The sleepy Tweed village of Mooball, once famed for its dairy-cow-hide-themed cafe, power poles and rocks, could get a new lease of life under plans to boost its size and population at least tenfold.
Owners of several farms surrounding the village on the western side of the old highway are seeking to rezone hundreds of acres of grazing and farming land for a housing estate with a range different-sized lots, including some at just 250 square metres closest to existing homes in the village, as well as 40-hectare farm blocks.
But there are concerns both subdivisions rely on the building of privately funded, onsite sewage treatment plant and wastewater disposal scheme, which ratepayers may eventually have to maintain.
There are also concerns the two rezoning plans given the green light by Tweed Shire Council last Thursday are premature, with enough land in the shire already subdivided to cater for future growth.
But some other councillors say the neighbouring villages of Mooball and Burringbar are struggling and sorely need a population boost.
The two former highway towns were given an economic kick in the guts in 2002 when they were bypassed by the new Pacific Highway. Then just two years later, the decline continued when the Casino–Murwillumbah rail link was scrapped.
Council planners recommended the first proposal, involving several rural blocks of 79 hectares of grazing land immediately behind Mooball’s main-street homes, be referred to the planning department for a ‘gateway determination’ under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act.
Most councillors agreed with this on condition the landowner obtains a licence for the standalone private wastewater management system.
Environmentally-significant areas of the site, which have significant amounts of vegetation, future wildlife corridors as well as elevated portions and existing creeks, will be rezoned environmental protection.
The second proposal involves rezoning five hectares from a 60-hectare block, which also has frontage to the old highway, from rural to village. That proposal, once finished, will also be referred for a gateway determination and conditional on the private wastewater system being licensed.
Staff planners say the rezoning of the two will also provide for village-style services and facilities but will not change building height controls to ensure the scale is in keeping with the village character.
A wastewater treatment plant is currently being built on the Pottsville–Mooball Road but staff say it does not have surplus capacity to accommodate the developments nor can it be upgraded to meet the extra loads.
Chief planner Vince Connell said in his report that because obtaining a licence to run the standalone system was a lengthy and costly process, the developer/landowner had requested the rezoning plan be advanced ahead of the licence ‘enabling the certainty of the rezoning prior to committing significant resources to a lengthy process’.
Mr Connell said the 250-square-metre minimum-size lots were 200 square metres less than the current Tweed Local Environment Plan (LEP) 2000 provisions for dwellings in the village zoning, and around 500–750 square metres less than the existing Mooball lot sizes.
He said the reduced lots ‘support a more compact urban form’ resulting in increased densities, as well as supporting ‘a walkable community, the use of public transport services and the efficient delivery of infrastructure’.
‘The additional variety of lot sizes will further encourage diversity in housing type and size, assisting with housing affordability.’
Mr Connell said the proposals were made possible by recent state government changes to its plan-making provisions.
He said ‘complex elements’ of the plans included the site being located outside the established Town and Village Growth Boundary for urban growth in the planning department’s Far North Coast Regional Strategy, and servicing the developments by way of a future, private, standalone sewerage system.
During debate on the issue, Cr Katie Milne said she had serious concerns that ratepayers would wear the cost of servicing the development if the developer ‘goes broke’ and can’t provide the wastewater facilities.
Cr Milne said the state government’s new policy allowed such rezonings if the developer could provide the water and sewerage infrastructure.
She sought, but failed, to defer the issue for new councillors to better grasp the implications of the water management proposed.
Cr Gary Bagnall said it was ‘ludicrous’ in the current economic climate to open up new areas for housing in ‘somewhat isolated pockets’.
‘These types of development were proposed during the housing boom but things have slowed right down and we don’t need new areas rezoned like this when we have Cobaki and Kings Forest, which will cater for thousands of new people,’ Cr Bagnall said.
He said he was concerned it was the same type of ‘unsustainable’ wastewater management system recently proposed to be ‘snuck in’ by developers in a bid to rezone land for housing near Pottsville.
But Phil Youngblutt said the developments were essential for growth and business in the the ‘top end’ of the shire, and the villages needed a population boost.
Mayor Barry Longland said the developments would not happen overnight but the residents of the area needed ‘some sense’ of the possible expansion of the village and boosting its ‘vibrancy’.