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Byron Shire
February 28, 2021

Time to revisit height limits around Byron Bay’s CBD

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Artist’s impression of the proposed development (since refused) for the corner of Jonson and Browning Streets, Byron Bay. Image supplied

Peter O’Connor

After the refusal of a non-compliant DA that would have built out the Jonson/Browning corner to a height of at least 12.2 metres and four storeys, the Byron community and its Council now have the opportunity to determine more exactly how they want the southern entrance to the town to look and feel.

So what exactly did we come close to losing?

If the development had succeeded the future was clear. Tall buildings at least at 11.5 metres high all the way to the CBD. Jonson Street lined on both sides in a fully built environment blocking out the current open, tree studded eastern vista.

However, we can’t assume all has been saved.

Walking, driving or biking into our town’s southern entry, we enter the western end of Browning Street. It’s a wide street with a large, well maintained tree lined verge providing a welcoming, pleasant vista. This approach to the top of Jonson Street can be fairly described as a characteristic expression of ‘Old Byron’ architecture. Most of the homes on Browning Street maintain a traditional feel, especially 5,7,9 and 11 Browning Street, Jasmine House and the corner shop ‘Spell and the Gypsy Collective’.

In town planning terms, these buildings can be properly characterised as a bulwark on the boundary of Byron’s heritage area, protecting it from dilution by future out of character development.

A right turn into the south of Jonson Street reveals the higher built environment on the left, the western side. These buildings, backing onto the rail corridor, don’t affect residential land. They are an expression of the well-chosen development control setting height to 11.5 metres.

Not the Gold Coast

In contrast, on the eastern side, the maximum height of nine metres has preserved an open, light filled, more natural environment allowing sight lines to the immediate as well as the more distant vegetated higher ground. This is the contrast that prevents the closing-in of one of our main thoroughfares, preserving our town’s open, bright character.

The ‘one size fits all’ 11.5 metre proposal for eastern Jonson Street should be re-listed for renewed community consultations to work on section by section height limits to avoid closing out the entry thoroughfare to our beautiful town, and so distinguishing us from our Gold Coast neighbours.

We need to work section by section because the significantly higher and sloping ground in the south-east corner raises the perceived height of buildings. The proposed development was a wake-up call as to how such topography could exploited to achieve 12.2 metre heights and four storeys. For this reason, new development controls for buildings in this south east section should remain strictly at nine metres at each and every point along its boundaries to protect adjacent residential land from the overshadowing and privacy invasions that result from excessive heights.

With development comes traffic. With child care centres comes lots of vehicular drop-offs and pick-ups. With apartments comes domestic waste. With cafes comes commercial waste. The non-compliant DA, if approved, would have stolen the quiet Ruskin Lane, turning it into a 500 vehicle movement per day carpark entry and waste removal services depot for 50 residential apartments and additional commercial activities.

We were fortunate that at the JRPP meeting the inappropriate use Ruskin Lane was commented upon by a panel member.

Acting speedily we can preserve the open, green landscape the Browning Street homes and the peaceful Ruskin Lane have created and, by site specific development controls, extend it around the corner to at least the corner of Jonson Street and Ruskin Street. Thereafter, as the Community Alliance speaker at last week’s Northern Joint Regional Planning Panel meeting outlined, the preferred option of planning for a gradual progression in heights culminating to a maximum in the CBD can be specified.

Peter O’Connor leaves near the refused development site.

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