Opposition to the Murrumbidgee Country Club’s longstanding plans to develop sections of its 18-hole golf course for medium density housing is growing with an overflow public meeting and a petition launched as a rezoning and change of lease proposal is considered by the planning authority.
Save our Green Spaces’ (SOGS) Susan Gray and organiser of Sunday’s meeting at the Urambi Village Community Centre, says the clubs’ plans will mean a loss of valuable green and community space that was public land.
She said Greens MLA Caroline Le Couteur attended the meeting and had offered to take up the issue with the Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate, particularly the club’s bid to deconcessionalise the lease.
“We are concerned that this issue is a Canberra-wide matter. Are Canberrans getting a fair go from government and its bureaucrats when it comes to how their local communities’ values are being protected?” she said.
A planning report prepared by Purdon Planning proposing the changes was lodged with the planning authority in March and is still being considered.
The club wants three parcels of land to be rezoned, from PRZ2 – Restricted Access Recreation Zone to residential, requiring a variation to the Territory Plan, and a change in the current concessional lease so it can build houses, town houses and units as part of plans to secure the club’s future.
The three sites are on Learmonth Drive (6.5ha), Drysdale Circuit (8500 square metres) and Kambah Pool Road (3.5ha), on Block 16 Section 7.
The planning report says Site 1 could provide 46 detached single dwelling blocks, an unspecified amount of multi-unit housing on Site 2, and up to 21 detached single dwelling blocks plus land suitable for multi-unit housing development on Site 3.
Purdon says the changes would not mean any reduction in playing holes and will generate revenue which will help the club improve its services and better maintain the golf course for its patrons.
It says a range of additional planning controls are proposed in response to concerns expressed by residents and members including that the Kambah Precinct Code be varied as part of the rezoning to incorporate restrictions on several aspects of future development including height, materials and finishes in order to protect amenity for local residents and the character of the suburb.
The Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate has told SOGS that the club will have to show there is an economic and social benefit to the community for the rezoning and change of lease to proceed and that it has consulted widely with the community.
But Ms Gray says the only winners from the changes will be the club, which stands to make windfall profits developing the land.
Although the Purdon report says the club has been extensively consulting the community, Ms Gray disputes this, saying any meetings had been organised by the community and that the club had overstated its engagement with the community and the level of support for the proposal.
But club president Dean Hills rejected SOGS’s claims and said the group had refused to engage with the club until recently, unlike other community groups such as Urambi Village that had had full input into the rezoning proposal.
“They are very happy with the proposal because it actually backs everything that the community wants,” he said.
“At the end of the day this isn’t a profit thing, this is to keep the golf course alive and going.”
Mr Hills said the SOGS claims were incorrect, saying the club lease was not “ Public Open Space” but “Restricted access recreational” and as such, was private property. However, since inception, the club had shared access with the local community.
“Unlike other development projects, Murrumbidgee has since 2013, when the initial feasibility study was undertaken, engaged with its members and the local community to seek a mutually satisfactory social and economic outcome before any application was lodged. In April 2018, the application for rezoning of the proposed areas was lodged along with comprehensive environmental, social, heritage, and traffic reports.Discussions between Urambi representatives and MCC in February 2018 agreed on a number of suggestions to improve access for adjoining Urambi village residents. Input from local residents has also resulted in the Club agreeing to height and single storey restrictions to protect views, and reduced density to allow for parklands and recreational trails within the proposed development.
“This clearly shows our commitment to the local community,” Mr Hill said.
However, the Secretary of the Urambi Village Owners Corporation Martin Miles rejected any notion that Urambi was on board, saying the village did not have a fixed position on the club’s proposal and that at its recent AGM a motion was passed noting the Kambah community’s growing opposition to the proposal.
The motion states that Urambi Village endorses the following statement:
“There is a strong body of opinion in Urambi Village opposed to the MCC’s proposal to sell public land which has been leased to the club for recreational purposes. The club has not demonstrated that it needs the funds which would flow from the sale of public land and has declined to outline the uses to which it would put the funds.
“Urambi notes the strong and building sentiment in the wider Kambah community against the proposal.
“Urambi notes the deconcessionalisation proposal of the Golf Club involves an important public principle.
“The meeting requires the Executive Committee to closely monitor the situation and should the circumstances arise, empowers it to respond noting the discussion at the AGM today and to quickly engage the Urambi community for this purpose.”
Ms Gray said the community was not concerned about the Kambah Pool Road site, which did not abut any established housing, but the other two would mean a loss of green space and visual amenity for nearby residents.
“The impact on the community around those two sites is going to be huge,” she said.
“On the corner of Learmonth Drive and Bateman Street is a dam, a children’s park and a lovely vista across the mountains. A lot of people from that local community walk around that area. The walking track is so well used. They’ll lose that.”
She said the club’s business plan was flawed, as the housing proposal would yield only a one-off injection of capital, and was not an ongoing strategy to produce a sustainable income into the future.
“They should be looking at their business model and considering site three,” Ms Gray said.
The planning report says the initial plans for the sites had been amended in response to community and member concerns.
The Learmonth site was reduced in area to allow for parklands and walking trails for community use, while the Drysdale site will include a permanent access to the rear of Urambi Village to address present access issues. The report says heritage walking trails and storm water engineering within the surrounds will not be compromised.
With the Kambah Pool Road site adjacent to the MCC driving range, any development applications would need to take account of the impact on the existing driving range and golf facilities and would require separate member approval.
Ms Gray said SOGS was also concerned that the club had offered members options to bid on the first blocks of land for $5000. About 20 people are believed to have taken up the offer.
Mr Hill said these were in fact, non-refundable options taken by supporters of the project to fund the application.