Trouble in Paradise
Tomorrow evening my neighbours are meeting to decide whether or not to try to ban dual occupancy (commonly called accessory dwelling units: https://www.mass.gov/envir/smart_growth_toolkit/pages/mod-adu.html ) in this eco-village of 43 dwellings on 22 hectares.
The whole process has me mightily confused.
Imagine the contradictions
Imagine the contradictions. Here we are living on half an acre in a Permaculture community committed to self-sufficiency and sustainability principles.
We live in a low-income community (Nimbin, population 350) with a desperate shortage of housing, especially for lower income residents. And most of us do not grow much food – if any – on our properties. I think every lot has at least one car. We’re highly automobile-dependent and we’re certainly not secure in terms of food production.
Designed by Robyn Francis
But we’re trying. The Jarlanbah community, designed by formidable Permaculture designer, Robyn Francis, who lives down the road at the Djanbung Gardens Permaculture Education Centre (see: https://www.earthwise.org.au/), was established in 1993 and the first residents moved in in 1994. We’ve been here since 2001, actually living here since early 2006.
Now many of us are ageing and looking for opportunities to age in place and to have the possibility of a caregiver living on our house block.
Or to have an income stream from renting a small dwelling on our land.
Recently, the Jarlanbah Review Sub-committee rejected a proposal by one of our neighbours for a dual occupancy arrangement on his block. In North America, this is generally called an “accessory dwelling unit”.
His house is very stylish and modern in its design and I wondered what role “aesthetics” played in the decision.
Arguments in favour of dual occupancy
In any case, this case, which is likely to go to a formal mediation session, has caused a huge amount of discussion in our community. Some of us, citing global sustainability principles, Peak Oil, automobile dependence and the needs of an ageing, rural population, want to be able to have two dwellings on a lot. We can’t see how this would differ – in planning terms – from, say, a house with four or more bedrooms for a large family or shared household. We don’t see that the impacts on our road infrastructure would be that dramatic.
Not everyone would want to have another dwelling on their lot (perhaps half might – eventually) and those who did could pay extra to reflect the wear and tear that another vehicle might cause (assuming that vehicles would not be shared).
“It will open the floodgates”
But not all residents feel this way. Others are afraid that having a few more dwellings will open the floodgates. “It’ll turn Jarlanbah into a slum and a ghetto,” remarked one of the long-term residents, while another claimed that she did not move to Nimbin “to live in cluster housing.” “This is not inner city Redfern,” claimed another.
NIMBY and BANANA
As a Jarlanbah resident who has spent a whole career (since 1967) working in housing and planning, I am curious to understand what this really means.
Where would these road-wrecking new slum-dwellers come from?
How could a ghetto emerge as a result of density increase?
I can’t help but think of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) or better still, BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything (or Anyone).
Nevertheless, this small village community on 43 lots is about to embark on an open, democratic, community discussion on this matter. In the Jarlanbah community centre, subject of an equally acrimonious debate that featured bullying and recrimination, broke hearts, shattered trust, offended aesthetic sensibilities and still rankles”¦
The Jarlanbah Community Centre
Watch this space!
Wednesay morning update:
Shocking meeting with no facilitation process to help us.
People jumping up and threatening, screaming and swearing at each other, unable to be controlled by the Chair.
I’m now branded as a consultant who’s the same as a dot-com operator – in the pay of the developers, plotting the extinction of all the wallabies, echnidnas and antechinus.
Pretty soon we will have blocks of flats at the bottom of the gully!
Wednesday, after the mediation session
This matter has been taken to a formal mediation session through the State Department of Fair Trading. As a trained mediator myself, I know that what goes on inside the room stays insidethe room.
I will post my later thoughts on dual occupancy policy in this blog but for now, I cannot report on the latest events at Jarlanbah.
Except to say that we had a lovely pancake breakfast this morning (responding to advice from American planning theorist, John Forester, that we spend more time together socially and eating together).
So this morning before the mediation, I served pancakes for breakfast in the community centre (after Shirley and I scrubbed it within an inch of its life last night).
And tonight it’s pizza on our deck.
It’s raining softly in Paradise this afternoon. It’s very peaceful.
After a four-hour+ mediation, the local residents have gone home to their families and their gardens.
I hear Gaia, the living Earth, breathe a sigh of relief.
Is she thinking: Hopefully, those pesky humans will relax and simply love what they love.