Tweed Shire councillors will decide tonight whether to approve a controversial plan to expand a 254-dwelling housing estate in Kingscliff that has been rejected several times before by state courts and planning panels, but recommended for approval by council planners.
And at a community-access meeting this week, elderly residents of the park claimed they’ve been intimidated and threatened by park owners and management into supporting the expansion, on a promise of upgrading facilities there.
The latest plan involves building 32 extra homes on poles partly over a manmade lake that residents use for recreation at Kingscliff’s Noble Lakeside Park. The park is managed by Tweed councillor Warren Polglase, who has not taken part in the debate or voted on the issue over the years.
It’s the third attempt by Cr Polglase’s boss, developer Keith Noble, to expand the park, with a previous application for 45 homes knocked back by the Joint Regional Planning Panel in 2010.
That plan was then scaled down to 32 extra dwellings and revalued with a new estimated cost at just under $10 million, bringing it into the threshold by which council can determine it.
The Land and Environment Court also previously knocked back an expansion plan involving an extra dwelling.
But to the dismay of residents who have been fighting it for years, council planners found no major problems with the new expansion bid and have come under fire for accepting the developer’s legal opinion that the park had existing use rights, rather than seek independent legal advice.
During the access meeting on Tuesday, Patricia Phillips, who has lived on the adjoining rural property to the north of the park for over 40 years, said she feared the development would disrupt the income stream from her farm and cause her hardship in future.
Mrs Phillips said that the park owner and Cr Polglase visited her property once and said they would create a natural buffer between the park and her property ‘on the basis of a promise’ that the family would agree not to object to the proposal.
The claim was seized on later by Cr Gary Bagnall who asked park residents packed in the public gallery if they had felt intimidated or threatened into not objecting.
‘Have threats been made?’ Cr Bagnall asked the gallery, to which residents all said ‘Yes’ at once.
She said her son trained racehorses on the property, which was also used for growing small crops, and feared extra traffic from the new internal road for the park development would also cause stress to farm stock.
She told councillors the topography would be changed drastically and substantial cutting and filling of soil for the development could force water from the lake to seep onto her property ‘and turn it into a dam’.
Resident spokesman John Mulligan told the meeting that when people first bought into the park, the amenities there, including a walking trail and the lake, were presented as permanent features, a major factor in their decision to buy.
Mr Mulligan said residents there paid around $7,000 a year in fees, or almost three times the average rates, giving the park owner a profit of around $1.4 million, so there was ‘no pressure’ on the developer to ‘invade the lake’ to make his ‘business viable’.
‘An extremely valued amenity of this park is the nature trail along the north bank of the lake, enjoyed on a daily basis by residents and visitors alike, and its therapeutic benefits to the elderly residents are central to their daily routine,’ he said.
‘But the land proposed for this development would totally remove this nature walk and most of the park’s existing useable open space.
‘The developer claims sufficient open space but 90 per cent of what will be left is the lake itself, which has aesthetic value but does not equate to usable open space.
‘In fact there is so insufficient land on site that the developer cannot fit any more homes in the park without invading the lake itself with wharf-like structures on hundreds of poles driven into the lake bed supporting homes jutting nine metres into the lake.
‘This in no way resembles the character of the existing village, which is a very basic requirement of claiming existing use rights.
‘In 1996 this developer initially obtained approval to build 234 homes. It was a condition of that approval that no homes were to be built on the north bank.
‘In 2000 he obtained approval for an additional 20 homes. It was a condition of that approval that no homes were to be built along the north bank.
‘If there was no existing right to build on the north bank as a condition of the original development and no existing right to build on the north bank as a condition of the 20-home extension, how then did these existing rights suddenly materialise?
‘Did they (staff planners) expect the developer would submit an opinion that did not support his proposal? Why was an independent legal opinion not sought by council?
‘What we have left does not come close to the required 10 per cent of the estate. The owner may be able to build over the lake but we can’t walk over it.
‘All consent authorities’ determinations and court rulings in connection with any further development on this site since 2005 have resulted in rejection, quoting the recognition of the impact on the existing community, the existing amenities and the existing character of the park as major reasons for refusal.
‘Council assessment shows virtually no empathy for the impact of this development on the existing residents trapped in this project. Resident’s objections are simply referred to the developer for rebuttal.
‘Council assessment recognises the value of the nature trail to the residents but then concurs with the owner’s rebuttal that we can walk around the local community,’ Mr Mulligan said.
Kingscliff resident Jerry Cornford told the meeting that Mr Noble had appealed the joint regional planning panel (JRPP) decision to the Land and Environment Court ‘but withdrew the appeal only hours into the hearing in March 2011 on the advice from the bench that, on the evidence presented against the development in that time, it was unlikely to succeed’.
Mr Cornford said the current DA was ‘virtually identical’ to that rejected by both the JRPP and the LEC and this has placed council and its planners ‘in an impossible dilemma’.
‘Both planning department and councillors will have to try either to justify their approval of the original DA, knowing it has been roundly rejected by both overview authorities, or to reject the new DA, thus admitting that their original assessment was both flawed and unsustainable.’
Roger Noble, a director of the company that owns the park, told council’s access meeting that all concerns over impacts of the development, including noise, pollution, buffers to adjoining properties and loss of amenity had been addressed with extra plantings, landscaping, acoustic fencing and the creation of the walkway/cycleway.
Mr Noble said the park’s amenities hall would be expanded and security upgraded as a result.
He said the plan ‘goes beyond just the addition of 32 homes to our northern boundary’ but was ‘part of an overall concept that we believe will take Noble Lakeside and its residents to another level of lifestyle living’.