Winds of change cause heartache in Cabarita
By ROXANNE MILLAR and ED SOUTHON
CABARITA was once the Tweed Coast's undiscovered jewel, a beachside paradise home to a small and close community linked to the north by one road.
But as the sea change phenomenon takes over and there is money to be made by developers cashing in on beachfront land, the town's sleepy feeling has erupted into anger.
AT the centre of the Cabarita community's anguish is a development proposal in its early stages for three parcels of land along the beachside Pandanus Parade.
Developers Resort Corp are building a luxury resort titled The Beach on the site of the old Cabarita Hotel on the south side of Pandanus Pde. They also want to build a luxury apartment and retail complex on the north side of the street.
This northern site is on land owned by the Tweed Shire Council, which has a long-standing covenant held by Resort Corp restricting use of the site to car parking. It also contains the Cabarita Surf Life Saving Club.
Resort Corp have offered to buy the Council land for more than $5 million and want to build the surf club a $2 million clubhouse at no charge to the club.
It is an offer that has infuriated locals and surf club members, who have decided to go ahead with their own plans to build a clubhouse.
The once-close community has been split by the issue, with few people prepared to speak out in support of it.
But Cath Lynch, secretary of the Cabarita Beach and Bogangar Residents Association, claims there is no merit whatsoever in the proposal to sell the council land, and is keen to be heard.
"Basically the residents are dead against it. We want to keep our open green space," Ms Lynch said.
"There isn't a lot of other land left along the Cabarita beachfront and so this is very valuable to us."
Ms Lynch has organised a protest tomorrow to show the Council that locals are against overdevelopment of the beachfront and the sale of the land.
She claims development of the car park will mean a loss of parking for beachgoers and that they will be forced to park in a multi-storey carpark to be constructed behind the main road.
"You are going to have families crossing the busy road to get there. It is a recipe for disaster."
Developers Resort Corp have been shaking their heads in frustration over claims like these, as "misinformation" spreads throughout the small community.
Director Paul Brinsmead said public car parks will be replaced and added to in the northern development if it goes ahead.
He said rumours they will close Pandanus Pde to traffic are false, but that they would like to beautify the street by keeping the parking and landscaping in the area. They have countered claims their northern development would deprive the community of green, open space.
"The land cannot be used legally or practically for any purpose other than a car park. Currently there is little, if any, green space and no views to the beach," he said.
"Our proposal allows Council and the community to create more usable public open space and a real village green. The new spaces can include Pandanus Pde, the upgraded foreshore and creation of a pocket park on Palm Ave."
Residents are sceptical. For some time Tweed coast residents have battled developers ripping up the beachfront. Mr Brinsmead said this was not their aim.
"It is frustrating and disappointing because I am from the Tweed and we want to make it a better place. It has got quite personal with attacks on me," he said.
"Lies circulate 10 times quicker than the truth .?.?. we should've been out there earlier with the information but we held back because Council said they wanted to get community feedback without input from us."
Resort Corp has decided to circulate a large brochure to all residents in the coming weeks to dispel what they see as rumours and lies.
Residents are still angry though. Ms Lynch said they had lost faith in the Council's due process in working with developers over this project.
Correspondence from the Council's general manager Dr John Griffin to Resort Corp (sighted by the Daily News) shows the two have been negotiating the sale of the land for almost two years, in return for Resort Corp building the free clubhouse.
Ms Lynch said the Council almost three years ago had prepared a draft precinct plan for Pandanus Pde showing the Council land would be sold.
And she said the Council had deferred a decision on a draft development control plan recommended by a community steering committee which would retain the Cabarita public land for open space, parking and beach access, until it decides whether to sell off the public land.
Council is controlled by a majority group of councillors including Cr Bob Brinsmead, whose son Paul owns Resort Corp.
This has further muddied the waters. However, Tweed Shire mayor Warren Polglase said the meetings Dr Griffin had held with developers, and the contentious letter, were normal process and that councillors had this week unanimously approved the appointment of a probity officer to overlook the process.
Adding to the land-sale confusion is Resort Corp's offer to build the Cabarita SLSC a $2 million clubhouse at no cost to the club. In return they want the right to develop half of the surf club's land to make way for restaurants and a tavern on the ground floor and resort apartments above the surf club. This would maximise the returns on their northern apartment-block plan.
Negotiations between Resort Corp and the surf club have been going on for years, but broke down some time ago due to a lack of communication. The surf club has since decided to build its own clubhouse with $500,000 promised from Tweed Shire Council, $200,000 from the NSW Sport and Recreation Department and other monies raised by the club.
Club president Patrick Raftery said they rejected the Resort Corp offer because of unresolved issues over the project's timeline, the suspected loss of their freehold title and the threat of noise complaints from the resort apartments.
Mr Brinsmead said they had tried to resolve these issues by ensuring the club would retain ownership of the land and stepping the apartments back.
"We were concerned there was a lack of genuineness in dealing with it though," Mr Brinsmead said.
Mr Raftery said they will reconsider Resort Corp's proposal if they do secure the land, but are otherwise planning to start construction in April.
Mr Brinsmead said they have not given up on negotiating with the surf club if they are able to buy the land, but are prepared to build the apartments without their involvement.
Cr Polglase has urged the surf club to reconsider, saying he would not support any more Council funding for the project if costs blow out.
"They could have $2 million and the other funds, a bankroll of $2.7 million or something and have the best surf club facilities in NSW."
The residents group has not become involved in the surf club debate, but a strong group of supporters have been trying to find a solution for the club.
It has become a bone of contention between the three parties. Cr Polglase has suggested much of its anguish and the negativity on the land sale is due to a small group of people trying to drive a wedge through Cabarita.
"I believe politics is involved in this and personalities have muddied the waters quite a lot," he said.
"Whatever way we go with the land we are not going to find unanimous support and the decision made by the Council will be with the good of the shire in mind."
Mr Brinsmead said much of the animosity between the landholders could be traced back to the Council election earlier in the year.
This was a bitter battle that led to community watchdog group Tweed Monitor's call for the NSW Electoral Commissioner to investigate the campaign funding for candidates who now make up the majority group of councillors.
The issue of the sale of the Council-owned land will come to a head next week when public submissions on the issue close. With a $5 million carrot dangling under its nose, the council has asked if the sale of the land is an opportunity too good to miss. It has pledged to pump the money from the land sale into improvement projects around the Shire.
Cr Polglase said responses so far had mostly been from Cabarita, but that in making its decision the Council would look at the big picture and consider the broader benefits of it.
"There is strong debate that if we don't do anything this always will be a car park and there will be no open green space," he said.
"The interesting point this has raised is that people want the benefits and the only way to get them is through developer contributions or looking at our assets. We can't raise taxes.
"Whatever way we go we are not going to find unanimous support, but you have got to rise above that and look at the outcome for every- body," Cr Polglase said.