The NSW Land and Environment Court has found that a proposed 27-room boarding house that sparked an outcry from Brunswick Heads residents would be out of character with the surrounding area.
The court last week dismissed an appeal by the owners of the Teven Street property against Byron Shire Council’s rejection last year of the controversial plan to redevelop their existing gym and squash centre into a boarding house.
Commissioner Sue Harris concluded that the design of the boarding house would have an adverse impact on the local area.
In her judgment, commissioner Harris said she accepted the need for affordable rental housing in Brunswick Heads and believed it would be in the public interest; ‘however, it should be provided in a manner that is appropriate in terms of its impacts and design’.
The development plan, which had been recommended for approval by Byron Council staff, was lodged under a contentious new policy introduced two years ago by the former state government to promote affordable rental housing.
It was quietly placed on public exhibition for several weeks over the busy 2010 Christmas break, but after an outcry from locals reported by The Echo, called up by mayor Jan Barham for councillors to decide.
Last year, councillors overwhelmingly rejected the plan 8–1, backing residents who opposed the project for being out of scale and character with the area, which would cause major traffic and social impacts on the quiet street and neighbourhood.
Owners of the double block, Murray and Julia Stebbing, originally proposed to build 33 rooms into the centre, but just before the court case started cut it back to 27 rooms and deleted a proposed free-standing manager’s residence and increased the common areas.
Commissioner Harris said the development met all the controls of the 2009 State Environmental Planning Policy (Affordable Rental Housing), but that policy was amended a year go and limited where boarding houses could be located.
She said clause 30A, which stipulates that the character of the local area must be considered in the development’s design, was one of the many amendments relevant to her judgment.
She said she placed significant weight on the fact the development was not compatible with the local area, which had been agreed by both parties as consisting largely of single houses with some medium-density and commercial development.
Mayor Jan Barham welcomed the news as ‘fantastic’, while taking a swipe at Council planners for ignoring the character test and relying solely on the contentious planning policy requirements when they recommended approval.
‘Staff did not consider all the work we had done to that date for settlement strategies and other plans in defining what character is,’ Cr Barham said.
‘They didn’t draw on that, they just simply met the requirements of the SEPP (state environmental planning policy).
‘This will send out a strong message about how important character and amenity is in planning.’