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September 24, 2021

A closer peek at the Saddle Road residential proposal

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Echonetdaily understands that the planning proposal study area of 315 hectares covers a much larger area than what is proposed for residential use, meaning that cane fields for example will not be rezoned residential. This is owing to ‘a range of elements such as access options.’ 475 dwellings are proposed. Image from Saddle Road Planning Proposal.

An invitation by councillors for Saddle Road landowners to lodge a large planning proposal for affordable housing still has many neighbours offside; they claim it is not transparent and does not conform ‘to the Community Charter for Good Planning.’

As reported last week, Saddle Road landowners propose 475 dwellings on the ridgeline between Mullum and Brunswick Heads. The planning proposal and the staff recommendation were removed from the December 14 Council meeting by senior staff owing to allow more ‘consultation between planning staff and the proponents and the objectors.’

The staff recommendation is to refuse the application, in part owing to its falling outside planning strategies.

Yet the proposed development was favoured and singled out by Greens mayor Simon Richardson and supporting councillors at the June 22 meeting; they voted to invite an affordable housing planning proposal for Saddle Road land known as ‘Area 17’.

And then later in September, councillors invited all Shire landowners to submit an expression of interest (EOI) for affordable housing proposals ‘in both existing and potential future urban areas,’ yet Council only requested ‘conceptual proposals only at this stage, not a planning proposal.’

The Bruns Eco Village (BEV) affordable housing/intentional community proposal falls under the rezoning request, along with four other large land titles that cover between 52 and 112 hectares.

According to two landowners of larger lots, 20 per cent of the ‘total subsequently residentially zoned area’ – not including Bruns Eco Village (BEV) – would be dedicated to Council for affordable housing.

Lot sizes range from 300m2 to 2,000m2, and the rezoning would create R3 Medium Density Residential, R2 Low Density Residential and R5 Large Lot Residential.

When asked about his support for the proposal, mayor Simon Richardson told Echonetdaily, ‘I think it would be far more prudent for the BEV planning proposal to be considered and then others if they arise. Having said that, of course I will look at any planning proposal that residents put before Council for consideration with care and due diligence.’

The Echo understands that the planning proposal study area of 315 hectares covers a much larger area than that proposed for residential use, meaning that cane fields for example, will not be rezoned residential. This is owing to ‘a range of elements such as access options.’

BEV’s Kelvin Daly told Echonetdaily that all the proponents are wanting to work with Council for an outcome and won’t be taking the plans to the Joint Regional Planning Panel (JRPP), an ‘independent’ NSW government body that approves almost everything it considers.

President of the Saddle Ridge Local Area Management Planning Association (SRLAMPA) Matthew O’Reilly says 21 neighbours are not opposed to development, yet believe it should be assessed through a residential strategy and other assessments. ‘There are smaller lots within this proposal and those landowners do not want to be rezoned,’ he said. Mr Daly replied, ‘There is no intention to rezone landowners’ land who do not seek it.’  

Apart from an affordable housing Voluntary Planning Agreement (VPA) with Council, landowners also propose ‘appropriate arrangement for cost sharing,’ in terms of ‘intersection works, roadworks, sewage reticulation and the provision of open space.’

VDP wraps

Meanwhile the Village Development Program (VDP) has concluded for the year, marking what organisers say is a ‘significant milestone for the Bruns Eco Village.’ 

A VDP aims to educate those wanting to live in an intentional community.

Co-organiser Mairead Cleary said, ‘More than 100 participants gathered at Durrumbul Hall over the weekend to complete the 14-month journey and explored how our diversity of cultural backgrounds contributes to a prosperous community worldview and culture.’

A week-long intensive VDP is offered in February. 

According to the Saddle Road planning proposal, BEV could house up to 130 conjoined, duplex and freestanding homes, which will ‘be self-contained and sustainable in relation to energy needs and the capture of a potable water supply and the management of sewage waste generated.’ 

BEV says it is ‘an alternative ownership model where you can rent and invest simultaneously’. A school and library is also proposed, from kindergarten to year 10.  

There are also plans for a ‘restaurant, a community centre, a swimming pool and a small commercial centre that will include a general store, a medical centre and a community bank.’

Yet the lack of detail, such as no masterplan and the sheer size of the proposal has angered neighbours. 

For example, the Saddle Road planning proposal suggests that rezoning the BEV land to RU5 Village, ‘is conceptual and subject to Council’s deliberations and strategic planning considerations.’ 

Mr Daly says the overall plan for BEV is on www.brunsecovillage.com.au, which details the housing, school site, wellness and renewables precincts. He says, ‘Most other intentional communities traditionally begin with the process of identifying the community members who are wanting to live together. After, for example, a Village Development Program is complete, land is then sought for the community.’

Planning North consultants also suggest in their planning proposal to permit ‘that part of Lot 2 DP 1159910 north and east of the Pacific Highway to be created as a separate lot with its own dwelling entitlement.’ That proposal appears outside the study area.

Aboriginal sites

Two confirmed Aboriginal sites have been identified, which ‘may remain within the subject site.’

‘… a stone arrangement not believed to be of Indigenous origin is located within the subject site… the potential of further Aboriginal objects to be located within the subject site cannot be categorically ruled out… the following recommendations are therefore cautionary in nature. Further specific recommendations may be required for lands with known heritage values at Development Application stage.’

Regardless, the proposal says, ‘No cultural heritage impediments to any rezoning to the subject site were identified during the desktop assessment.’ 

The planning proposal says their ‘initial traffic impact research suggests that at least two new accesses should be provided… The existing Saddle Road intersection with Mullumbimby Road does not meet minimum sight distance criteria. It is recommended this intersection be closed and alternative options considered.’ 

Lawyer support

Local lawyer Wroth Wall has given his public support, telling Echonetdaily, ‘I have been involved with the establishment of residential communities for the last 30 years or thereabouts and this is the first project that has offered affordable housing to members of the local community that is designed in such a way so as to maintain affordability in perpetuity and to uphold the highest environmental standards.’

‘The availability of residential housing for ordinary local residents has diminished radically as a result of holiday letting and the dramatic increase in the cost of housing. This project has the potential of allowing a large number of individuals and families on standard and low incomes to survive in this Shire in a sustainable manner.

‘Generally speaking, the owners of land will develop their land so as to increase their income and capital. In this case the owner of the land is proposing to sell a rezoned parcel of land at as price far below the amount that it would be worth on the open market to a non-profit entity that is being established for the purpose of ensuring the objectives of the project are realised.’

Hodge-podge

SRLAMPA’s Matthew O’Reilly told Echonetdaily that the proposal is a ‘hodge-podge of poor information.’ 

‘Just like West Byron, if this is approved, any future developers will maximise total yield [and] not stick to a 475-dwelling limit.’ 

‘Once gateway approval is granted, developers can play around with the final makeup and proportion of different zonings to meet their planning objectives. The planners I have spoken to say many more lots and specifically dwellings can be created than the 475 suggested.

‘We all know that once a new greenfields site is established with a central retail precinct that lands on the fringe of this area continue to be rezoned and engulfed into the new area. This is exactly what happened with the Mills Estate, which started out as an affordable housing proposal then became a medium-density development on the edge of Bayside Brunswick.

‘BEV have no quantity surveyor report to substantiate their capital investment claims, which means that if the proposal were to fall over and go insolvent, whoever has guaranteed the proposal (ie a bank) would end up owning rezoned land and then could potentially sell it as a housing estate.’

‘BEV have no significant investors that we are aware of. There may be money available from those wanting to build on the property but there is no money to build infrastructure.

‘As representing the Saddle Rd landowners – 20 of whom are against – while we do not support this rezoning, if the process is transparent and conforms to the Community Charter for Good Planning, then we will not stand in the way of the sustainable future growth of Byron Shire. Thus far it hasn’t been transparent, and falls outside what constitutes a good planning process.’

Mr O’Reilly also added that last weekend’s auction of 12 blocks in Bayside Brunswick indicates that ‘affordable housing’ may not constitute realistic affordable housing.

He says one 757m2 block was snapped up for $451,000, with prices increasing with increased lot sizes. 

‘If blocks on Saddle Ridge’s Eco Village are going to be made available at 30 per cent below current market value, then you might like to consider what this means. I do know that these are residential blocks and those on Saddle Ridge may be something else.’


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