It was once a thriving timber yard right next to the railway line in the heart of Mullumbimby, with houses opposite and a fine old corner pub to slake the timber workers' thirsts, but in 1964 the timber yard closed down, and gradually the land was taken over by council chambers and a car park at one end, the preschool at the other, with a big open space in between.
Byron Shire Council has now dedicated this land in Station Street as the site of its first affordable housing development, with the possibility of other community or commercial uses, and last Monday locals were invited on site to have their say.
“Currently there are about 1500 families paying too much for rental,” said the council's consultant on affordable housing Dr Judy Stubbs, “as well as many people living out of town in need of smaller, more manageable dwellings.”
Dr Stubbs said the council was looking at three options for the site: a mixture of residential and commercial development, since the site is zoned 3A commercial; residential alone, which would require rezoning; and something fully or partly for seniors' housing.
“We want your feedback,” Dr Stubbs told those assembled, “because we know that in the past decisions were made where people felt not involved.”
Toni Appleton, from Social Habitat, the designers working on the project, also addressed the gathering to talk site measurements, water tables, fig trees, drainage, car park spaces, height of proposed buildings above ground level and the implications.
After the talks, it was time for the residents, who gathered in animated groups to have their say, to write their thoughts on butchers paper, draw their dreams, or stick on stars to indicate their priorities.
“We're going for the community health aspect,” said director of the adjacent Mullumbimby preschool Dianne Davison, “putting in a request for a baby health centre and all the area health services that will go once the hospital goes.
“If housing goes in we would need to be sure of our privacy, but we would prefer the site be left for community health and some services for the elderly.”
One Mullumbimby resident very concerned about the impact of any development is Cathy Pink, who lives in Station Street, directly opposite the site.
“I'm worried about floodwaters,” she said.
“Last time it flooded, the water was up over my veranda, and if they build up this site it will only make it worse.”
As sausages and tofu sizzled on the barbecue, people got busy with coloured markers to fill sheets of butchers' paper with a variety of requests and concerns: 32 units on two levels, a retirement village, replace the non-native trees, consult the Bundjalung people, and name the development after the Hollingworth family who founded the timberyard, were just some of the suggestions.
Commercial development got a big thumbs down, although one person thought “perhaps a tiny shop” would be nice.
And over on the stars board, people overwhelmingly stuck their stars on 'Provide as much affordable rental housing as possible', with 'Use best environmental designs to be as green as possible' a close second.
One resident, a Mullumbimby local born and bred, felt he had the perfect solution to the crisis in both affordable and aged accommodation.
“Mullumbimby badly needs a retirement village,” said Terry Johnson.
“Yet so many houses have just one lady living in them, struggling with the upkeep. If you built a retirement village for them to move into it would free up all those three-bedroom houses for families.”
Over at the drawing table, Di McKee outlined her dream of the affordable housing she has been after for so long, while young Sophie Askill and Georgia Conechado got busy with the textas, designing a botanical garden, complete with play areas, seating, pathway and duck pond.
Dr Judith Stubbs can be contacted on email@example.com
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