21 February 2022

Bretheran Church community gets its wish as Wagga Council approves their 'small meeting room'

| Max O'Driscoll
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Bretheran Church meeting hall

A 3D image of the proposed meeting hall. Photo: Adaptive Interiors.

Lake Albert’s Plymouth Brethren Church community are breathing a sigh of relief after Wagga Wagga City Council narrowly approved its development application for a “small meeting room” at 53 Gregadoo Road at the Monday, 14 February council meeting.

The church meeting hall development is on a 2518 square-metre block. Council staff recommended approval of the development due to their belief it was consistent with provisions of local planning legislation and could limit hours of use with conditions of consent.

One of the objectors to the development was local resident Andrew Behan who branded the development “a church dressed up as a house” and disputed prior inferences that opposers were motivated by a distaste for the Brethren Church community.

“Our opposition is not about religion, it is about compliance,” said Mr Behan.

“If this development was Catholic, Anglican, Baptist or Islamic, or any other religion, I would be standing here before you with the same objections based on the same principle.”

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Mr Behan described the council staff’s reasons for recommending approval as “grey and vague”, arguing that 45 out of 46 residents had followed the R5 (large residential) zoning objectives and that it was unfair to let one lot holder stray from those objectives. He also quoted legislation that stated a development application must consider existing uses in its vicinity.

Street map of the church location

The street map of the church location and its surrounds. Photo: City of Wagga Wagga.

He asked the councillors if approving the development would “stand up to the pub test” and questioned how the childcare centre in Springvale, despite holding the same zoning restraints, could be recommended for rejection.

Mr Behan also declared the lack of parity for neighbouring ratepayers, using their prior building in Tatton, which pays 38 cents per square metre compared to its neighbour that pays $4.63, due to being classified as a church property.

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“That is not fair and equitable and frankly downright offensive for those of us that use the same public infrastructure provided by Wagga council,” he said.

Glen White was another objector who spoke at the meeting and quoted the reasons provided for the childcare centre’s rejection and argued that the same reasoning could be applied to the church’s development, and implied his confusion that the same member of staff could reach polar opposite outcomes.

Mr White also raised concerns regarding future development at the site should the church choose to one day sell the property, which would not require zoning change approval.

Trevor Nason, a senior member of the Brethren community, lives at a neighbouring property at 43 Gregadoo Road.

He spoke to the property’s value to his faith and the faith of several other local families. He explained why the building was relevant to a religion that has existed within Wagga Wagga for more than 50 years.

“As a community, we have a main sitting room or meeting room in every single city that the Brethren reside. There’s over 80 cities Australia-wide and over 300 worldwide that have a Brethren community and we have one main city hall,” said Mr Nason.

“Then we have a small, what we call a subdivisional room, which is a small meeting room, in neighbourhoods where the Brethren families live.

“We require, to practice our faith, a local subdivisional room in that precinct. There are 10 families that are now living either side of Gregadoo Road in Wagga and we need a small meeting room in the area,” he said.

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Mr Nason revealed that the meeting room will rarely gather more than 50 people and that being unobtrusive to the wider community is an important part of their faith. He said that the group is willing to do whatever is required to make it more acceptable to nearby neighbours.

Councillor Tim Koschel questioned Mr Nason on the nature and necessity of the 6 am start for Sunday morning gatherings, which is a part of the Brethren Church’s faith. Mr Nason responded by saying that the early start is essential to their faith and, therefore, the overall viability of the development.

Councillor Mick Henderson put forward that a 2500 square-metre block was a large area for a “small meeting place” and asked if alternative, more suitable options had been explored. Mr Nason said there were no alternatives.

Following council staff’s recommendation, councillors then voted five to four in favour of the development’s approval.

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“We require, to practice our faith, a local subdivisional room in that precinct. There are 10 families that are now living on either side of Gregadoo Road in Wagga and we need a small meeting room in the area,” he said. People in the area targeted by this group are ëncouraged to move on, sell up, as their lives become unbearable under the passive/aggressive tactics used by this outfit.
That’s what they do, take over an entire area.
They pay no tax and contribute nothing to the community.

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