WHY? THAT QUESTION from the rural residential community hovers over Council’s decision at its May general meeting to spend another $50,000 of taxpayers’ funds for a planning proposal to split the zoning in Wamboin and Bywong based broadly on topography, i.e. on what occurs naturally on the ground, either remnant or replanted woodland or riparian areas like creek flats and the Yass River catchments.
The councillors vote went against the staff recommendation to leave the current planning status quo, i.e. E4, to avoid a list of challenges and obstacles that would arise with the rezone exercise.
Not least is the danger of ending up with split zoning on individual existing blocks and having differently zoned blocks along one road. There would also be a council headache with aligning the permitted uses of R5 to suit both rural and outer village blocks.
The alternative zoning now proposed for some blocks or sections of Bywong and Wamboin is R5 large-lot residential, a village or town expansion zone. As currently proposed that zoning would zero in on riparian corridors or less treed blocks of those two communities.
The vote ensured that the second half of $100,000 budgeted for a consultant’s report and further action, would be spent on drawing up the rezone planning proposal to the state government. Doing this will also draw on staff resources, meaning further costs and delays to other planning tasks.
A majority of councillors, with the exception of Harrison, Marshall and Winchester, voted to accommodate a group of disgruntled landholders (not officially supported by either the Wamboin or Bywong community associations) who for years have campaigned against rural residential land being zoned and named E4, environmental living.
Community members have asked ‘why change?’
The anti-E4 campaign has had others in the affected communities repeatedly asking why? What do the change proponents want?
The permitted uses in E4 are broadly compatible with stock grazing, domestic-scale farming or nurseries and other rural residential activities that have been allowed for 30 plus years. R5 actually requires a DA for some of these activities whilst allowing on paper contentious outdoor recreational facilities such as a gun range — the subject of a council fight in April.
About 30 proponents of the R5 change, alerted by council staff to the agenda, were in the gallery at the May meeting and some spoke. Judging by the outcome and speed of the decision (against staff advice to consider the problems) the gallery’s complaints swayed additional councillors to say yes. They joined the regular mayoral majority supporting a motion from Councillor Hicks.
Voting for preparing a planning proposal were Councillors Biscotti, Bray, Brown, Hicks, Noveska, Overall and Schweikert.
Absent were the silent majority of another 3,000 residents of Bywong, Wamboin who would be affected (translated from 1,050 blocks in the area).
What’s in a name?
Let’s hark back to the state planning framework and naming scheme set up by the NSW government several years ago. E4 was chosen for its similarity to the previous ‘rural residential’ land-use plan. It sits along a continuum (with E1 being national parks) that identifies ecological and aesthetic features and values that is in the public interest to preserve.
Importantly for existing property owners permissible land-use stayed much the same, whether called rural residential or E4.
The consultants confined themselves to a narrow check-list on terrestrial habitat suitable for endangered species and ecological communities. But, according to the dissenting councillors, they did not include the conservation value of riparian zones like the Yass River corridor, or a holistic view of intact flora and fauna, endangered or not, or community amenity like views and other aesthetics.
The proposed rezoning flies in the face of regional planning objectives to minimise fragmentation where there is remnant native vegetation and other remnant natural assets like riparian zones that can all link up. This is the essence of zoning a whole district not block by block.
Why propose R5?
The mystery deepens given publicly-stated objectives of the anti-E4 group. That often mentioned fears about losing unrestricted stock grazing. In fact extensive grazing is allowed under E4 but requires a development application under R5.
Is future subdivision then the sub-text? Or, as many have speculated, is there a political/ ideological distaste for a name that suggests government protection for the environment?
Councillor Hicks revealed to the December 2017 council, “fear of development is why we have E4”.
What the councillor majority signed up to in May does not entail an immediate change to minimum block size or community density. Staff noted that therefore there are no immediate road, water, waste or other council management issues.
That leaves a complex and costly rezoning exercise that will affect many unsuspecting community members, and may, as one dissenting councillor noted, end up pleasing nobody after the big expenditure. Why?
The backstory on how and why a special interest group can leverage its relationship with two councillors, Hicks and Schweikert, to attain majority council votes, and start a $100,000 consultancy to attend to their concerns, is considered here.