Approval for a Buddhist monastery on the Tullera plateau was deferred at Tuesday night’s Lismore Council meeting pending changes to the development application (DA).
A less-than-spiritual exchange between the monk applying for the DA and one of his neighbours in the public gallery suggested further contemplation may be needed on the issue.
Questions were also asked about the seemingly low number of attendees and attendance days for a public place of worship, with one councillor suggesting that the applicant may be attempting to avoid making section 94 developer contributions.
Bodhi Tree Forest Monastery and Retreat Centre has been asked to submit an amended plan with an 80m-wide buffer zone from all adjoining properties and with the buildings relocated to the south of the perimeter road. It also called for plant buffers to be established ahead of the of development.
Council also wanted a plan of management to identify who would be responsible for compliance issues.
During public access a neighbour, Jeff Larsson, expressed concerns while declaring no opposition on cultural or religious grounds. He said the applicant’s portrayal of the site being ‘mellow, soft and a tranquil setting, conducive to meditation’ is far from the truth.
He reminded Council, ‘this is not the reality for the horticultural producers that neighbour this development’.
Councillor Graham Meineke added later in the session that firearms are used at any time of the day to control feral dogs in the area, further questioning the serenity of the location.
Mr Larsson said there was an inconsistency between the application being for a public place of worship and the reality of the proposed three one-day Buddhist celebrations with a maximum of 125 people.
‘This is called a public place of worship yet it is not open to the public, except for three days a year for the first lucky 125 people.’
Cr Ekins suggested that the festival numbers of 125 or fewer were decreased to avoid developer contributions to roadworks and that this development would affect infrastructure.
Cr Battista said that not enough attention had been paid to the impact of traffic on a small road and that the proposed DA conflicts with existing landowner rights.
‘Who will enforce the crowd numbers on these festival days?’ he asked.
Mr Larsson said there was strong opposition to the DA by Australian Banana Growers, the Custard Apple Growers Association and the Australian Macadamia Society.
‘They recognise the prime qualities that the frost-free Tullera Plateau possesses.’
Cr Graham added, ‘if the land were that great it would have already been used for agriculture!’
Speaking on behalf of Bodhi Tree Forest Monastery in public access time was Mark Halford, who reminded Council that the applicant, Venerable Pannyavaro, consulted them before purchasing 78 Bentley Rd, Tullera in 2005 for the purposes of the proposed development on the northern plateau area. He was advised the site was suitable subject to ‘merit-based assessment’.
Mr Halford continued with an extensive history of work already done on the property and work done to ensure the DA met planning requirements and neighbours’ concerns. This included close liaison with Council and responsiveness to their reports.
‘The design process did not begin until all the relevant consultations had been made,’ Mr Halford said. ‘The aim of the Bodhi Tree Forest Monastery and Community Retreat Centre was to create a low-key, small-scale, visually unobtrusive development on the northern plateau that blended with its environment and took advantage of an existing cleared flat area.’
Mr Halford told council that after the draft site plan was prepared, ‘Pannyavaro consulted with all nine of his immediate neighbours, who all except for one generally had no objections to the proposed developments’.
A member of the public gallery made hand gestures to disapprove of this comment. With words unspoken, there was spiritual warfare in the air.
Mr Halford informed council that the objections by the sole objecting neighbour were taken into account and the DA was adjusted accordingly.
Many favourable public submissions were received in support of the DA. Those against the proposal mainly related to the perceived agricultural and non-agricultural conflict, including aerial spraying. Mr Halford believed that the buffer zones take this into account.
Cr Meineke proposed to Mr Halford, ‘if the northern plateau site was chosen because it was the only affordable and suitable site, then why couldn’t the proposed building be located down where your current 4½-star accommodation is located?’
Mr Halford was not sure what accommodation was being referred to. Cr Meineke quoted from the Bodhi Tree Monastery website but was informed by Pannyavaro via Mr Halford that it was meant to be a joke.
Jokes aside, Cr Meineke suggested that they consider keeping the northern plateau for agriculture such as vegetable gardens.
Cr Marks thought the suggested amendments to the DA were a compromise that farmers could work with. His major concern was if there were a change of usage of the land in the future.
Councillors voted unanimously to defer consideration of the DA.