'Common sense' decision becomes $50k nightmare
RELIEF, but with a "$50,000 hole in the pocket", is how a Mothar Mt couple have described their successful appeal against a decision by the Gympie Regional Council over reconfiguring their property.
Cleaved in two by Cullinane Rd, Lee and Colleen Wason had originally applied to the council to split their 48ha lot into north and south blocks, but after being tabled in July last year the application was rejected in September.
While the road was the Wason's reason for applying for the split, it was also the sticking point with the council, which denied the application in September last year to avoid fragmenting the property.
Mr Wason said it was a decision made against "common sense", as the land was already fragmented by the road.
"Blind Freddy can see that the road cuts it off," he said.
According to Mr Wason, assurances were given that there would be no problem with the application getting approval (with another property in similar circumstances in 2015 previously approved) and this had led the couple to put the southern block on the market.
However, with the application stuck in council, they were forced to take it off the market with an offer already made for it.
READ MORE: 'Sorry' on flip-flop as subdivision refused
Mrs Wason said yesterday they were relieved now that a decision had been made, but it should never have gone that far in the first place, at significant cost to both themselves and ratepayers.
"Something that should have taken a month has taken 14 months of stress," she said.
Even more frustrating, despite their success they still do not know if they will get their legal costs back.
"Because it wasn't a civil court, they said the costs don't automatically go to the winner," Mr Wason said.
While they are still exploring their options in that regard, Mr Wason said he was very happy to have received the support of Plansmart Development Solutions, in the initial application and subsequent appeal.
Plansmart is owned by former senior council staffer and Director of Planning Mike Hartley, who left the council in acrimonious circumstances.
Mr Wason said it was fortunate they had recently sold another house, as without the money from that sale they could not have afforded to challenge the council in court.
"We know a lot of people in exactly the same circumstances who want to get theirs put into two titles as well and they've been told no as well," Mrs Wason said.
According to the Planning Courts' decision, handed down by DCJ Everson, the application would not further fragment the land as it is "already physically fragmented such that there are many similar sized lots surrounding it".
Judge Everson also said the land was already of "insufficient size" to support commercial grazing, and any crop plantation would be unaffected by the change.
Splitting the lot would actually improve safety as having cattle cross between the two blocks was a "significant risk to motorists".
A council spokeswoman said she was not aware of Mr Wason being told his proposal was acceptable, but it was true similar applications had been approved by the previous council, but not the current one.
"Whilst it was determined in this case that the proposal could be supported, the subdivision results in fragmentation of good quality rural land," she said.
"Keeping this type of land together is viewed by council as an important key in driving our region's economic prosperity."
She added the case had "highlighted a known deficiency in council's planning scheme," and it was seeking to protect agricultural resources to comply with state government requirements.
The council does not yet have a total on the cost of the case, and the planning scheme is being reviewed to address this and other shortcomings, she said.
"It's important to note that prior to this case council has not lost an appeal to the Planning and Environment Court to the best of current staff's knowledge, but certainly in over 10 years."