Story and photo Melissa Hargraves
An 11th-hour bid by Lismore locals to stop Lismore City Council rezoning open-space land for urban growth came too late last week.
The locals packed the chambers wearing Save Our Parks t-shirts signage in a silent protest during their last minute attempt to persuade councillors to retain their open space.
Crs Greg Bennett, Neil Marks, Glenys Ritchie and Graham Meineke voted against the plan to rezone the open space in Cynthia Wilson Drive from RE1 Public Recreation to R1 General Residential.
At its December 2013 meeting, Council considered 19 areas of public open space for possible rezoning and/or reclassification.
All the sites were determined except for the Cynthia Wilson site, which was advertised accordingly but adjoining land holders had not been individually notified.
The public exhibition period was extended for a month and Council received 17 written public submissions and several phone calls during that time.
According to a council report, the majority of the residents were concerned about loss of open space as the area provided an opportunity for recreational use for children and families in the area.
The report says Council also recognised that the park provided a valuable walking corridor for residents, so will consider the opportunity to retain the majority of the park attributes valued by the community while rezoning the other area for council to sell as an ‘underperforming’ park.
Jim Gallagher, an adjoining landholder to the open space, told council during public access that the space enhanced the ambience of the whole area.
‘This open space fits in with Council’s desire to have large parks but it has never had any improvements done to draw people to it,’ Mr Gallagher said.
‘The area is currently being mowed more often than traditionally and is receiving more usage because of that.’
Mr Gallagher challenged council’s statements of ‘low usage’ of the park, saying it is used regularly as a thoroughfare and many children from the area play in the space.
‘The park gets more usage than what council indicates,’ he said.
‘Most residents have bought their properties because of the park, many children play there after school and in the evening.’
Council’s strategic property project manager Lindsay Walker said staff believed the site receives minimal usage.
Cr Marks questioned how council determined levels of usage.
‘Where is the clarifying point between low and high, some people I speak to say the park has high usage?’ he said.
Mr Walker stated that in August last year he asked parks staff to look at the parks that were open ‘and make frequent visits to satisfy themselves and me that they were not in high usage’.
Cr Marks asked the time of day the observations were made.
Mr Walker said the observations were ‘not made on the weekends, but observations were made after school hours.’
Cr Isaac Smith supported the partial rezoning as he saw it as a balance between development and amenity.
‘This will be a small appropriate development and will leave the best parts as park,’ Cr Smith said.
He said the rezoning issue was passed on by a previous council which did not know how to deal with it.
‘Let’s cement the best of what we do know which is to preserve the best parts of the park,’ he said, ‘and not take on extra responsibilities which we cannot afford to do.’
Cr Smith said the condition of play equipment at Wade Park had been deteriorating.
‘One of the main reasons we started looking at rezoning other open spaces was so we can afford to maintain destination parks like Wade Park and Heritage Park,’ he said.
‘I know this isn’t the best decision but it is a necessary one.’
Cr Bennett said green spaces in the city needed to be retained.
‘This enhances the quality of life for our ratepayers so we should not be selling and developing it,’ he said.
Cr Bennett questioned why council would have one set of rules for rural areas and another for the urban.
‘Why would we be seeking to lock one area up and open the other area up for development,’ he asked.
Cr Bennett also made reference to the recently approved North Lismore Plateau development.
‘Council asked that we lock up at least one third for green open space, why do we then go and sell open spaces in other areas, it is madness,’ he said.
‘Many ratepayers have bought these properties in good faith for the amenity.’