It has taken 18 months but the controversial Rosebank Buddhist Retreat and adjoining rural landsharing community development applications (DAs) were unanimously rejected by Lismore City Council (LCC) at last night’s meeting.
In recommending rejection, council staff noted that: the proposed removal of trees is likely to have a significant adverse impact on flora and fauna in an identified wildlife corridor; adequate road access has not been provided to service the development; sewage disposal arrangements are inadequate; and the site requires an Aboriginal cultural heritage report.
They also acknowledged the substantial opposition of Rosebank residents to the proposal.
Damian Chapelle of Newton Denny Chapelle, representing the retreat developers, sought deferment of the application to address the issues raised by Council in a letter received only this month. He questioned ‘how Council could determine an outcome when his clients have not had sufficient time to substantiate the recommendations’.
‘Why would Council request further information addressing each reason for refusal if they did not believe these could not be resolved?’ Mr Chapelle asked.
He added that his clients were only ‘made aware of the Aboriginal cultural heritage at a site meeting on 6 June. Since this time, Ainsworth Heritage have been engaged and have prepared the due diligence report to the satisfaction of the Office of Environment & Heritage guidelines.’
Cr Simon Clough asked Mr Chapelle to explain ‘why the longstanding wastewater management issue has still not been resolved’.
‘In relation to the landsharing community development, the second report adhered to council recommendations for buffering and clustering of the housing… there was a pump system, which has been previously approved by Council in other applications,’ Mr Chapelle responded.
‘We are acutely aware now that council’s technical staff isn’t in favour of using pump systems. They have requested us to illustrate a density on the site that could be achieved in accordance with the policy. That came out in a letter, dated July, that we will adhere to should Council issue a deferment tonight.’
Mr Chapelle disputed the number of trees council staff considered needed to be removed in the upgrade of Fox Road. He told Council, ‘less than half of what council estimated would be removed and more importantly there is no removal of any threatened species… and koala food trees will be retained’.
Rehabilitation of wildlife habitat on Fox Road has been carried out over 20 years.
Local resident Alicia Carter celebrated Council’s decision and told Echonetdaily, ‘WIRES Northern Rivers has five wildlife carers living on Fox Road. For at least five years solidly, we have set up large endangered-species aviaries for all species. We have been releasing into this special area which is why it is so critical that it is preserved.’
Ms Carter watched on throughout Council’s decision-making process. Pictures of koalas were held in front of a few members of the gallery.
‘That koala picture I was holding,’ Ms Carter explained, ‘is a koala that has been raised across the road from the development and still visits, so it would be one of the first to be jeopardised.
‘It is also the small unseen animals that are impacted on the most. The habitat is too critical to tamper with.’
Mal Fox, another neighbour who opposes the development told Council, ‘If a bushfire were to start in this development it has the real risk of cutting Fox Road residents off from their only escape route. As a firefighter living above these developments I find this a very real and concerning threat. The previous dwelling on my property was lost to fire.’
Cr Clough shares the concerns about fire and believes there should be more significant consultation with the community.
After reading in the reports that the Rural Fire Service (RFS) didn’t believe there was a problem, Cr Clough said he investigated them more closely to discover that ‘the consultants were in the city and did not consult the community or the local bush fire brigade’.
Mr Fox believes that locals have lost faith in the proponents showing any future compliance because of existing ‘illegal building and dodgy earthworks’.
He also said that Council should ‘enforce the removal of seven buildings that have been constructed without approval as well as stabilising and replanting the northern access of Fox Road’.
Cr Meineke confirmed that Council had witnessed the illegal dwellings.
Jan Upton’s property also neighbours the development. She told Council, ‘I have cattle and there is no buffer zone to repair or replace the fence… ‘
‘In previous DAs it has been quoted incorrectly that I have not harvested for several years. I regularly harvest my macadamia nuts and have only not harvested over the last two years because of wet weather,’ she said.
Eric Kinchin has been a resident of Fox Road, Rosebank for more than 20 years. He told Council, ‘This size [of] development in Rosebank is without precedent and this outcome will set one… This has created disunity amongst our community.’
Cr Clough admitted that the issue was difficult for him as he did a Vipassana retreat (similar to those proposed to be held at the venue) more than 30 years ago, which ‘changed [his] life’.
Submissions received in favour of the retreat shared his sympathies but, Cr Clough said, ‘they did not address the issue of planning and that is where, unfortunately, the problem lies’.
India Fox, also of Fox Road, told Echonetdaily that her opposition ‘is not against the people who practise Vipassana. When I first heard they were coming in I actually emailed them and said I was aware of how peaceful they are and welcomed them. I did not realise the sheer size of this development or the clearing that they have already done.’
Julia Hanson lives on Fox Road and wanted to congratulate Council on their decision because of its importance to wildlife.
‘Fox Road is a wildlife corridor and there are threatened species living here. This is a win for wildlife.’