Nearly 100 locals gathered in Mullumbimby to have their say about plans for an affordable-housing development next to the town’s community gardens last week.
The site, known as ‘Lot 22’, has been earmarked for affordable housing as part of Byron Council’s attempt to address the Shire’s worsening affordability crisis.
But a large and determined group of local homeowners strongly oppose any development at the location, citing flooding issues and the loss of much-needed recreational space.
These opponents were out in force at the meeting last Wednesday night, accounting for 14 of the 17 speakers and the vast majority of those in the gallery.
‘The flood risk was definitely a common theme among many of the speakers,’ said Sandra Kessler from the Mullumbimby Residents’ Association.
‘There is a real concern that in a significant flood event the new houses could end up being cut off or even under water.’
Located about 10 minutes’ walk from the centre of Mullumbimby, the 22-hectare site is owned by Byron Council, meaning that there is an opportunity for housing there to be genuinely affordable rather than entirely driven by profit.
A draft concept plan for the site prepared by local housing group Social Habitat features three hamlets of 50 tiny homes, each with its own village green, solar-powered shed, and food garden.
The council has begun the process or rezoning the site from recreational open space to general residential and held the meeting as part of the public consultation process.
The biggest impediment to the proposal, as many of those at the meeting pointed out, is the flood-prone nature of the site.
In a written and verbal statement to last week’s meeting, the NSW State Emergency Service opposed the proposal on the grounds that any houses built on the site would be cut off during a one-in-100-year flood event.
‘If the proposed rezoning is approved, the resulting development will increase the population exposed to unacceptable flood risk and is likely to result in unsustainable social and economic costs to the community as a consequence of flooding,’ the SES said in its submission.
‘It will also result in transferring the risk to the future occupants and the NSW SES to have to potentially conduct rescues where occupants have not evacuated prior to access roads being closed by floodwater.’
Residents at the meeting also cited the loss of accessible open space as a reason for opposing the plan.
‘There’s a lot of passive recreation that takes place there,’ Ms Kessler said.
‘On any given day there are people walking dogs, people on bikes and trikes – it’s a very well used spot.’
But not everyone was opposed to the plan.
Desperate for housing
David Brown, a local architect and member of the Mullumbimby Masterplan Guidance Group said the community needed to give the proposal a go because of the ‘desperate need for more affordable housing’ in the Shire.
‘I agree that there is definitely a flooding issue and unless it’s resolved through careful planning and design the precautionary principle should apply,’ Mr Brown said.
‘But I think there are intelligent solutions available, and we should fully investigate those and get a really clear sense of the flooding situation, not just for that site but for the entire town, before writing it off.’
Mr Brown said that doing nothing about affordable housing was not an option.
‘We have a crisis in this Shire,’ he said.
‘We have a situation where our essential frontline workers – teachers, nurses, council staff – are driving long distances on dangerous roads to get to work because they can no longer afford to live in the Shire.
‘If we want to call ourselves a sustainable community in the truest sense of the word then we have to seriously consider options like Lot 22.’