A planning ‘instrument’ that gives the community and councillors a say on one of the largest Byron Bay suburbs in a generation has been circumvented by Gold Coast developer Villa World Ltd.
Instead, a 290-lot development application (DA) was lodged for around a third of West Byron land last week.
Villa World say they are in a joint venture partnership with Sydney-based developer Terry Agnew, who purchased approximately a third of the 108 hectare lot around two years ago.
The land is located opposite the arts and industry estate on Ewingsdale Road.
Councillors and staff had been working through a revised development control plan (DCP); however, Villa World development manager Peter Johnson told The Echo that owing to a change in NSW premier and planning minister, the company were unsure of a determination timeline and have instead circumvented the DCP.
A DCP is a specific planning ‘instrument’ for the site, and aims to address specifics such as traffic and the endangered koala and frog habitats.
Johnson and operations general manager Micahel Vinodolac say that the development faced significant hurdles in terms of community volatility and environmental planning obstacles, but they were confident their DA will meet all planning requirements.
There are, however, more hurdles to overcome before the DA goes on public exhibition.
‘The [community] battle has been lost,’ Vinodolac said, ‘the land has been rezoned.’
The pair said that the NSW planning department suggested submitting the DA, while Council staff also encouraged them to move on the project.
‘Our advice is that if the DA goes before the DCP, the Joint Regional Planning Panel (JRPP) will look at the draft DCP to assess how much certainty was around the DCP,’ Vinodolac said.
In 2014, former councillor Sol Ibrahim promised the community could have its say via the DCP; that promise now appears worthless.
He led the previous right- wing council after the defection of Greens elected Rose Wanchap, and while Wanchap ran for mayor and lost, Ibrahim did not run again for public office. Greens and progressive councillors won in a landslide last year.
At their June 2014 meeting, the then-council majority handballed responsibility for West Byron to then planning minister Pru Goward, asking that matters be ‘addressed to her satisfaction’ prior to her making a decision regarding the rezoning of West Byron land.
At the time, mayor Simon Richardson argued that a DCP would not provide enough of a community voice.
So what of the environmental issues?
Around 33 per cent of the Agnew portion will be residential, and the pair say that Council and the state government determined the ratios of residential and open space.
But the area is home to the endangered Wallum Sedge frog and other Wallum-dependent frog species.
Johnson says they plan to ‘capture and relocate’ the frogs, which is ‘an accepted approved methodology’.
Called ‘slabbing,’ the process entails removing around 30cm of top soil and transplanting the frogs to another area. Vinodolac says the same process has been used for the highway upgrades and the Byron sportsfield.
And while the site will include the biobanking scheme, around 90,000 plants will be planted for regeneration.
‘Thirteen koala trees will also be removed and replanted at a ratio of ten to one,’ says Vinodolac, who added there is no evidence of the endangered marsupial on their portion of land.
As for the acid sulfate soils, Johnson said that they aim to minimise disturbance and ‘not dig deep trenches.’
And while they say fill will be required, they spruiked the requirement for rainwater tanks, solar and sustainable building materials.
‘There will be edible trees planted throughout, as well as community gardens,’ they say.
And while there is only one open space allocated (as requested by Council) there will be a commercial/social hub on the Belongil section of the estate. The Villa World representatives say they worked with all West Byron landowners to produce the DA and, once approved, they will work with local real estate agents to sell the blocks.
While land size will start at 450m2, the pair wouldn’t be drawn on price or the estimated total yield.
‘There has been strong demand for land at the Lennox Head estate Epiq,’ they said.
‘It will be rolled out in nine stages, according to demand, and we expect three years of selling and a completion within five years. This is achievable despite the challenges.’
Councillor Cate Coorey, retired town planner John Sparks and environmentalist Dailan Pugh all were equally unimpressed with the landscape plans as supplied.
Pugh told The Echo that since 2015, he has been trying to get Council to implement the protection for the nationally vulnerable frog.
He said, ‘Council is so ecologically bereft, they didn’t even understand the problem with omitting it from their draft DCP.’
The Echo was promised a response from mayor Simon Richardson, but nothing was received by deadline.
A quick snapshot of Villa World Ltd
QLD-based Villa World Ltd was founded in 1986. Its share price on the stock exchange has risen from $0.71 in 2012 to its present price of 2.35AUD.
It develops and sells house and land packages primarily in QLD, NSW, and VIC.
Villa World’s records on the QLD Planning and Environment Court website (similar to the NSW Land and Environment Court) show 17 cases by Villa World which are – or were – against councils in Brisbane, Caboolture, the Gold Coast, Moreton Bay and Redland Bay.
A ‘Villa World’ search yields 51 cases throughout all QLD courts.
In 2014, news.com.au (Newcorp) reported that Tweed Heads unit owners and Villa World were locked in a long-running and expensive legal battle over substandard building construction; however, Villa World blamed its subcontractor. In March, Newcorp’s Gold Coast Bulletin reported that the company launched an $80 million capital-raising campaign to ‘fund an aggressive acquisition program in east coast corridors.’