Tweed Shire Council has backed away from a legal challenge by the developer of a proposed controversial boating storage and commercial facility for a prominent riverfront site at Chinderah which was rejected recently.
Instead, council will negotiate conditions of consent with the developer of the proposed 79 boat storage sheds and retail facility planned to replace the cafe/takeaway and home at the historic Jenner’s Corner in Chinderah Bay Drive.
Former mayor Barry Longland joined pro-development councillors Warren Polglase, Phil Youngblutt and Carolyn Byrne to approve the staff recommendation to engage lawyers for the approval negotiations in a 4-3 vote (mayor Gary Bagnall and Crs Michael Armstrong and Katie Milne against).
The contentious redevelopment plan had been debated by council several times before and recommended for approval by staff planners, but progressive councillors had repeatedly knocked it back on various grounds including the impact on the scenic qualities of the riverfront area and lack of parking.
Cr Milne’s move to defend the refusal was defeated 3-4 along the same voting lines.
Cr Bagnall said the redevelopment plan effectively had been ‘ticked off’ by the four councillors and was now ‘out of our hands’.
‘It means lawyers rather than elected councillors will have the final say on conditions of approval for the development in such an iconic location,’ he said.
He said locals wanted ‘careful planning of development in such a scenic spot’ and councillors wanted to ensure that.
‘The site certainly has potential for redevelopment but not for storage sheds, that sort of development is better placed in an industrial area’.
The mayor took a swipe at Cr Polglase for ’stirring up’ the legal-costs issue ‘every time we challenge something’, and ’scaremongering’ residents over such costs when Cr Polglase addressed resident or business chamber meetings.
The veteran pro-development Cr Polglase regularly criticises moves by council defending Land and Environment Court challenges for rejected developments, saying it cost ratepayers too much.
Ironically, one of the costliest recent cases involved Cr Polglase’s boss, the owner of Noble Lakeside Park which Cr Polglase manages. Council had rejected an expansion of the park and the Noble family took it to court recently and lost.
Cr Bagnall said he didn’t want to see council tied up in court battles but ratepayers expected council to fight against inappropriate development.
‘We made a good call to defend the decision rejecting the Noble park expansion and the court backed us in that,’ he said.
‘’In that case, our planners had recommended ticking it off, we said no and the judges ruled in our favour and this is a similar case.
‘Like many people, I don’t like legal fights, lawyers charge us like a wounded bull, they see us coming, so we don’t take these decisions lightly.
‘But when developers start rattling the chains to threaten to take council to court over rejected development, councillors shouldn’t be weak and just buckle,’ Cr Bagnall said.
’Is this a new strategy being touted to developers out there? That they can “just threaten legal action and council will fold,’ Cr Bagnall said.
The staff report says the developer, MacKay Ellis Group, has costed the development at $500,000 on the site which includes four distinct land uses for boat showroom, boat-storage bays, cafe/restaurant and caretaker’s residence.
Cr Milne told council that Chinderah residents fighting for years to protect the future character of their historic village welcome cafes and shops but not industrial uses.
Cr Milne said boat storage was an industrial use and would not be conducive to business growth in the village centre.
She said locals, including many elderly, needed basic retail services there and a boat-storage facility would not help that.
Cr Polglase argued the development ‘will put in place something that’s been needed there for a long time’.
He said councillors should support economic growth and opportunities.
The Chinderah Beautification Committee recently wrote to council to say the village already had an industrial precinct and residents wanted to ‘highlight the natural beauty’ of the area and ‘restore the vibrancy it once had’ as a busy river port.