The proposal from GemLife for 150 units for seniors in West Ballina on a conservation wetland site has raised concerns of locals. Concerns are in relation to how it will impact flooding of existing neighbouring residences as well as the risks to future elderly residents who could be isolated for days at a time during future floods.
The area that is proposed for the GemLife seniors residential estate was isolated for days when the Richmond River flooded in early 2022 while the Ballina hospital and the initial evacuation centre at Cherry Street Sports Club were both evacuated during last year’s disaster.
A development proposal for an aged care facility at Caloola Drive, Tweed Heads was refused by Tweed Shire Council following the 2022 floods due to the risk of isolation of residents and staff in future flooding events.
However, GemLife has refused to give up its ambitions for the aged care development on the wetlands in West Ballina, instead choosing to modify its development plans every time bureaucratic and legal hurdles are presented.
Endangered ecological communities defended in court
Those hurdles include ecological sensitives on the land, as cited in a crucial Land and Environment Court (LEC) ruling in November 2021, along with at least eight expert ecological reports.
The ruling found parts of the land needed protection from development owing to ecological sensitives, including endangered communities.
GemLife says it would respect subsequent boundaries and still deliver a beautiful place to call home for potentially hundreds of Northern Rivers seniors via nearly 150 units of up to three bedrooms each.
The company has carried out an impressive advertising campaign in local regional media, including in The Echo.
But environmental concerns are sometimes legislated and this week Ballina Shire Council staff are recommending councillors act on suggestions to rezone parts of the land as environmentally protected.
Ballina’s first Conservation Zone on agenda
Staff are advising the council to endorse the introduction of Conservation Zones into the Ballina Local Environmental Plan (LEP) 2012 and rezone land at Burns Point Ferry Road.
The former coalition state government introduced Conservation Zones into NSW planning regulations in December 2021, shortly after the West Ballina site’s L&EC ruling.
Councillors have debated rezoning the land before but have been reluctant to make the final call, despite the L&EC case evidence, subsequent decision and council staff recommendation.
Mayor Sharon Cadwallader last month used her casting vote to defer a council decision, with support from Crs Eoin Johnston, Nigel Buchanan, Eva Ramsey and Rodney Bruem.
Cr Buchanan told the June meeting conservation zones scared ‘the hell’ out of him while Cr Bruem said either people respected ‘property rights’ or didn’t.
The change would mean land in question becomes zoned as C2 Environmental Conservation, reportedly the first such zoned land in the Ballina Shire.
Greens Councillor Kiri Dicker has previously said the Ballina Shire has the lowest percentage of native vegetation cover of any local government areas in New South Wales.
Lest we forget flood risk: locals against floodplain build to wear floaties at council meeting
Staff are recommending the council agrees in today’s scheduled July ordinary meeting to submit a rezoning planning proposal to the Department of Planning and Environment for finalisation.
The move comes after the department refused the council’s request for extra time.
Local community group Revive the Northern Rivers says the current draft planning proposal to protect the site from development is due to expire on 15 August.
The activists say the looming expiry date is a green light for Gemlife and have been calling on locals to lobby councillors to request the C2 Zone be applied to the Burns Point Ferry Road site.
The group has asked people to show up to today’s council meeting wearing ‘floaties, snorkles or goggles’ to call attention to residents next door to the site who say they will drown if the new estate is built.
‘The best dressed person at the chambers on Thursday will win some RTNR gear on us,’ the group told media this week, ‘just tag us on social media or send us an email with a photo of you showing the council chambers in frame’.