Plans to build nine houses on a stunning strip of land between Elements of Byron Resort and Belongil Beach are a step closer, after Byron Council agreed to move forward with rezoning the site to ‘Environmental Living’.
In a vote which came down to the wire at last week’s planning meeting, the Council gave the rezoning proposal the green light, meaning it will proceed to ‘Gateway Determination’ by the NSW Department of Planning.
Located at the northern end of Bayshore Drive, the privately owned area was used as a golf course in the 1980s and is currently used by the Byron Writers Festival.
It is also very popular with locals and tourists alike who use it for dog walking and to access the pristine northern end of Belongil Beach.
The owners, Ganra Pty Ltd, are Brian and Peggy Flannery, who also own the Elements of Byron Resort and run the solar train into the CBD. They have promised that beach access will be retained.
‘I’d love to wave a wand and make this land into what I want,’ Byron Mayor Simon Richardson (Greens) said in a speech supporting the rezoning.
‘If I had my choice I’d give it to the community and plant it out with beautiful native species. But it’s not my land – it’s private land.
‘From an environmental point of view, short of doing nothing, which isn’t going to happen; having nine residences with no ability to have any more, no ability for tourism, and with protections for the most environmentally sensitive areas, is the best outcome we’re going to get.
‘I see no reason to stop this, other than that we want something to stay the way it is.’
Under the rezoning proposal 75 per cent of the 41ha site will fall under either an Environmental Conservation or Environmental Management zoning.
The remainder, where the houses are to be built, will be given an E4 Environmental Living zoning.
The purpose of an Environmental Living zone is to ‘provide for low-impact residential development in areas with special ecological, scientific or aesthetic values’ and to ‘ensure that residential development does not have an adverse affect on those values’.
But Cr Richardson’s Greens colleague, Deputy Mayor Sarah Ndiaye, said she believed the site should retain its current tourism zoning as this would provide the best possible outcome for the community.
‘Over the years this land has been fought over and protested about… the community has a strong attachment to it,’ Cr Ndiaye said. ‘At least at the moment those who can’t afford to stay at the resort can at least wander down to the beach.
‘These [residential] blocks will be costly, they won’t be small houses – they’ll want fences, they’ll want pets.
‘We’re being told that this [zoning proposal] is the best outcome we’re going to get, and so we should just accept it, but I don’t think it is the best outcome – I think we can do better.’
Concerns have also been expressed about the threat of coastal erosion on the site.
The applicant’s coastal hazard assessment found that the likely encroachment of the water line was significantly less than had previously been thought.
It placed the line 135m further seaward than that set down by the previous assessment. However, speaking during public access, local resident Sandra Heilpern questioned whether this report was reliable.
Experts paid for by proponent
‘My experience is that it’s a good idea to get independent expertise when the expert has been paid for by the proponent,’ Ms Heilpern said.
‘This piece of land and its adjoining lands – which could be next in line [for development] – are some of the most beautiful beach access points in the Shire.
‘It’s a rare gift not to be squandered.’
With the councillor vote deadlocked at four to four at the end of debate, Mayor Richardson used his casting vote to get the proposal through.
Cr Richardson said his vote had reflected the wishes of the one absent councillor, Labor’s Jan Hackett.
‘As is my policy in these situations, I’m using my casting vote to reflect the view of the absent councillor,’ Cr Richardson said.
‘In this case, she indicated that she strongly supports the proposal.’
Writers fest replies
When asked about any possible impacts on the Byron Writers Festival, its Chair, Adam van Kempen, told The Echo, ‘In the ten years that Ganra have owned the site, they have been strong supporters of the festival, and have kept us informed of their plans’.
‘Over the years, the festival location has changed a number of times within the Elements/Ganra land, and we have discussed with representatives of Ganra over the last couple of years how the festival site could change if a rezoning were approved there’.
He added, ‘We are keen to continue holding the festival there and Ganra has always shown willingness to continue to support the festival’.