DIVIDED: Debate over gated estate splits council
A CLEAR line of division separated Whitsunday councillors yesterday while debating an accommodation application, with one councillor calling to avoid “a situation where the people in the luxurious gated (community) on the hill get one rule and the people down in the village get another”.
In yesterday’s ordinary meeting, councillors discussed an application to turn an existing house in Botanica Estate in Woodwark into short-term accommodation.
The application was approved four votes to three, with councillors Jan Clifford, Al Grundy and Michelle Wright opposing the change of use.
However, councillor Mike Brunker said council should follow the guidelines of the Planning Scheme to keep a level playing field for all residents.
The application attracted 12 submissions during the review period, 11 of which opposed the change.
One submission raised concerns about the property’s proximity to Villa Botanica wedding venue, stating that “wedding guests may stay at the premises increasing chances of noise and drink driving”.
Another submission said short-term accommodation should be located in Airlie Beach, not Botanica Estate.
Among other concerns included security as “guests and strangers will have access through the private entrance gate”, an increase in traffic, the costs of water infrastructure and that allowing this application would set a precedent for more short-term accommodation options within the estate.
During yesterday’s meeting, Division 1 councillor Jan Clifford came out to bat for those opposing the change, saying council was “letting the residents of Botanica Drive down”.
“I believe when you buy into a gated community you have a reasonable expectation of privacy,” she said.
“To approve this with half of the people that are owners there objecting to it, it takes it to a whole new level.
“While I appreciate it is compliant with our Planning Scheme, sometimes our Planning Scheme is not exactly what it should be and I think sometimes we have to take into account what the feelings of the residents are.”
Division 2 councillor Al Grundy supported Cr Clifford’s objections and raised concerns about council’s policy around short-term accommodation.
Council’s director of planning Neil McGaffin acknowledged the application had received more submissions than usual for this type application but he said it would be “problematic” to refuse it.
“While I understand the comments from Cr Clifford and Cr Grundy, it’s very difficult to quantify in what I would call ‘planning terms’ to justify refusing it,” he said.
“At the end of the day we need to refer to the matters in the Planning Scheme … it’s not a democratic process that if you get X amount of submissions you have to refuse it.”
Division 6 councillor Mike Brunker agreed with Mr McGaffin and said the Planning Scheme was key in assessing applications.
“Prior to our development of policy for the Planning Scheme it was open slather. So, had we not had the back up that we’ve got in our Planning Scheme, these people could have built a house and just rented it out on the side.
“I don’t think anybody likes to have some sort of a motel or sharehouse beside them, and the only difference I can see is (it is) a gated community up on the hill, a very luxurious one, who want to have a set of rules for them and we forget about our poor people down in the village who have got to put up with it as well.
“We developed (the Planning Scheme) to stop this happening illegally under the radar because we were getting so many complaints about party houses.
“Now, AirBnB is one of the biggest hotels in the world, so we either reject it and think it’s not happening, or we try and get on board and control it.
“You’ve got to assess these planning schemes on the town plan.
“If we feel sorry for these people, which I do, I do feel sorry for them, the proponent has the right to take us to court. And the guy sitting down in the town planning court in Townsville with a dead sheep on his head, he doesn’t care about warm and fuzzies.
“He’s going to be reading the town plan, and if this one person has all their ducks lined up in the town plan they’ll probably give a tick.
“So forget how many objectors there are. To me, if we want to object this we throw it out all together because I’m not having a situation where the people in the luxurious gated (community) on the hill get one rule and the people down in the village get another.”
According to the council’s website, the Whitsunday Regional Council Planning Scheme 2017 has provisions for different types of accommodation and requires the assessment of a proposal to consider the potential impacts of the immediate neighbourhood.
Guidelines for applying for short-term accommodation include a statutory declaration, signed by the operator of the premises is provided, stating that the premises will not be operated or used as a ‘party house’.