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Another controversial Kurrajong development gets green light 

Jul 25, 2023

The Land and Environment Court has given the green light to local property developer Matthew Bennett’s ambitious plan to transform the Kurrajong Bark Park into a multi-functional development, a decision that has divided the community.

Last month Bennett, the partner of Hawkesbury City Council the local Mayor, Sarah McMahon, had another win when the NSW Planning Panel said it would not block his attempts to subdivide a swathe of Kurrajong into 330sqm blocks for his Tallowood 2 development.

The development application for the Bark Park project was submitted to Hawkesbury City Council on 10 October 2022. It does not mention any connection to Cr McMahon. The application claims that the applicant and owner (Steve He) has no relationship with any council staff or councillors involved in assessing the proposal. Bennett is managing and promoting the development and his business partner, Steve Guo Ting He (Steve He), the owner of BLR1823 Pty Ltd, the company that purchased the Kurrajong Bark Park site in February 2020.

An artists impression of part of the new development.

A “YES” response to the question on affiliations was not provided, which, if disclosed, would have required the application to be assessed by the Hawkesbury Local Planning Panel instead of council staff. 

On previous occasions Cr McMahon has declared an interest on matters including this land and the Tallowood development. 

The approved development application (DA 0351/22) outlines an extensive project that includes a child care centre, a veterinary hospital, a hospital with day surgery and health consulting rooms, and two separate dog parks on the 5.13-hectare site located at 10-16 Old Bells Line of Road, Kurrajong. The projected cost for this development on the recently cleared site is reported to be $7,542,497.00. 

You can access the DA here: 

https://hawkesbury-web.t1cloud.com/T1PRDefault/WebApps/eProperty/P1/eTrack/eTrackApplicationDetails.aspx?r=HCC.PR.WEBGUEST&f=%24P1.ETR.APPDET.VIW&ApplicationId=DA0351%2f22

Recently, the site was cleared under the auspices of the Rural Boundary Clearing Code – even though it is not deemed a bushfire risk. The Code was controversially adopted by the HCC after being created for councils west of the mountains. The HCC is the only council in the Sydney Basin to adopt the code. The development has also benefitted from delayed planning rules and has met opposition from the community, many of whom don’t believe it fits with the rural village atmosphere of Kurrajong. 

“…the proposal seems to be out of character with the suburb in the sense that Kurrajong is a small village and the Developer wishes to place a Commercial precinct at the entrance to the village thus diminishing the quality of the country atmosphere we enjoy,” local residents Charles and Kim Rickards wrote in a submission objecting to the DA. 

Another was in support of the proposal; “This project will be a huge benefit to the village and the area. I run the vets on the site and our current building is about to fall down,” Dr Nick Hobson said.

The development application was submitted before the introduction of the revised Local Environmental Plan (LEP) and Development Control Plan (DCP), both of which were subject to contentious delays by the Council. The proposed development, including the hospital component, falls within an area zoned RU1. The new LEP would have prohibited a hospital but the development proceeded before the new controls were introduced, raising questions about the timing of the approval process.

At a meeting of 23 November 2021 Cr McMahon, Cr Patrick Conolly and Cr Tiffany Tree voted against the LEP progressing to the next stage of the approval process. At the time Cr McMahon did not declare any conflict of interest. Ultimately they lost that vote.

But just two months later three of Cr McMahon’s Liberal Party colleagues including then Mayor Conolly lodged a Rescission Motion which effectively overturned the November decision and ultimately delayed the LEP progressing. However, this time Clr McMahon declared a conflict of interest in that meeting citing her partner had been on a Hawkesbury Council reference group but had resigned. To date the LEP has not yet been adopted. Had it proceeded as resolved in November 2021 it would likely be operational today.

The Kurrajong Kurmond Investigation Study (KKIA) also played a role in the development’s progression. The study emphasized the importance of preserving views and vistas, which were included in the DCP. However, at a Council meeting on 22 November 2022, Cr Conolly moved to adopt the DCP, with the exclusion of clauses referencing views and vistas, paving the way for the development, and others to proceed without such restrictions. This was passed by seven votes to four. Cr Eddie Dogramaci was absent.

Despite the controversies surrounding the development, the Land and Environment Court last week granted approval. The project is expected to stir ongoing debates among residents, council members, and stakeholders, as they grapple with the balance between development and preserving the essence of Kurrajong and its surrounds.

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