Outrageous overdevelopment or swimming pool in a teacup? That was the question facing Byron Council last week, when an application to build a rooftop pool came before its monthly planning meeting.
Such proposals are not unusual in the Shire these days, particularly in the centre of Byron Bay.
But this particular plan related to a mixed-use development that had already drawn the ire of neighbours and more than a few others in the wider community.
Located on the corner of Jonson and Browning Streets, the proposal – for a mix of apartments, retail, and food outlets – was knocked back by the Northern Regional Planning Panel in November 2018.
Byron Council subsequently approved a scaled-down version of the development proposal, but neighbours argued it was still in breach of floor space and communal space rules, and would create unacceptable road safety risks.
Thus, when co-developer Jason Dunn walked in with an application to modify the development, with the addition of a rooftop pool and garden, and a solar array, they were less than impressed.
‘This is not a modification application, it’s a very significant move away from what you’ve approved,’ one neighbour, Paul O’Connor, told the meeting.
‘And it will lead to another application for shade structures. I say that confidently because on the development’s website, until very, very recently, there were shade umbrellas in the concept drawings that were around 2.4 metres high.
‘They’ve already got fabulous concessions, valued at around $3m, because you, the Council, decided that they didn’t have to meet the SEPP standards for design and floorspace.’
But Mr Dunn told the meeting that the pool proposal included a series of design modifications to limit the impact on neighbours, and that its use would be carefully regulated.
He also said that the addition of the pool had effectively been forced on him by COVID-19.
‘COVID changed the landscape for us immensely,’ he said. ‘The need to provide recreational space within our development, as opposed to nearby, has changed since the application was first submitted in 2019’.
‘At that time, we were in negotiations with John McKenna to lease the apartments to North Coast Community Housing. However, owing to COVID-19, the funding from him to enter into that lease fell through. At that stage, we saw no other option other than to sell the apartments privately to fund the build.
‘The majority of our buyers were from Ballina or Byron, and they were very clear that they would like the addition of the pool and rooftop gardens.’
This argument, unsurprisingly, didn’t wash with opponents of the plan.
‘Jason’s taken a commercial risk when he bought the property – it’s not up to us to facilitate profit for people’, another neighbour, Paul Cholakos said.
But Byron’s councillors did not agree with the neighbour’s arguments. All but one of those present for the debate – Cr Basil Cameron – voted to approve the application.
‘This is just Byron and Ballina people planning to live in a two-bedroom apartment and saying “Can I have a pool?,” Interim Mayor, Michael Lyon, said. ‘I think that’s a reasonable request in the circumstances’.