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April 22, 2024

GemLife pushes plans for seniors’ estate on ecologically sensitive West Ballina land

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Part of the land proposed to be developed, on Burns Point Ferry Road West Ballina. Photo David Lowe.

A proposed seniors’ housing estate featuring nearly 150 units on ecologically sensitive West Ballina land protected by recent rezoning is subject to a Northern Regional Planning Panel assessment process.

GTH Resorts, marketing as GemLife, is the developer behind the application to build on land at West Ballina’s River Street and Burns Point Ferry Road.

The company’s determination to build on the land comes despite a Land and Environment Court finding of the site as ecologically sensitive, a subsequent Ballina Shire Council decision to rezone it accordingly, and the state’s planning department approving the council’s rezoning request.

Information about the latest GemLife DA for West Ballina on the council’s website says the development comes under the State Environmental Planning Policy on Housing from 2021 and can bypass local government approval processes.

Ecologically sensitive land under threat

The council’s disempowerment from the planning process comes after years of controversy over GemLife’s development aspirations for the West Ballina land.

GemLife has developed several seniors’ housing estates, mostly in Queensland, describing them all as boasting positive lifestyle choices for people over the age of fifty.

The company also has plans for a seniors’ housing estate at Skennars Head.

Projects to date from GemLife describe resort-style living with luxuries from ten-pin bowling alleys to wine bars and harmonious connections with local environments.

But a Land and Environment Court decision last year found the proposed land at West Ballina had environmental values threatened by GemLife plans at the time, which were for a project roughly twice the size of the estate included in the current DA.

The company’s latest plans are for 148 independent living units of up to three bedrooms each; community facilities; a manager’s residence; and outdoor recreation areas.

GemLife says the estate would be built in five stages.

State approves environmental zoning

Ballina Shire Council Strategic Planning Manager Matthew Wood told councillors at a meeting in July last year there was a grey area in relation to the application of the Biodiversity Conservation Act on the land, which the council zoned as suitable for medium density housing prior to the LEC case and prior to 2022’s catastrophic flooding in the area.

Mr Wood said he thought GemLife was trying to direct the bulk of their proposed development into what would be considered the most degraded area of the land’s endangered ecological community.

‘The fact remains, though, the endangered ecological communities are across that full area,’ Mr Wood said, before telling councillors the only way to properly protect the environment, thereby reflecting information from the Land and Environment Court case, was to rezone the land again.

Councillors voted unanimously in July 2022 to zone the land as C2 Environmental Conservation, if further study confirmed it contained vegetation with high biodiversity value.

The final decision on zoning in NSW rests with the state government’s planning department, which approved the request in December last year.

The rezoning decision is still officially on public exhibition for feedback until 28 April, while the NRPP is taking submissions on the GemLife DA until 14 April.

The council says the proposed project is classified as integrated development and relates to several state laws including the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, the Water Management Act 2000, Roads Act 1993, and the Fisheries Management Act 1994.

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