It is where the community fought off Club Med and it is once again in the spotlight as the current owners, Elements, are seeking to have the zoning of the environmentally sensitive area in Bayshore Drive changed from tourism to residential with an E4 zoning.
While the current zoning is tourism, it is also protected by the environmental zonings of 7F1 and 7F2 under the 1988 LEP (Local Environment Plan). These currently require Council to take into account any developments’ impact on landscape, scenic or environmental quality of the locality and ‘whether adequate safeguards and rehabilitation measures have been or will be made to protect the environment’.
‘Going from the old LEP to the new one is far from replacing like with like,’ says former Byron Shire Councillor Sandra Heilpern.
‘Gone are the adverse impacts on the landscape and the scenic values, the adequate safeguards and the rehabilitation measures to protect the environment. E4 does not contain the same protection and conservation.’ (See details on E4 issues).
The original application by Elements to seek a state government gateway determination for a potential zoning change only went through on the casting vote of former Mayor Simon Richardson. At the time Councillor Sarah Ndiaye spoke passionately against the proposal highlighting: the fragile nature of the area; that it is premature to rezone the land prior to the completion of the coastal management program; the fact that no further residential development is supposed to take place east of the highway; and the impact on the broader community. (See assessment of Elements by Dailan Pugh)
‘Residential lots in this landscape I don’t think are consistent with other uses on that site. These blocks will be costly because of where they are, they won’t be small houses, they will want fences, they will want pets,’ she pointed out.
‘They will come to think of that open space around them as theirs and likely feel encroached upon by regular pedestrian access nearby, something we have seen time and time again.’
However, a spokesperson for Elements resort has responded telling The Echo, ‘The subject site includes four titles across 41 hectares. These are currently zoned SP3 (Tourist Zone) plus deferred 1988 LEP zones of Coastal Land (7(f1), Coastal Habitat (7b), Wetland (7a) and Tourist Area (2t). The Planning Proposal seeks to remove all the SP3 (Tourist Zone) and part of the deferred 7(f1) and (7a) zoning applying to an 11.9 hectare cleared part of the site. This area, which is proposed to be rezoned as E4 Environmental Living, formerly operated as a nine-hole golf course and contains cleared grassland with scattered coastal banksias and two manmade waterbodies.
‘The remaining 29 hectares including all land seaward of the 100 year coastal hazard line is now proposed for E2 Environmental Conservation with a portion remaining as deferred 7(f)1 Coastal Land Zone, providing the highest possible level of caution and environmental protection.
‘The existing public beach access would continue unimpeded.’
‘The proposed allotments would be a minimum of one hectare, providing ample space for a single dwelling to be located in cleared grassed areas only” said Development Director Jeremy Holmes. “The E4 zone would permit dwelling houses but not secondary dwellings or dual occupancy, so there could never be more than nine houses”. The total housing/building footprint across the subject site would be less than 2.5%.
‘In consultation with Council staff, E4 Environmental Living was identified as the most appropriate zoning for that part of the land not impacted by coastal hazard nor suitable for any of the other E zones. The E4 zone objective is to provide for low impact residential development in areas with special ecological, scientific or aesthetic values.
‘Further, 0.6 hectares of the existing resort land (adjacent to the main resort building and public beach access) currently zoned deferred 7(f1) and not subject to coastal hazard is proposed to be zoned SP3. Overall, removal of three hectares of SP3 (Tourist Zone) is sought. “This proposal brings our dedication to E2 and E3 conservation zonings up to 60% of the overall property, or 52.5 hectares” said Jeremy Holmes. “The majority of this being E2 Environmental Conservation”.’
The issues of residents illegally rock-walling their properties at Belongil was raised as an example of the failure of planned retreat once a residential home has been built.
‘We have learnt in the past that beachfront residential development involves investment that leads to interference with the natural environment aimed at protecting those investments, but at huge cost to the environment, including its ecosystems,’ said former councillor and Greens mayoral hopeful Duncan Dey .
‘The principle of planned retreat may be applied as a condition under which coastal development may be permitted, but experience shows that retreat does not take place. Court cases take place, and the community pays, as well as the environment.’
This is particularly relevant in relation to the impact of sea level rise, he points out.
‘The Pacific Ocean will be a metre higher during the lifetime of the allotments that would follow this rezoning. It will eventually be two or three metres higher. Under even one metre of SLR, it is doubtful that the current dunes will keep the ocean out of the land during peak storm / tide events. Under several metres, there is no doubt.’
However, an Elements spokesperson said that ‘The North Byron Beach Resort planning proposal takes into account sea-level rise and the latest coastal hazard modelling’.
The failure to adequately account for the impacts on current infrastructure of sewerage and roads has also been raised. Former Mayor, Jan Barham, has highlighted that, ‘There has been no residential strategy that has supported that site for residential living.’
‘This is another unplanned infrastructure load. With the unplanned increase in the number of residents now in the Byron Arts and Industry Estate and the increased population from medium density housing that has been facilitated by the state affordable housing SEPP we risk overloading our sewerage treatment plant (STP). This is what happened in the 1990s, and why we ended up with a moratorium on any further development in Byron Bay.
‘The impacts will add pressure on the limited STP capacity to cope with additional demand and put at risk the health of the Belongil Creek and the habitat for the many bird species that require its refuge for survival.
‘The additional traffic will also add to the already pressured local road network.
‘Surely 2021 has demonstrated the vulnerability of our dunes to increased cyclonic activity, high tides and sea surges. Extreme weather conditions are predicted to get worse, not better,’ said Ms Heilpern.
‘How irresponsible to be turning grasslands, lily ponds and wooded dunes into 2ha residential blocks at this time. It has been noted by local residents that Elements itself has had to fortify its own frontage from the ravages of severe weather events.’
Elements project website
The project website www.nbbrproposal.com.au provides detail including FAQs, coastal hazard studies and the E4 Environmental Living zoning. Community members are encouraged to visit the project website or contact [email protected] or 0283794044 to ask questions and provide feedback.