‘New times’ is how mayor Simon Richardson described his decision to vote for the subdivision of the Ocean Shores Roundhouse at Council’s Thursday meeting.
But it didn’t appear easy times for the relatively new councillors, as many struggled with having to renege on their pre-selection commitments to retain the property for community use.
All voted in favour of the subdivision except Cr Chris Cubis.
And that ‘community use’ was a business proposal by Ocean Shores residents to turn the prime real estate into a community operated gallery and museum, funded from developing apartments on the property.
The council has now come full circle after spending more than $3 million in the 1990s purchasing and defending its rezoning of the property for community use in the courts.
During debate, Cr Duncan Dey was one of the few who was satisfied with the staff recommendation and was ‘happy to move ahead’. But deputy mayor Di Woods was not as easily swayed. ‘I originally supported the developments… as long as it didn’t cost any money. Given our [financial] situation, it puts it in a different light. We need footpaths and lighting for Ocean Shores… New Brighton has drainage problems… and then there’s sports fields.’
She told the gallery she accepts that she ‘made a promise to support the community proposal, but can’t see how that would [now] occur’.
‘If a developer came forward that would be great. My priorities are changing.’
Similarly Cr Richardson said it was a very hard decision. ‘I never thought I would be voting in favour of an urban renewal project instead of a community space… but we need to show our financial credentials.
‘Gifting land for social benefit could be a thing of the past. I have reservations that ten million dollars could be raised. The trade off is that Ocean Shores will benefit from much needed infrastructure.’
At one point Cr Richardson suggested he would be willing explore selling it to a community group cheaper than market value.
All councillors agreed that money from the sale should be spent on infrastructure projects for the suburb.
Jan Mangleson, spokesperson for the Ocean Shores Community Association (OSCA) and the Roundhouse Action Group (RAG), said in a statement after the decision, ‘As well, they decided to market all eleven lots and not retain Lots 10 and 11, which were excluded in former resolution 11-252 in 2011.’
Tenders will be called for construction of the subdivision works and for the marketing of the 11 lots.
‘The council gave the Ocean Shores Community Association (OSCA) and the Roundhouse Action Group (RAG) no chance to address any issues raised in the council report because it was marked confidential and not released to the public. At the last moment, councillors voted to debate the issue in public session and release part of the two page report, keeping financial matters confidential,’ Ms Mangleson said.
‘OSCA and RAG had to anticipate what issues Council might raise in its confidential report. The report when released to the gallery was only two pages. This was supposed to be a briefing for the new Council. It is totally inadequate and reflects again Council’s failure to understand or support the shire’s largest residential community.’
The Roundhouse issue goes back to the opening of the building as the administration centre for the town developers, back in 1969.
Part of the original agreement for the Ocean Shores development included the establishment of an Aboriginal art gallery and sporting fields in the third and final tranche of the subdivision.
But when the planned third stage was subsumed into the Billinudgel Nature Reserve, Council resolved to rezone the Roundhouse site for community purposes.
Council subsequently purchased the land from the existing owners for $1.5 million in 1994 after a controversial court battle to convert it to community purposes that cost it more than $2 million.
‘Most councillors displayed an enormous ignorance of Ocean Shores,’ Ms Mangleson said, with ‘one actually blaming Pat Boone for the inadequate planning of the town’.
‘The Department of Local Government conducted an enquiry into the conduct of Council at the time of its acquisition of the Roundhouse site.’ The Roundhouse report is on the OSCA website at www.oceanshorescommunity.org.au.
‘Byron Shire Council itself played a significant role in stopping the final stage of the town’s development. There was never any compensation for these losses to the town community. This is why the Roundhouse site is so important to Ocean Shores. It was all that was left. Even the sports fields site Lot 107 was taken away by the council.
‘The council voted to place the proceeds from the sale into an Infrastructure Renewal Reserve. During the debate someone thought all the money should be kept for use in Ocean Shores. This was later changed to “for the use of the north of the shire”.
‘Councillors told OSCA and RAG that they were afraid of amalgamation and if they were not seen to address shire problems such as potholes, the shire could be closed down. They did not accept what was said at the public access, that borrowing huge sums for a risky real estate development when Council was financially almost bankrupt was an irresponsible action. A full financial accounting should have been made to the public before proceeding. No attempt by Council has ever been made to consult with Ocean Shores on the future of the Roundhouse.’