The $2.4 million earthworks project is underway on Signature Care's 144-bed Grafton aged care development.
The $2.4 million earthworks project is underway on Signature Care's 144-bed Grafton aged care development.

GOLF CLUB SAGA: The first five years (2003-08)

WHEN residents move into the Signature Aged Care facility in South Grafton as early as late 2021, it will end a drawn out saga spanning 18 years.

Earthworks have started on the 144-bed aged care facility on the site of the former 10th and 11th holes of the Grafton Golf Course adjacent to Bent St.

But it's taken multiple planning proposals and dozens of council meetings to settle on a way forward since Grafton District Golf Club members first voted to request for the land to be rezoned in 2003.

Golf club members, Clarence Valley staff and councillors, interested developers, neighbours on semi-rural lots and the environmentalists have all taken turns in clashing at various stages.

An offer from Signature Care to purchase the land for $2.2 million in 2017 signalled the beginning of the end.

Over the coming weeks we'll take an extensive look back at how the golf club development saga unfolded, starting with the first five years from 2003 to 2008...


November 2003

Unaware of the looming struggle that would endure the best part of a generation, Grafton District Golf Club members voted in 2003 to subdivide and sell part of the existing 10th and 11th holes.

A November 2003 estimate predicted the sale of 23 blocks ranging from 1200sqm to 3099sqm would raise $1.6 million. According to club general manager Tony Everingham, the expected income would provide enough money to carry out important works to drought-proof and secure the financial future of the course.

There was immediate opposition from nearby homeowners, but Mr Everingham said he believed it was the best thing for the club and the area.


February 2005

In early 2005 the club's plans to develop two new par fours on land near the existing 16th tee were put on display at the clubhouse.

However, construction of the holes remained on hold as the club waited for Clarence Valley Council approval on a rezoning application submitted in late 2004.


August 2005

Councillors unanimously supported the club's application to rezone the 10th and 11th holes for 23 low density residential homes at the monthly business meeting.

Council's planning director Rob Donges said council management had decided to open the issue up for debate once the draft LEP had been put up for public exhibition.

"Just because we endorse the rezoning application it doesn't mean we endorse the subdivision proposal and I think it's critical people understand that," he said.

Mayor Ian Tiley advised councillors he had been approached by adjoining land owners who expressed opposition to the subdivision plans.

Cr Joy Mathews said she felt uncomfortable that residents opposing the development had an opportunity to meet councillors during an earlier site inspection.

Cr Shirley Adams agreed, saying she felt council had not done the right thing concerning public consultation in light of well-publicised opposition to the development.

Grafton District Golf Club general manager Tony Everingham said the club was happy with the council's decision.

"We've been through a fairly long process already and now we can advance the plan to a stage of consultation where the concerns of the neighbours can be formally dealt with," he said.


June 2006

Resident Jenny Dewar expressed concern that she had heard nothing from council for six months after it received a formal rezoning application from the golf club in late 2005.

"When we approached them, a lot of the councillors were very supportive of the fact that we built on land that was zoned as semi-rural and it should stay that way, but we haven't heard anything else in ages," she said.

"I would be supportive of any precinct plan that takes into account residents' concerns."

Now three years down the track, Mr Everingham was "surprised that it's been delayed for such a long period of time" and said "it sounds as if this will mean an even longer delay".

"At the end of the day it's good that they're finally looking at it, because I think the council put it in the 'too hard' basket for quite some time," he said.


June 2008

It's 2008 and the golf course development proposal is now officially a saga, as coined by by The Daily Examiner reporters.

Council rejected the golf club's rezoning application in August 2007, arguing it was not consistent with the South Grafton Heights Precinct Strategy.

The issue was revisited in March 2008, when council resolved to defer consideration for three months to wait for more information from the golf club about its proposal.

However, this hinged on the golf club holding a meeting of its 600-plus members to discuss the club's plans, and two meetings planned in May did not proceed. The second, scheduled for May 26, was cancelled due to the club's board being made aware the Registered Clubs Act prevented members from voting by proxy.

So despite the three months passing, no further information was provided to council.


August 2008

93 of the 145 club members who attended a meeting to consider the rezoning application voted in favour of club moves to have part of the golf course rezoned and developed for housing.

But club member John Croft, who resides adjacent to the course, said he wanted the Clarence Valley Council to be aware that a lot of members remained opposed to the rezoning and subdivision plans.

"With only about 25 per cent of the members in attendance, for whatever reason, and 93 votes in favour, it is difficult for the golf club board to say there is overwhelming support for the proposals among members," he said.

"It was also evident at the meeting that most of the 51 'no' votes were from members who are not adjoining residents of the golf club, but people who were critical of the proposal itself, issues of funding and cash flow, and the apparent duplicity and lack of transparency.

"We hope that council ... reject for a third time, the rezoning application from the golf club board."


14th October 2008

A proposal to rezone part of the Grafton District Golf Club to this time allow a rural-residential style subdivision of nine lots of roughly 4000sqm was recommended for rejection by the first environment and economic committee meeting of the newly-elected Clarence Valley Council.

A council report stated the plan was not 'substantially different' from the one rejected last year, and once again was not consistent with the South Grafton Heights Precinct Strategy.

The golf club's development consultant, Andrew Fletcher, argued the proposal made good planning sense given it was less dense than when first mooted, took advantage of existing infrastructure by 'in-filling' a cleared area, and was appropriate under council's sustainability initiative.


21st October, 2008

Despite council staff recommendations, Clarence Valley Council voted five to four to support the golf club's rezoning proposal.

Councillors Pat Comben, Craig Howe, Ian Dinham, Karen Toms and Jim Simmons voted for the plan.

Cr Comben told the meeting any rezoning would increase the net amount of open space, given the club's purchase of more land to offset any future housing development, and that the club had responded to community concerns by reducing the number of properties from 23 to nine rural residential lots similar to those on the other side of Bent Street.

To be continued...


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