSTRUCTION boss Gerry Hanssen has given evidence that anti-social behaviour has decreased since participants from Shalom House started renting cottages at his Swan Valley Oasis Resort.
A week long hearing started in the State Administrative Tribunal this week to make a final determination on whether Shalom House can legally operate its strict, residential rehab facilities in the Swan Valley.
The organisation, run by reformed drug dealer Peter Lyndon-James, has been locked in a long-running legal battle with the City of Swan over its Park Street and Forrest Road properties in Henley Brook.
The City says the properties do not meet residential zoning requirements and are inconsistent with local planning objectives including the Swan Valley Planning Act 1995.
Mr Hanssen was amongst a group of residents, industry bodies and tourism operators who provided conflicting testimony on the impact of the facility in the Swan Valley.
He refuted claims that the presence of Shalom House participants, who are also helping to build his new hotel behind the resort, had impacted negatively on his businesses.
“I have invested $25 million in the Swan Valley and receive around 100,000 visitors annually,” he said.
“In 12 months I haven’t had a single negative comment about the Shalom men.
“These people are so polite and courteous and I may even employ them as gardeners, doormen and cleaners when the resort is built.”
Mr Hanssen said he had struggled in the past with drug dealers and anti-social behaviour at the property.
“The irony is that the cottages where the Shalom people are living, around 25, 35, 40 men, previously we repeatedly had to ring the police to get people out of there,” he said.
“We had drug dealers staying in the cottages which Midland Police had to get rid of.
“Since then we have had no problems. Not a single incident.”
Mr Hanssen said an axe attack at the resort last July was a feud between ‘two different people’.
Neighbour Jennifer Prentice testified she had found syringes near Shalom House however the lawyer acting on behalf of the West Australian Shalom Group, Belinda Monarich, said there was no evidence linking the discarded needles to Shalom participants.
Park Street resident Isaac Moran, who runs Avonlee Cottage tourist accommodation, said he was not concerned about the safety of his family.
“I didn’t even know when they first moved in even though we drive past regularly,” he said.
“I have never felt intimidated or confronted, nor has my wife, and my 11-year-old daughter thinks the Shalom guys are great and even wants to volunteer.”
Lawyer Peter Wittkuhn, acting on behalf of the City of Swan, said the City had no position on concerns raised about the lack of qualifications or accreditation of Shalom’s personnel, its faith-based approach, deployment of participants to Shalom Works or that the facility required participants to sign an enduring power of attorney.
However he said allowing the facility to operate in the Swan Valley set a precedent.
“The commence of use at Park Street and Forrest Road without development approval is very concerning, and the increase beyond agreed numbers is also undesirable and should not be brushed aside by Peter Lyndon-James’ claim he is in ‘a bit of a pickle’.
“A significant proportion of participants, 79 per cent, have drug addiction issues, most commonly meth, and come in as active users.
“Those with drugs in their system undergo a cold turkey detox without the aid of medication.
“This generates an enormous amount of concern.
“It is a plausible concern that permitting this use could give rise to crime or anti-social behaviour beyond its (Shalom’s) walls.”
Mr Witkuhn said a men’s rehab centre was better placed elsewhere.
“Many have lauded the good work of Shalom, however this has relatively little weight in town planning matters,” he said.
“This use is discordant with the objectives and intent of the Swan Valley Planning Act.
“If this matter becomes a precedent and is replicated elsewhere, the Swan Valley is at risk of losing its character.”
Police Commissioner Chris Dawson provided a submission to the hearing and stated there had been no police callouts to the main Park Street property. It was not stated how many times police had been called out to the Forrest Road property or the resort.
Representatives from the Grapegrowers Association of WA and Swan Valley Tourist Alliance also gave evidence opposing the application to reclassify the properties to community purpose.
Planning Minister Rita Saffioti also provided a formal submission to the SAT.
Ms Saffioti has previously stated there needs to be a clearer definition of community purpose in the planning scheme and the WA Planning Commission will investigate a specific land use definition for rehabilitation facility in the future.
Last month Mr Lyndon-James said he did not want to continue fighting endless court battles over properties.
“We have broken men, broken families, people dying from overdoses, suicides… I want to focus on them, not on needless court battles.”
Mr Dawson has been contacted for comment.