The pond at the Grafton Tourist Information Centre in South Grafton.
The pond at the Grafton Tourist Information Centre in South Grafton.

VISITORS CENTRE: Councillors call off the lawyers

COUNCIL will no longer seek to put themselves in the position of processing their own rezoning application.

Clarence Valley Council staff had recommended they seek legal advice over the unusual move to rezone land the former Visitor Information Centre sits on in South Grafton – land which they own.

After several attempts to sell the land resulted in offers considerably lower that what Council believed it was worth, staff have suggested land be rezoned from SP3 Tourist to B5 Business Development.

During the council meeting questions were raised by Cr Karen Toms over why legal advice on the process of a rezoning application was needed when they knew what the process was already.

READ MORE: Bizarre twist in visitor information centre saga

“If we feel that perhaps we shouldn’t be doing it ourselves because we are getting the benefit, why spend (the money) on legal advice?” she said.

“Why not just put it to an adjoining council … so that it is at arms length?”

The general manager Ashley Lindsay agreed and said from a governance perspective it should be done by an independent party.

However, his suggestion that council engage a consultant was met with trepidation from Ms Toms who worded an amendment to ensure an “independent professional” would be sought to keep the process was “at arms length”.

“I would be happy to get another council (to do it) because there are people who say (Council) could get (their) own consultant in there,” she said.

Director of environment, planning and community Des Schroder assured councillors the final decision would be made by the State Government.

It was not the first time council has been in this position, with councillor Andrew Baker confirming with Mr Lindsay that they had “swung either way” on the issue before.

Clarence Valley Councillor Andrew Baker.
Clarence Valley Councillor Andrew Baker.

But Mr Baker said it would be irresponsible for councillors to press ahead with a sale while it wasn’t “attractive to the market”, something that would most likely change with a commercial rezoning.

And not only would they be letting down the community by not getting the best price, there was a chance the increase in land value brought about by a rezoning would end up elsewhere.

“Then of course a couple of months later, we would see the happy buyer come in with a rezoning application – which should have to be dealt with on its merits – where they would increase the value of the property for their benefit.”

“This is about getting the most benefit for the Clarence Valley Council.”

The decision to rezone the land brings the finale of the long running VIC saga ever closer and council have stated in the past that many of the offers on the land already would have been not permissible under the current zoning.

The motion to reject the current offer on the land and seek an independent professional to prepare their rezoning application was approved.

Arthur Lysaught, Karen Toms, Richie Williamson, Jim Simmons, Debrah Novak, Andrew Baker and Peter Ellem voting for it and Greg Clancy against. Jason Kingsley was absent.