The story of Cooroy’s latest planning victory to protect its village lifestyle

Many in our hinterland hub of Cooroy are celebrating – along with Noosa Council – their court win against GemLife, the giant “over-50’s lifestyle” developer that had launched what amounted to a takeover of the local golf club, a move that would have had ripple effects for all of Cooroy.

In the Planning and Environment Court, Judge Kefford ruled against a proposal for more than 200 housing units on private land adjoining the golf club…a proposal the Council says would have resulted in a high-density residential development outside the Urban Growth Boundary on land set aside as green space.

For those who have followed this five year saga, here’s a brief timeline of a win for Noosa Council and our Planning Scheme.

GemLife’s Seniors Community Living Proposal – 2019

In 2019 GemLife sought approval for a high-density residential estate to be constructed on land within the Rural Zone and Open Space Recreation Zones, adjacent to the Cooroy Golf Club.  A Reconfiguration of a Lot was also applied for that included a portion of the Cooroy Golf Club’s property, to enable the construction of 30+ additional houses, a clubhouse for the residents and an access easement for the estate.

The Gemlife plan

Noosa Council’s Decision Notice – 2021

Noosa Council planning staff recommended refusal, and – in a rare moment of agreement in our last Council – our councillors supported the staff’s recommendation unanimously. The Decision Notice is dated 25 March 2021.

The reasons for refusal given on the notice included: unacceptable town planning inconsistencies, adverse impacts on visual amenity and water quality, ecological and environmental impacts, traffic problems, inconsistency with planned character of land and its surrounds, the absence of need for the proposed us, and the proposal being inconsistent with reasonable community expectations.

Commencement of Appeal

 On 23 April 2021, GemLife lodged an appeal against Noosa Council’s decision in the Planning & Environment Court. Cooroy Area Residents Association Inc (CARA) joined the appeal as Co-respondents by Election, to support the Council.

Minor Change Applications

5 May 2022: The number of proposed dwelling units was reduced from 246 to 214; and the design, subdivision and staging plans were amended.

10 February 2023: The position of the internal access road was relocated further to the north; the development footprint and extent of earthworks were revised; changes were made to the sanitary system; and the height of proposed acoustic barriers were increased. 

Following a further minor change development application on 14 April 2023, the Council and CARA dropped unacceptable impacts with respect to ecology, agriculture, civil engineering, traffic, acoustics and air quality from their list of Reasons for Refusal, but maintained the development application should be refused because of its continuing non-compliance with significant aspects of Noosa Plan 2006 and Noosa Plan 2020.

Appeal hearing starts in 2023

A hearing date was set for 26 July. During the five-day hearing, Judge Kefford expressed concerns about the lack of clarity of GemLife’s evidence and the parameters of the development application that she was to assess.

The judge’s concerns caused the developers to apply for an adjournment ‘to permit it time to consider the adequacy of its evidence, and make a further minor change to its development application’.

GemLife agreed to pay the Council’s ‘costs thrown away by reason of the adjournment’. Her Honour granted the adjournment on that basis.

And a further hearing – 19 February 2024 

A further hearing of the appeal began in February 2024. Despite further changes to the development application and GemLife’s agreement with State Government conditions, Noosa Council and CARA maintained that the development applications should be refused because:

  • the proposed development involved an inappropriate use of the subject land involving urban development outside the urban growth boundary in Noosa Plan 2006; and urban development outside the urban boundary in Noosa Plan 2020;
  • the proposed development involved an unacceptable built form and density and will result in unacceptable character impacts;
  • the proposed development represented an unacceptable risk to the water catchment for Lake Macdonald; and
  • having regard to the non-compliances with Noosa Plan 2006 and Noosa Plan 2020, and other relevant matters, the exercise of discretion does not favour approval.

From CARA’s Closing Submission to Court – 22 February 2024
‘CARA is in agreement with Noosa Shire Council’s position on GemLife’s residential development proposal and in agreement with the Council’s list of matters that support refusal. 

The adverse impacts of the high-density residential estate on our small rural town would be contrary to the reasonable expectations of the Cooroy residents and not in their public interest, as reflected in the provisions of Noosa Plan 2006 and Noosa Plan 2020. Noosa Council has consistently strenuously and successfully defended its Noosa Plans in the Planning & Environment Court.

This high-density residential proposal significantly conflicts with these Plans. There is a need for the consistent application of local government planning schemes, and this clearly has always been a priority of Noosa Council.’

The Decision

After examining the provisions of Noosa Plans 2006 and 2020, Her Honour identified the Key Issues and found that:

  • the proposal is not appropriately located when assessed under Noosa Plans 2006 and 2020;
  • the proposal presents an unacceptable risk to the water catchment of Lake Macdonald;
  • the proposal presents an unacceptable built form and density that would result in character impacts;
  • there is no need for the proposed use; and
  • the proposed reconfiguration of lots should be refused.
  • Also, because of all the issues raised and the proposal’s conflict with Noosa Council’s formally expressed planning strategy (to preclude urban development on the subject land), the proposed use should not be approved in the exercise of the planning discretion.
  • the proposal did not involve unacceptable visual amenity impacts; and
  • the new clubhouse for the Cooroy Golf Club and an upgrade of the Myall Street intersection would benefit the community.

Judge Kefford delivered her judgement on 30 May 2024, which concludes:

‘I order the appeal be dismissed. The development application seeking a development permit for making a material change of use and a development permit for reconfiguration of lots is refused.’

Appeal Court’s Support of the Noosa Council’s Planning Scheme 

Her Honour Judge Kefford: ‘The strategic importance of precluding future development in the Lake Macdonald water catchment has long been recognised by Noosa Shire.’

In 1983 the courts considered a proposal to develop a holiday centre at Cooroy within the catchment of Lake Macdonald. At that time, the Council had a proposed town planning scheme for the Shire that was to include a Water Supply Protection Zone. 

Judge Byth found that the Council’s stance to resist further development in the water catchment for Lake Macdonald was a responsible attitude.

And again in 2005 the Council’s water quality strategy was also identified in a proposal to use vacant land adjoining the Cooroy golf course to build a motel and create 75 residential allotments. 

Judge Brabazon said “the emphasis on water quality in Lake MacDonald has led to a cautious and restricted approach to potential development on this land. It is easy to see why a development application, without a rezoning, is not likely to succeed.”

And finally we come to the latest decision by Judge Kefford.

‘The Council’s reticence to permit new urban development on land in the water catchment of Lake Macdonald persists. So does the Council’s strategic planning to protect the source of drinking water for its local government area by excluding almost all forms of development from the subject land. This is reflected in Noosa Plan 2006 and Noosa Plan 2020.”

Judge Kefford

‘I am satisfied that Noosa Plan 2006 calls for an exclusion of urban development from the subject land. The proposed seniors’ living community offends that strategy.’ 

Judge Kefford

But wait, just as we celebrate this victory, there’s another threat to the town character of Cooroy.  Read Tony Wellington’s concerns about Woolworths’ plans for a large shopping centre on the outskirts of the town that he says could be a ‘village killer’.


Leave a Reply