By LYDIA WATSON-MOORE
A state government decision to rezone recreational land in Bondi has sparked fierce council and community outrage.
The Wellington Street site currently houses several tennis courts, but after a successful development application from its owners, the site will be rezoned for residential apartments.
Waverley Mayor Sally Betts has vowed to fight the Department of Planning’s decision and said that this was the wrong decision for the community.
“This is a slap in the face for Waverley and our residents, as their views have been completely ignored,” she told City Hub.
Clr Betts said Waverley was already adequately housed and that recreational space was a community need.
“Waverley is the most densely populated municipality in Australia. And we don’t have enough open space to cater to our population,” she said.
The application was made by former owners Sports Properties Pty Ltd, and the current owners, the Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe (FREE), have welcomed the decision.
The group’s spokesperson Rabbi Yoram Ulman said the decision was “just” and the department had acted professionally.
“At last, after five and a half years of trying to get a positive decision concerning this 0.4 hectare piece of land, we have a decision that allows it to have identical zoning,” he said.
Rabbi Ulman said that while the group were disappointed with the council’s stance, they were willing to hold discussions with council about “potential common ground”.
“We would like to reassure council that FREE’s key objective in dealing with this site is not inconsistent with broader community objectives,” he said.
However, other community representatives told City Hub that the decision was “disappointing” and “illogical”.
Vaucluse MP Gabrielle Upton expressed her disappointment with the state’s decision, and said that this was one of few recreational spaces in the area.
“The loss of amenity for the local community will have an irreversible impact on our local area where open space is scarce,” she said in a statement.
“I will continue to fight to ensure that my local community has a strong voice on planning matters.”
Clr Betts noted that the controversial Bronte RSL DA, which was appealed to the state government earlier this year, was rejected as Waverley had already met its housing targets.
“It stands to reason 105 Wellington Street is not required to contribute additional housing stock…the rezoning decision by the Department of Planning has no merit and makes no sense.”
Local community representatives agreed, with action group Rescue Bondi taking to social media with outrage.
Rescue Bondi spokesperson David Gravina said the decision had no case to support it.
“Waverley has already met its housing quota, it’s already done its bit, so there isn’t even any housing argument that stands up to any scrutiny here,” he told City Hub.
A statement released by the Department of Planning indicated that the decision was unanimously reached by the Independent Sydney East Joint Regional Planning Panel.
The statement said that rezoning made the site “consistent with existing residential buildings in the surrounding area”.
However, Mr Gravina called this argument “absurd” and said open space provided needed relief in dense housing.
“Surely the point of having open space and recreation in between residential zoning is to provide for it, otherwise you may as well make the entire state residential. It’s ludicrous,” he said.
“I cannot see the logic in saying you should rezone open space to matching the surrounding area. It’s totally illogical.”
Mr Gravina said that the decision was made without community consultation or first hand knowledge of the area.
“We have a planning ministry who are just looking at paper documents, not coming out to the community to talk to them, not engaging in the council process or hearing first hand what is happening,” he said.
Mr Gravina said before their closure by the current owners, the tennis courts had been commonly used by local residents.
“They were very popular. There’s very few tennis courts in the area, and a severe lack of tennis facilities.”
A council spokesperson told City Hub that a council representative had met with members of the FREE group but had made no agreement.
“Waverley Council’s Director of Waverley Futures met with the FREE group recently to discuss the Wellington Street site. No decision was reached at the meeting.”
Clr Betts told City Hub that Waverley Council will now consider buying the property from FREE and seek to rezone the site back from R3 Medium Density.
“We have already met with the applicants to discuss council purchasing the property and may now have to consider our own rezoning application and compulsory acquisition,” Clr Betts said.
Mr Gravina said that it would be “fantastic” if Waverley Council could acquire the land.
“This issue is just totally black and white, and we’re all on the same side of this issue because it’s so clear cut. It’s just appalling,” he said.
Mr Gravina said Rescue Bondi would be running a campaign through RescueBondi.good.do to lobby the Planning Department to reverse the decision.
Council voted on July 21 to investigate purchasing the land for its own rezoning.