A leading heritage practitioner has urged Port Stephens councillors to reconsider plans to rezone a section of Raymond Terrace's historic Boomerang Park that would see the emergence of a housing development on parkland adjoining a significant cemetery.
Chris Richards, a specialist in heritage conservation, believes the council cannot make a decision on the park's future until it establishes both state and national heritage significance for the park and adjoining Pioneer Hill Cemetery, established in the mid-1800s.
A council spokesperson said that the Plan of Management for the park was adopted in April 2016.
"It's difficult to say whether it has been nominated for state or national significance, as anyone can nominate a place or object for listing on the State Heritage Register," the spokesperson said.
"As part of the investigation into alternative sites for seniors living in Raymond Terrace, a number of sites have been considered. A report will be presented back to the council in September 2019."
The spokesperson said the Port Stephens LEP listed Boomerang Park's former stone quarry and mature tree planting as being of local heritage significance, as well as Pioneer Hill Cemetery.
"Heritage consultants Umwelt were engaged by council to help prepare the Plan of Management and their report recognised the heritage significance of the park as a whole. The park was also nominated for listing on the register of the National Estate, however, this was not accepted."
In February, Port councillors decided after a mayor's casting vote to progress a planning proposal for the park's rezoning to allow for seniors housing opposite Elizabeth Avenue.
"The park and cemetery remain on their original curtilages and the cemetery and surrounding area contain Aboriginal burials. It is my belief that the heritage significance of the park and cemetery are a rare and of exceptional significance to NSW and to Australia," Mr Richards said.
"The application by council to the Department of Planning for an R2 rezoning did not include an Aboriginal report, nor was there an arborist's report."
Mr Richards said the re-zoning and building on the park would have negative impacts on residents living along Elizabeth Avenue and adjoining streets.
"This would include a loss of park views and use of the park, loss of quiet enjoyment, potential overshadowing, reduced property values, increased traffic movement and noise, and potential over-development of the site."
There has been strong opposition to development from the Boomerang Park Preservation Group and Elizabeth Avenue residents. Ellen and David Creswell, who have lived in Elizabeth Avenue for 35 years, say there is a need for more open green space in Raymond Terrace.
"We are very concerned about the impact of a housing development going in across the roadway. We fought in opposition to the men's shed, but this is far worse ... potentially hundreds of houses."
Mark Coleman recently purchased his property on Elizabeth Avenue in the belief that the park would not be developed.
"I have grown up and spent my whole life in the vicinity of this park. I haven't been approached from the council about this concept. Aren't the councillors supposed to look after the interests of the residents?"
Mr Richards believed a rezoning could trigger a class action by property owners against the council.
He said that the council should examine the potential for promotion of Boomerang Park as a popular destination site and make the park more attractive to the public by providing picnic shelters, barbecues, play areas, toilets and other associated facilities.
"They could establish a cafe or restaurant."
He said the objective of the planning proposal was to raise funds for the park upgrades by selling a parcel of park land.
"It seems that council without formally amending the planning proposal has changed its objectives. The park upgrades have been paid for, so why is the council still pushing to develop the site?"