Casting vote breaks deadlock on controversial subdivision
AFTER months of ferocious debate over a Gulmarrad subdivision, it took acting Mayor Jason Kingsley's casting vote to finally get it over the line.
The 11-lot subdivision on Lot 39 Bloodwood Grove has been one of the most contentious matters in recent memory, with Clarence Valley Council reviewing it three times.
After Mayor Jim Simmons was taken to hospital following a medical episode, the votes were split straight down the middle and Cr Kingsley was forced to use his casting vote as acting Mayor.
The controversy began in June when councillors opted to seek an independent second opinion after Council staff recommended it be refused because it did not adequately address environmental or flooding issues and created a traffic hazard.
In August councillors were then at loggerheads over the subsequent report's meaning, with Cr Greg Clancy arguing that while the independent planner did not make an explicit recommendation, his findings left no doubt as to whether the original staff recommendation was correct.
A majority of his fellow councillors disagreed and instead instructed staff to write draft conditions for approval to take into account environmental offsets, a possible speed limit reduction on McIntyres Lane and an acceptance that enough flood studies had occurred.
Despite the recommendation to reject remaining unchanged, the draft conditions were created and then significantly altered via a motion from Cr Andrew Baker.
Cr Baker said it was the role of councillors to put conditions on development and rejected the view of a community member who had written Council asserting that his modified conditions were "quick and haphazard".
He said much of the land in Gulmarrad slated for development may never have occurred had preceding councillors "listened to the experts" and went along with recommendations to reject as many as 15 developments or subdivisions at various times of asking.
"There would be no Gulmarrad as we know it now had the original council advices been accepted," he said.
"Since then there have been hundreds of lots created out there, we have all been able to gain experience in its creation and I am quite confident this isn't a 'quick and haphazard' offering of conditions.
"These are just good solid conditions that get the job done."
Mr Clancy said despite the zoning, Gulmarrad was still an important wildlife corridor and restrictions on development were in place to protect the environment and find a balance between ecological and economic sustainability.
The sub division was an example of "overdevelopment" that fell "well short" of those requirements, a view Mr Clancy said was backed up by staff and the independent planner.
"We have to be very careful while trying to fit in all these subdivisions and houses that we don't destroy the place in the process," he said.
"On three occasions (staff) have reiterated their recommendation for refusal, once they have reiterated their stance three times I think councillors need to listen."
However, Cr Richie Williamson said the application had come "a considerably long way" since it was first put to council and while he respected the work of staff and the independent planner, it was important to note the subdivision was lawful.
At stake was the ability to condition the development because if the applicant took a potential rejection to the Land and Environment Court, Cr Williamson said it could be "taken out of council hands".
"Here it is, green tape and affordable housing clash head on," he said.
"There is a significant cost per lot here in the conditions of consent that will no doubt push the price land up."
The comments prompted a thinly veiled swipe from Cr Peter Ellem who suggested that if councillors respected the work of staff and planners they would not be ignoring their advice for a third time.
Mr Ellem then took aim at the applicant's consultants and said they could do better than "trash talk" council staff and "should just mount professional arguments" like staff did.
He went on to critique the entire process and offered his own warning on the Land and Environment Court.
"Our staff should never have been put in a position where they had to condition something they are recommending against for a whole variety of reasons," he said.
"If this gets up we will end up in the L & EC and the neighbours' lawyers will have a field day with this council because of … all that has gone on."
As debate drew to a close Cr Baker said it would be "detrimental to society" if council only directed citizens occupy large areas of land while they were yet to determine what appropriate levels of development actually were.
He added that many developments had led to a proliferations of trees through the work of landowners.
"Causley Farm and Cameron Hill were clear for cane farming purposes … there are now literally thousands of trees and dense vegetation. It doesn't revegetate itself."
"We shouldn't hide under the desk every time someone mentions the Land and Environment Court."
Councillors Andrew Baker, Arthur Lysaught, Jason Kingsley and Richie Williamson voted for approval with Greg Clancy, Debrah Novak, Karen Toms and Peter Ellem voting against.