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Land Use & Assets Committee Meeting & the Services Committee Meeting.  Absent: Mayor Iskandar, Clrs O’Sullivan, Kontellis, Hanna & Thanos.  The sound was almost perfect & the gallery could hear well. It was wonderful when the minutes were made full-screen as this allowed the gallery to read what was being recorded & keep up with what was being debated. Thanks for that as well.  As usual, all mistakes are mine.

The DA for the old Marrickville RSL site on Illawarra Road was postponed until next week’s Council Meeting. As Clr Macri is a member of the Joint Regional Planning Panel he has a conflict of interest in the item. He would have to absent himself, which would leave insufficient Councillors in attendance to make a quorum.

Local Traffic Planning & Advisory Committee – Regional Cycleway Route 5 –  Council

Beautiful old Brush Box casts a shadow across the road

has 2 options for the route from Victoria Road Marrickville to Cooks River path at Mackey Park.   In Fitzroy Street they plan for either a bike/parking lane or a protected 2-way cycle lane, which will result in loss of 62 parking spaces.  In Carrington Road they plan to have a 2-way cycle path losing 17 parking spaces. This will be exhibited for public consultation.

2 residents from Fitzroy Street spoke against the proposal saying 20 residents had met regarding the plans. Issues were: loss of parking, high volume traffic, parking needed for businesses, Marrickville Bowling Club & residential housing. They said Sydney Street had lots of double-parked trucks, as there were no off-street loading docks & the gutter was 3-4 feet deep in water when it rained. They suggested a shared pedestrian/bike footpath instead.

Clr Olive moved to defer & take back to the Traffic Committee who should consult with local bike group MASSBUG, saying problems could be fixed before the plan was exhibited for public consultation.  He outlined a number of suggestions for other areas along the proposed route. Clrs Byrne, Phillips, Macri supported the motion. Clr Tsardoulias said he wouldn’t as these issues could be dealt with after community feedback when the plan is exhibited.  Carried.

Dulwich Hill Local Area Traffic Management Scheme – 1 resident spoke about the plans

Trees on a garden island bed in Tempe

for Yule Street saying she has been in contact with Council for 3 years regarding speeding traffic & although assured this would be addressed, found that no traffic calming measures have been included in the new plans despite Council acknowledging vehicles speed 7kms above the limit here. She said there is a bike path here & 2 schools nearby & the street needed traffic calming devices.

2 residents spoke about the round-about at Ewart Street. One brought in a large diagram that allowed her to clearly show the multiple problems facing this pedestrian crossing.  They said large numbers of children use this pedestrian crossing to travel to 3 schools, a local park & a nearby skate park & it was a very dangerous crossing.  The community wanted Council to install speed cushions at all 3 entries to the round-about, add signage, flashing lights, warning bumps & a raised marked zebra crossing.

After discussion about the cost of raised pedestrian crossings & issues of roadside drainage, the Council will look at meeting the requests of the community regarding the pedestrian crossing & the round-about on Ewart Street & to install angle parking & other calming measures in Yule Street.

Camden Street Enmore – request to reduce length of ‘no stopping’ zone – A resident spoke saying this is a high traffic street with lots of congestion & regular gridlocks. He said there was no community consultation & Council’s recommendation does not address safety issues. Clr Wright moved to defer for community consultation with a view to making Camden a 1-way street. Clr Olive was concerned as he thought people drove faster in 1-way streets.  Carried.

Inner West Light Rail Feasibility Study – A resident spoke against the study saying the

Beautiful old Camphor Laurel on Glebe Point Road

overall consultation process “was appalling” & his local Member has not responded to his communication.  He was very concerned about the placement of Waratah Station as the platform is 15 metres from his back garden & worried about noise, loss of privacy & security, increased traffic especially ‘kiss & ride’ traffic. He said there were 3 stations in close proximity to each other & the Greenway detour should go along Victoria Street instead.

Clr Wright said Council didn’t made the decision where stations would be placed & put forward a resolution to ask the state government whether there is a need for so many stations in such close proximity & ask them to revisit the bike path between Davis & Canterbury Road to see if it can be kept within the light rail corridor.  Carried.

Proposed Parking Management Study – Council recommended a budget allocation of 300,000 to undertake a LGA-wide parking study, the money to be taken from Section 94 reserves & Car Parking.   Clr Wright was against waiting for the study & thought work should be done in areas so Council has results.  Clr Olive was against spending so much money on a parking study.  He asked that raised pedestrian crossings be the standard in Marrickville LGA & the feasibility of this was discussed at length.  Essentially, the cost of raised crossings can be significantly higher if storm water drainage is not in-situ. Outcome was that raised crossings is the preferred model & done where costs aren’t prohibitive. Carried.

Sale of part of Crescent Lane – T.J Andrews Funeral Services wanted to buy part of the lane for parking of funeral cars & the organization of corteges. The area has been fenced off & inaccessible for more than 20 years. Carried.

All other items carried without discussion.  Meeting ended.

Next was the Services Committee Meeting.

Coptic Church – Council recommended inviting expressions of interest from parties

Gorgeous row of street trees in Livingstone Road Marrickville

willing to renovate the building for use as an artists studio/gallery, performance space, general community facility, including place of worship.

Clr Olive wanted Council to prepare a business plan to take over the building for use as artist studio space for rent & to do this concurrently while seeking expressions of interest. Staff advised it would be poor practice for Council to take this approach. Clr Wright wouldn’t support doing this concurrently, but would support if no suitable expressions of interest were received.

Clr Peters noted the many discrepancies in costing assessments in the repair quote. (The last quote was $2.288 million) Clr Macri said the plan for Council to spend such a large amount of money for 30 artists to pay rent “revolted” him & he would put up a rescission motion if it got up. Carried. Clrs Macri, Wright & Tsardoulias against.

Henry Tax Review & Housing Affordability – Clr Macri said he didn’t believe some of the factors in the report saying he thought it was due to a lack of supply & there wasn’t a need for a broadbase tax.  He said some of the aspects in the report will remove incentive for people to invest in rental housing. Clr Phillips disagreed with Clr Macri saying there were many other factors such as stamp duty which stops older people from moving into smaller homes, that the current taxation was encouraging people to become 1st home owners & the answer was not to pull down heritage buildings & erect apartments.  Carried with Clr Macri against.

This is the end of this week’s report.

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Services Committee Meeting: The Coptic Church in Sydenham. Council’s report is recommending it be demolished.  3 members of the community addressed the Councillors, petitioning to not recommend demolition.

The Marrickville Heritage Society was represented by Lorraine Beach. She spoke about the history of the church saying it was established in 1884 functioning as a Methodist Church for 100 years. The congregation in 1901 built the current church & it became home to the first Coptic Church in the late 60s.  She said the church was an asset that belonged to the whole community & is also an important link to both our history & a suburb that was obliterated by the 3rd runway. She asked Councillors to either reject demolition outright, write to Minister Albanese asking him to provide funding, do a wider community consultation & go ahead with an expression of interest campaign.  You can read her speech by clicking on the following link –  Lorraine-Beach-Address-to-Council-11-05-10 As always with my pdf docs, the last page comes first, so start at page 2 if you are reading it.

partial view of Sydenham's Coptic Church building

The second resident said the land was in the care of Council who have spent so much money towards its destruction, but no money to save it as it has been left to rot for the past 10 years.  He cited City of Sydney Council keeping its churches & asked the community be given time to save the church. He was very passionate in his concern that this church be kept for the community.

The 3rd to speak was an Anglican Bishop who said he had approached Council for a long-term lease & has been waiting for 2 years to speak to Council to indicate interest.  He thought $2.3 million was an over-estimate to restore the church & asked Council to take tenders & let the community restore it.  His advice from consulting with a construction business was that it could be restored for less than what it would cost to buy a house in the area.

window of Coptic Church Sydenham

Chair Clr Macri said he felt uncomfortable making a decision with so many Councillors being absent.  He then listed that Council had deemed the building a health risk which would cost a lot to repair, it was still sacred land & Council intended to acknowledge this with a memorial, community consultation has been performed, the state government can’t help financially & the current LEP says the building cannot be used as a church.

Clr Olive said he believed it should be retained for community use & he wasn’t elected to demolish a heritage building.  He moved a further motion to replace the tile roof with corrugated iron, replace the glass & delete the need for a lift. Staff advice cautioned about possible contravention of discrimination laws that impose accessibility obligations.  Clr Olive said it does not need to be a community building, it could be used as studio space for artists & musicians.  The upstairs studios would not have access to those with access issues & we could comply with accessibility by ensuring downstairs was accessible.  He also suggested the building be removed from Council’s Community Services to Major Projects or Technical Services.

Clr Macri said he thought the decision should be deferred & Council could look at the Bishop’s proposal.

broken windows of Sydenham's Coptic Church

Clr Phillips said he did not support demolishing the building, as there were strong arguments to keep it & it was a significant building & structurally sound.  He said he was happy to maintain it until the person with money came along & said he would like to see expressions of interest & explore options about the lift.  He thought Council had set the bar too high & no one can meet it.

Clr Byrne said she didn’t want to see the building demolished, but said Council does need to keep its obligations regarding disability & accessibility.  Clr Wright supported revisiting the issue in 2 months & supported the church groups who have consistently shown interest to resubmit.  She suggested a scaled-down version of renovations, but couldn’t support not complying with accessibility requirements.

Clr O’Sullivan supported the 2-month deferral saying the church has been one of the political stories of this Council. She said she had studied the papers back to 2006 & it is a record of stalled decisions & Councillors needed to “bite the bullet.”  She said the key issue was legislative context & Council’s responsibilities as owner or lessor.  Concerned that some may think, if they get a lease, Council will be absolved of all responsibilities & there was a distinct lack of clarity about the real issues. She said we need a realistic proposal, but was concerned when Council would have the sort of money needed for renovation. She said she valued the church & agreed with the Marrickville Heritage Society.

A man from the Gallery asked if the church roof could be fixed as it has been leaking for 8 years.

Clr Marci suggested 2-month deferral, looking at a scaled-down proposal & to hear everyone’s point of view.  Clr Olive’s motion was lost.

Clr Olive put up a second motion to write to the Federal Government, remove the responsibility for the church into Major Projects & get a further report on feasibility for use as studio, performance space or general community facility.

someone still cares for this church by painting the crosses & the sign on the entrance gate

Clr O’Sullivan was against this motion because it excluded use by a church.  Clr Phillips asked staff if there were restrictions when Council was granted control over the church saying he assumed they still applied. He suggested writing to the government to ask these restrictions be removed allowing the church to be lessors.  The Director said the current LEP restricts use as a place of worship & the new Draft LEP carries this on.  Clr Macri asked that consideration be given to allow use as a place of worship in the Draft LEP.

Clr Wright said she couldn’t support the motion if churches are not included & was uncomfortable deciding to put the building into Major Projects. Clr Byrne said she wanted the building retained & used as a functioning part of Sydney’s community. She moved an amendment that uses include a place of worship. She also said the more a decision is delayed, the more we are demolishing this building by neglect.  Seconded by Clr Wright.

The GM advised voting on assignment of responsibilities was beyond the councillor’s power.  He said the Councillors role is to charge staff with the work & staff decide which unit is assigned responsibility.

Clr Macri said Council needed the help of the community to restore the building & that Clr Byrne’s amendment allows religious groups to be users.  Clr Olive said he wanted the building to go into Major Projects because we have gone over this many times without outcome.

The amended motion was passed.  As I understand the outcome, Council will do a report looking at the extent of renovation needed to fulfil statutory requirements & put out an expression of interest to the community.  The meeting had another couple of agenda items, but I left.

The University of Tasmania have just completed a 3 year nation-wide study as to why some people prefer a leafy front garden while others don’t. Interestingly, tertiary educated people preferred trees & the higher the  income, the more trees. http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/05/03/2888948.htm

An unusual story of public tree removal in Newport:  The Cumberland Courier reported that an unspecified number of trees & scrub has been removed from Barenjoey Road by Pittwater Council. Residents requested the trees be removed saying the trees were not native & removing them would open up the area to ocean views from North Newport. http://cumberland-courier.whereilive.com.au/news/story/trees-removed-barrenjoey-views-restored/

Pittwater Council’s Natural Environment Reference Group has submitted a plan to have all new DAs required to maintain wildlife corridors across their land. This would also include retaining dead trees, as these are especially important for providing homes for a variety of wildlife.  The new plan specifically targets the protection of Green-&-Gold Bell Frogs, Swift Parrots, Squirrel Gliders, Southern Brown Bandicoots & (would you believe they are even there) Koalas.  Any DA will also be required to plant more trees & wildlife sustaining landscaping. http://manly-daily.whereilive.com.au/news/story/protection-plan-for-endangered-animals/

Mid April 2010 North Sydney Council decided to explore the idea of replanting garden beds in parks & reserves with vegetables. http://cumberland-courier.whereilive.com.au/news/story/councillors-dig-vegie-patch-idea/

North Sydney Council stopped mowing verges early 2009, but after complaints from residents, they will now do a one-off mow at the cost of $58,000. They also intend to reinstate verge mowing by the end of 2010.

Just as an aside, I was told Marrickville Council spends about $2 million per year mowing our verges.  Makes me wonder what that that money could be used for if we just mowed our own & our neighbours if they didn’t have a mower.  $2 million could repair the Coptic Church in Sydenham for history’s sake & for community use or it could buy a lot of street & park trees amongst many other things. I saw a sign in Catherine Street Leichhardt yesterday that read something like – ‘2.3 million dollar footpath upgrade.’ Or we could just grow veggie or flower gardens on our verges.   http://cumberland-courier.whereilive.com.au/news/story/nature-strips-to-be-mowed-soon/

Energy Australia has angered the community once again by ‘butchering’ 2 large trees in Allambie Heights shopping centre. http://manly-daily.whereilive.com.au/news/story/locals-angry-over-allambie-tree-butchery/

An 18 metre high Port Jackson Fig tree with a canopy spreading about 15 metres listed on the Significant Tree Register of City of Sydney Council was removed last month due to extensive rot.  It was part of a row of Figs in Joynton Aveneue Zetland.  The lost tree will be replaced by a mature Port Jackson Fig. http://cumberland-courier.whereilive.com.au/news/story/urgent-removal-of-fig-tree-in-zetland/

City of Sydney Council has joined with Marrickville Council in formally opposing the M5 extension that will go through Tempe Reserve, over Tempe Wetlands & terminate at Euston Road at Sydney Park. Terrific news. http://sydney-central.whereilive.com.au/news/story/sydney-council-formally-opposes-m5-extension/

It will be interesting to learn how the trial at removing smog in the M5 during March went. http://cumberland-courier.whereilive.com.au/news/story/m5-pollution-trial/

A home up for sale in the Brisbane suburb of Mackenzie incurred $20,000 damage after the front garden was excavated & 10 Palm trees stripped down by unknown workers who fled when people came to watch.  It is thought they were working on the wrong property. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/australiaandthepacific/australia/7685319/Australian-workmen-dig-up-wrong-garden.html

Finishing the ongoing story about the trees in the carpark of Walmart in Henderson Tennessee that were savagely pruned recently, Walmart have been ordered to replace 100 of the Elm trees. This will cost them around US$25,000. http://www.wkrn.com/Global/story.asp?S=12213247

row of trees along a footpath in Birchgrove

The Land Use, Assets & Corporate Committee Meeting & the Service Committee Meeting was held on 13th April.  I stayed only for the first meeting.  Councillor Thanos was absent.  The following is my take on the meeting & all mistake are mine.

1.       Local traffic planning – 2 issues were discussed in detail.  3 residents addressed Council regarding a development affecting Wilford Lane Newtown.   Link Construction Group Pty Ltd are constructing a building at 63 – 71 Enmore Road Newtown. The speakers complained about a heap of problems such as noise, dust, multiple incidents of damage to private property, potholes, rubbish, blocking of access & abuse from builders.

walk way in Tempe Reserve

A privacy wall that the DA said was to remain was knocked down & not replaced. Also contrary to the DA a green space was removed.  3 metres of land that was reclaimed by Marrickville Council was paved over, making it appear to be private rather than Council property.

The developer has been fined 10 times at a total of $30,000 & the residents say that Council could be booking the builders for violations on a daily basis.

Chair Clr Mary O’Sullivan said this was an acute & serious issue & all Councillors mirrored this sentiment.  They will meet asap with residents & bring back the results to the next Council meeting.

In the second issue a resident spoke passionately against allowing a request from the Roads & Traffic Authority (RTA) to Marrickville Council to give them a substantial parcel of Sydenham Green for The RTA to create another lane on Railway Road Sydenham heading towards the intersection of the Princes Hwy.  The RTA say the extra lane will make it easier for trucks & other vehicles to leave Railway Road & enter the Hwy.  Of course it will, but it will also encourage more trucks to use this route through Marrickville LGA.  The resident who spoke said as far as he was concerned, there was too much traffic & far too many trucks in this area.

The area of land the RTA have their eye on is from the Princes Hwy to the Coptic Church built in 1884.  13 healthy trees on park land would need to be chopped down.  Councillors voted to deny the request from the RTA.

2.         The Metropolitan Strategy Review 2036 Discussion Paper was briefly discussed.  This is a large document, which I have yet to read.

3.         Metropolitan Transport Plan – Most discussion concentrated on the Greenway.  Marrickville Council is concerned that 55% of the Plan’s budget is for road infrastructure.

Just about to burst into flower-Sydenham Green

Council thought it would be better if only 20% of the budget was directed towards roads with the remaining 80% directed to walking, cycling & public transport.

The Greens wanted an amendment that called on the state government to ‘guarantee’ a bike-path in the Greenway corridor.  The plans do not guarantee the bike path, as a lot depends on whether the light rail is 1 or 2 tracks.  Clr Wright did not want to impose conditions that may impact on how light rail works.  After debate that centred on using creative engineering around ‘pinch points’ the motion was amened to ‘consider inclusion’ & this was carried unanimously.

4.       Greenway Steering Committee.  The Mayor & Deputy Mayor will attend as representatives for a period of 2 years.

5.        LGA wide Parking Management Study – The issue was to employ a consultant for $300,000 to do a study on parking across the LGA.  The Greens were against both the study, saying that Council cannot afford $300,000.  They said there are already areas which the council knows needs work done & it would be better to start fixing the problems than paying that money for another study.  Clr Phillips suggested using Section 94 money to fix known problems.  A staff member advised that Council has already collected funds for parking including on-road parking.  As I understood it, the other Councillors although concerned at the amount of money, were interested in learning what the study came up with.

wetlands in Tempe Reserve

The outcome was the Councillors would be briefed on parking matters.  They would look at using Section 94 money as an alternative to a consultancy report & look at previous parking proposals that have been considered. The decision to employ a consultant has been deferred.

My fear is that Council will go they way of Leichhardt Council & bring in metered parking because it is a phenomenal revenue maker & could be attractive to a council which has severe financial problems.

6.         Re-establishing alcohol-free zones – Clr Tsardoulias put forward an amendment to remove Alex Trevallian Plaza (next to Post Office Café on Marrickville Road Marrickville) from the proposed list of alcohol free places because a Thai restaurant which fronts the plaza will have outdoor eating & wants to be BYO.  The General Manager said they would allow the restaurant to serve alcohol, so Councillor Tsardoulias withdrew his motion. The Greens concerned about the associated increase in police powers that result from such measures. Public consultation will be done regarding a number of locations along Marrickville Road shopping strip, side streets, Calvert Street car park, Sydenham Green & other locations in Sydenham.

There ends Report from the Gallery for another week.

Tuesday’s Council meeting was perhaps one of the most important meetings of the year as the Asset Management Strategy Policy was on the agenda.  This report was recommending to increase rates, always a hot issue when it hits the public purse.

Money was central to most of the issues on the agenda from a donation to Haiti, whether to spend money on Addison Road or on Marrickville Railway Station, to giving the Greek Orthodox Church in Marrickville financial assistance of $5,000 to quieten down their new digital bells & to the Asset Management Strategy Policy prepared by Council staff.  There may have been more, but we did not stay until the end.

Many residents are aware  that Marrickville Council doesn’t have the money to fix things as most requests from the community take a long while before they reach the top of the list of the actions council is taking.  Staff & councillors have openly said to me on a number of occasions that Council just doesn’t have the money to do certain projects.  For me, it was obvious when reading through last week’s Tree Management Issues Paper that Parks & Gardens have been functioning under-resourced & under-financed for many years.  After what I heard discussed last night, I would not be surprised if many departments in Council are experiencing the same restrictions.  Put simply, Marrickville Council finances are in trouble.

In brief, the Asset Management Strategy Policy prepared by Marrickville Council staff said:

  • Marrickville Council cannot afford to look after its infrastructure & assets & was listed as an ‘unsustainable council’ in 2009
  • Council’s financial unsustainability was not going to improve unless they improved their financial position significantly with one option being to increase rates.

A staff member said that the reason the report was before Council was because:

  • the serious condition of our assets with significant issues facing Marrickville Council 2010-2011
  • Size & scale of financial deficit is substantial.  The draft budget first cut figure is $2 million deficit having carried through Phase 1 & 2 reductions to the budget
  • There are a lot of unknowns if the issue is deferred for another year

Marrickville Council does not have enough money to repair its assets or maintain its infrastructure.  A recent & public example is the old & beautiful Coptic Church in Sydenham Green, which featured in Council in 2009 & again last week.

It will be a significant loss to our history if we lose this building

A staff member of Council explained to me that a community organisation can apply to use the church, though they would need to sign a lease for a number of years & renovate the building themselves at an estimated cost of $2.3 million, as well as look after its upkeep for the duration of the lease before it comes back into Council’s hands again.  The problem is that the community organisations or groups that council would see as suitable to use the church building are unlikely to be able to pay for the repair of this particular building which is deteriorating at a rapid rate.  The Inner West Courier published an article about this church this week – page 9 –http://digitaledition-innercity.innerwestcourier.com.au/

The Asset Management Strategy Policy was recommending that the councillors decide whether or not to apply to the minister for a rates increase (special levy).

The debate between councillors covered the history of some projects & of previous applications for rates increases, how much public works actually cost (eg $350,000 for paving in Dulwich Hill shopping strip, $15,000 for a speed hump, $35,000 for a round-about) & about the financial burden of servicing 1 billion dollars worth of infrastructure before you even build anything new.

Despite the importance of the issue & the strong views held by councillors, the meeting was polite. There was negligible need for the chair to intervene.

The flow of the discussion allowed the councillors to ask many questions to the staff & I was impressed by the extensive & considered strategic advice they offered.  They explained how these processes work, what is the financial situation of council, what could be done with any additional funds in the kitty & what might be done if council did not apply for the special levy.

Councillors expressed concern about the financial status of council.  As expected, there was divergent opinion as to the best way to manage this situation.  I am deliberately lumping comments & strategies together to keep this brief.  Apologies for any mistakes.

The Greens expressed concern that Council was in dire financial straits & if left until next year, the situation would only worsen reminding that this issue has been deferred for many years.  They believed if the community was asked whether they would pay about $1.60 per week per household or 96 cents per week for lower income households for better roads, better footpaths & better infrastructure, the majority of rate-payers would say yes.  They were also worried about Council’s ability to pay staff & ability to maintain the substantial assets we have.  They wanted the money raised to be used for priority infrastructure renewal works.  They also reminded everyone that it has been 5 years since the last rate increase. They also argued that if left until next year, councillors will be afraid to pass a rate increase because of fearing community backlash with the upcoming election.

The remaining councillors wanted to defer the decision for another year saying that while they were concerned about Council’s financial situation, they wanted to know whether there were other cost saving measures & revenue accruing avenues that could be explored before going the route of raising rates.  Some suggestions were closing some of the libraries, advertising on billboards facing the airport road at Tempe, life-cycle planning, community consultation with residents, continuing to educate council staff on safe work practices to reduce worker’s compensation payouts, looking at verge mowing & paid parking, increasing fees to use sports ovals & child-care facilities, getting rid of unnecessary programs & operations & selling off the Marrickville Hospital site (council has not made a decision about its future for some while).

The vote by Councillors Iskandar, O’Sullivan, Wright, Thanos, Hanna, Macri was to defer for 12 months.

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