Byron Shire Council will defend its refusal last year of the planned redevelopment of the Brunswick Heads gym and squash centre into a 34-unit boarding house, in what could be a test case for a controversial state policy on affordable rental housing.
The owners of the Teven Street property, Murray and Julia Stebbing, lodged an appeal in the Land and Environment Court late last year against the councillors’ 8–1 decision last June.
The refusal supported a campaign by residents who saw it as a major overdevelopment of the site which would have ruined the character of the village and amenity.
But staff had recommended approving the change of use and redevelopment of the 30-year-old gym, squash courts and indoor swimming pool centre into a boarding house under a policy introduced two years ago by the former Labor government to boost affordable rental housing.
Critics say developers were using the policy as a backdoor way to increase density. Mayor Jan Barham said the policy, which gives developers concessions such as fewer parking spaces and smaller room sizes to encourage affordable rental housing, was designed more for high-density metropolitan areas rather than regional centres.
In May last year, planning minister Brad Hazzard called for an immediate halt to new DAs under the policy.
Cr Ross Tucker, who supported the redevelopment, said the court case would be costly and that council planning staff ‘cannot defend this decision because their professional opinion was to grant consent’.
But other councillors disagreed, saying even though they supported affordable rental housing, the Teven Street proposal went too far and could set a precedent for an unacceptable level of density which could destroy the village’s character.