I often go on about how good we have it here, but Byron Shire is not without issues and problems. It may be a first world problem as it is difficult being so popular? How do we protect what we have, limit development, keep real estate prices reasonable, maintain the diverse cultural mix, house essential workers, etc.? The council’s quagmire is to develop, or not to develop? That is the question.
Byron Council has multiple DA’s and choices on its desk at the moment. Making a decision is not going to make everyone happy. The problem is compounded since it looks like the complexity of the issues are not being well explained to the wider community.
The West Byron Urban Land Release is easily the most contentious development. The public display process closed on March 29 and received a record number of submissions – the vast majority asking for it not to go ahead. If only if it was that easy. This land has been zoned for possible subdivision for a long time and if rejected, the developers may be entitled to compensation. As a state significant site, the state government may have the power to push it through. Also, the Byron council want the section 94 contributions to help fund the Byron bypass.
The best outcome would be to negotiate with the developers to make it more palatable. No one really wants another brick and tile, cookie-cutter style housing subdivision. Not really our style, even though more houses are desperately needed. It would be better to make it smaller, more parkland and have the houses with floor levels above the 100-year flood height. This would mean it would not need so much landfill and the houses would be more aesthetic– but more expensive to build. It’s probably a worthwhile compromise.
In Australia, the beach is a sacred thing and not to be tampered with. Rich landowners putting up rock walls and eroding the beach is going to get people agitated. What is not reported is that the Belongil Beach landowners will win this fight every day in court. The rock wall and groin at the top end of Jonson Street, where the pool and car park are, increase the rate of erosion along Belongil Beach. This provides the landowners with a loophole allowing them the right to protect their property.
Planned Retreat makes a lot of sense with future climate change around the corner. But homeowners with multi-million dollar properties are going to exert the right to protect them if they can. Ironically, there was a way to save the beach and the homes – for a time at least. False reefs and manufactured sandbars have made massive improvements over the years. It would also be a great way to make another excellent surf break. But since the bay is a protected marine park, nothing like this could be attempted. People also need to realise that some parts of Byron CBD are even lower than parts of Belongil Beach. If we surrender Belongil Spit to the sea, we also have to surrender a lot of the Byron CBD.
Brunswick Eco Village
The land at West Byron, Saddle Road west of Brunswick Heads, has been viewed as a potential development site for decades. It even had plans for a high school and commercial centre at one time. One of the proponents there is Kelvin Daly and his Bruns Eco Village concept. Kelvin and his team have spent years researching and developing this new community eco-village concept as a sustainable, affordable housing model. The bona fides of this proposal cannot be questioned and should be an easy fit for the Byron area, nevertheless, it is having a hard time getting community acceptance.
Mullumbimby Vegan/Yoga Camping Grounds
This is a new one off the block. Mark Franklyn recently purchased a large acreage at 1897 Coolamon Scenic Drive, on the north side of Mullumbimby. He is now the recipient of the blowtorch to the belly treatment. His DA is to have a camping ground, vegan yoga, and affordable accommodation. Using buzzwords like “vegan”, “yoga” and “affordable house” probably made him assume he was going to get an easy treatment. No one misses out on the ire of the NIMBY backlash.
The business model is good but problematic. No one can deny Mullumbimby is in dire need of extra accommodation. It wants to provide a facility for up to 300 people at any one time – 150 yoga guests, 50 doing a spa, and 100 people meditation. I suspect some of these numbers will also be permanent rentals. The argument is if Byron Shire is to be a mecca for transformation then it needs to have facilities of this size. Apparently, the economics of weekly retreats are only viable over 150 people. Elements of Byron, when complete may be similar, but for more upmarket guests. This one will be interesting to see if it gets through – has a long way to go.
BSC as developer
Byron Shire Council is trying to develop some of its own council-owned lands. Ballina Council has been doing this successfully for many years and can supplement the books with reasonable cash flow. Is Byron Council up to the challenge, or do we have too critical a local community to give them a chance to try? Time will tell.
The land council are looking at doing something on the old STP (Sewerage Treatment Plant) in south Byron – opposite the Byron Golf Course, as well the new sewerage treatment plant at Valances Road, off Coolamon Scenic Drive, west of Mullumbimby. This is quite a substantial chunk of land and a state of the art eco-tourism educational facility is in the works. A parcel of land south of Mullumbimby known as Lot 22 is being considered as a “tiny house, manufactured home estate, and affordable housing village”. Both Byron and Mullumbimby retired hospital sites are being looked at for some kind of usage – aged care is looking to be most likely.
BSC is developing a PPP – Private Public Partnership – in order to work with outside industry professionals to get this done. An example of this is a project on council owned land in Mullumbimby called the “Rail Yard” which is in partnership with the Kollective and North Coast Community Housing. This is a unit development where some of the units will be council owned and permanent affordable rental. Council should be supported in these ventures as it is way for the community to keep equity as well as get income. Selling assets for a quick return is bad long term planning.
The purpose of this article is to provide some background into some of these issues. Councillors and staff are being criticised a lot by people who are expecting to get black and white answers to complex problems. Councillors I occasionally deal with are dedicated people who are paid a pittance and put in long hours. Its not fair to make it harder on them without understanding the whole picture.