Land tenure for the St James Kindergarten playground in John Street Cleveland will be discussed at Redland City Council’s meeting on Wednesday 23 November.
It appears the Council is backtracking from its “in principle” decision on 27 January 2016 (Item 12.1 Mayoral Minute) to negotiate a “lease to purchase” deal with the Lutheran Church who operate the St James Kindergarten.
In late 2015, following community outrage, the Council promised to abandon plans for rezoning and development of various parks and open space areas including the small 656m2 parcel of open space land at 7 John Street.
This land, owned freehold by the Council, has been used by the Lutheran Church as a kindergarten playground under a permit to occupy agreement for more than 25 years.
But a developer (Raftyard Pty Ltd) who owns land next to the kindergarten playground has continued to lobby Council (and councillors) to buy some of the playground land. The officers report states:
The adjoining property owner, Raftyard Pty Ltd has previously made application to Council to purchase part of this site (approximately half) to enable a more functional use of its adjoining site for their redevelopment.
People speak and the Council listens – for a while
This block of land was one of 16 parks and open space areas which the previous Council proposed to re-zone and sell off in 2015.
Presumably, Raftyard had been penciled in as the prospective buyer of this particular block.
But many in the community did not take kindly to having the St James Kindergarten crippled through loss of its playground.
In January, a few weeks before the election caretaker period commenced, Mayor Karen Williams proposed the “lease to purchase” arrangement because security of tenure over the playground would allow the Lutheran Church to better plan and finance improvements for the kindergarten going forwards.
The Redland City Bulletin duly reported: Cleveland kindy to buy playground land from council.
Most people would have assumed that this was a done deal. But over many months, Council officers appear to have worked hard to come up with reasons why the Council should not make it easy for the Kindergarten to continue operating.
Reasons why not to be helpful
When Mayor Karen Williams proposed in January to let the Kindergarten have a “lease to purchase” deal, her mayoral minute said:
This recommendation complies with all legislative requirements including the Local Government Regulation 2012 and Council Policy POL 3071 – Leasing of Council Land and Facilities which both support leases to community not for profit organisations.
During discussion of the proposal, which can be viewed on the Council’s video recording of the meeting (item 12.1) she said the Church needs security of tenure so they can finance improvements to the kindergarten.
But it seems that some officers in the Council have forgotten that the community wants the kindy to have the playground.
The officers report (item 11.3.4) says it would be inappropriate to provide the Kindergarten with a long term “peppercorn” lease:
Whilst this option may be considered as complying with Council policy to lease land to Community/Sporting bodies at peppercorn rental the fact that the land is being
used in conjunction with a commercial enterprise negates this option.
This argument would have more credibility if some of the peppercorn renting sporting clubs were not sizable businesses selling alcohol, catering for functions and operating poker machines.
As for gifting the land to the Kindergarten, well the officers report says:
The gifting of land to the Church does not fulfil the criteria of an exception [to the Local Government Regulations] as it does not conform to sound contracting principles or that it would pass the public interest test.
Of course if the community wanted to let the Kindergarten have the land then this would pass the public interest test.
So instead of letting the Kindergarten buy the land, over time, the upshot is that these council officers propose that the Kindergarten be given a three year permit to occupy deal.
Such short term tenure would of course suit Raftyard, giving hope that they could continue lobbying Council offiers and councillors in the hope of finally completing this developers’ jigsaw puzzle, to the detriment of the Kindergarten.
At their meeting on Wednesday councillors should make sure that they explore every opportunity to give the Kindergarten reasonably priced long term tenure over this land which Council has already determined to keep zoned as Open Space.
Redlands2030 – 21 November 2016