Image: To place the site, the two roundabouts in the attached map are the roundabouts at the Mullum/Bruns Pacific Highway exit.
The Bruns Eco Village (BEV) crew had two open information days during August. A few people asked me my opinion so thought it best to do a whole blog on it. Lots of people turned up, standing room only, so it is certainly creating a bit of interest. This shows there is a lot of demand for alternative ways to live and cohabit in this area. This one is a bit different and has its pros … and cons.
1. The Idea
BEV wants to rezone approx. 105 acres of rural land into “Mixed Use”. These uses will include: medium density residential, market gardens, schools, healing centre and more. The land is on Saddle Road just outside of Brunswick Heads. The existing zoning of this land under the old LEP 1D (Under Investigation), which means it had the potential to be rezoned at some time in the future.
The plan is to provide permanent housing for the selected residents and an affordable rent with a strong, viable community. It also wants investors to invest in the various business activities associated with the community. It is structured to eliminate any property speculation and keep the focus on community building. In line with that they want to structure it under CLT – Community Land Trust, which is more common OS than here in Oz.
2. The Deal
Anyone wanting to participate will have to participate in a Village Development Program, which will cost $1000. Once you have completed this (5 weekends during the year), you are eligible to become a resident if you so choose. It will be a selection process and you cannot be selected unless you have done the course, which will provide the ground rules for community living.
There are three kinds of participants:
– Residents who pay a refundable bond and then pay rent
– Resident/investors who pay the bond and the rent as well as being an investor in the BEV business venture
– Investors who invest in the business but are not a residents
The refundable bond amount is at least $60,000 bond and you still pay rent. For example, a 2-bedroom unit will cost a redeemable bond of $70,000 and you pay $384 per week in rent plus a smaller monthly amount for management and maintenance. If you leave or die you get the bond back but no interest on it.
3. The Team
The main dude is Kelvin Daly who owns the land. He has been an organic/biodynamic farmer and a history in alternative building practices and affordable house design. Mullum solicitor Wroth Wall is doing the legalese with planner Rob Doolan doing the DA. Shane Sylvanspring is an ex-planner and a member of the Global Eco Village Network and is running the Village Development Program. David Jacobson is an architect with considerable experience communal living and sustainable housing.
It’s a very strong team with lots of experience in their chosen fields.
4. The Schedule
The Village Development Program will take a year. Applications to council will add another 18 months at least. Building will probably start sometime after that and be completed in stages. Therefore it is a long-term venture for anyone planning to be residents.
In Byron everyone has an opinion. There are also any number of people who will oppose anything. With this one the “Saddle Ridge Community Action Group” has popped up and they do make some fair points. Things like a difficult Geotech report, Aboriginal heritage, and soil toxicity. To me – not enough to knock it back. They have a Facebook page which you can see if interested, go FB and search for “Bruns Eco Village Sceptics”.
The main criticism I have is the developers are not doing any favours to the residents in terms of equity split. I understand and am supportive of people doing any venture, especially a risky one, for them to cover costs and make a profit. Even though I believe Mr Daly to have his heart in the right place – he is covering himself financially. They have valued the land and existing farmhouse at $8M, which they say is already heavily discounted. This would have to be the valuation after the rezoning and not at today’s prices. They have not factored in that the residents and investors are assisting in the rezoning.
The project’s main asset – not encouraging speculation – is also its main drawback – the residents walk away with no financial advantage at the end of the day. It will suit two types of people: those already with assets like a property and who would prefer to live here for community aspect, and people who have forgone any chance of future home ownership and happy to sub lease with no desire for future capital gain.
In the early 2000s, Byron Shire Council proposed an eco village rezoning plan across the shire in a number of locations. It was killed off by a strong NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) backlash. I thought at that time that the proposal was good and was sad to see it is buried. I don’t think this one is perfect but if anywhere can do some more adventurous planning it should be here in Byron Shire. Otherwise we are left with more “brick and tile” developments like Tallowood Estate and West Byron. Bring it on, even if it’s not perfect