"What I'm after is my project, and I'm using this as a bargaining chip. I know you guys don't like that but it's part of life."
That was Dominic Bertucci speaking to Northbank Community Garden committee members and the Courier-Sun on Thursday afternoon.
The project he's referring to is 'Bellinger River Village', an affordable housing development that he'd like to create on part of his farm near the intersection of North Bank Road and Jordan Road.
The 'bargaining chip' is the community garden itself, which stands on neighbouring land that Dominic is currently in the process of buying from John Lavis.
Dominic has offered to gift eight hectares of his almost-completed purchase - the community garden space plus an area running south towards Lavenders Bridge - to Bellingen Shire Council.
But only if they will agree to rezone sections of his property from RU1 (primary production) to "something that's useful".
His message to NCG is that if they get behind his proposal, then they will "own the garden for free".
The problem is, council maintains the land proposed for the new village falls within the odour buffer for the sewerage treatment plant, although Dominic says he has expert advice confirming it's "outside the de-rated odour buffer using the Best Practice Guide and the North Coast Regional Plan 2036".
He said council don't seem to be interested in the many social and economic benefits attached to his proposal.
"The thing I'm really upset about is that no one's come over to say what's the best thing for the town," he said. "And that's a councillor's job, not a council worker's job."
An earlier version of Dominic's rezoning request, along with 15 others across the shire, was considered by council planners as part of the Homes for Our Future community engagement process.
Their recommendation, in an attachment to the Draft Local Housing Strategy that came to council in August, was to knock it back, citing "no strategic justification to expose the ongoing operation of the STP to the risk of future complaints".
The Local Housing component of the Growth Management Strategy is expected to come before councillors for a vote at the end of January.
And in the meantime, Dominic wants the garden's committee and the garden's supporters to agitate on behalf of the Bellinger River Village, a four-hectare development with space for 100 relocatable homes aimed at older couples/singles on low incomes.
To help motivate them, he's refusing to give NCG Inc a lease, ongoing or interim, nor provide any guarantees about the future of the garden.
During the meeting, treasurer Dan Hartney said they'd be happy to support the affordable housing proposal -"we believe in what you're trying to do there" - but returned repeatedly to the point that without a lease, the garden would have to cease operating.
"An agricultural lease agreement enables us to have our own insurance and be covered for activities up here," he said. "We're running an organisation, we have programs currently running here. People pay off their fines here."
"We have refugees from Coffs Harbour who come here because we grow things that aren't very common," secretary Katharina Tittl said. "We have childcare groups come with their little kids."
"Some people will get quite upset thinking that the gardens aren't going to be open."
But passion and emotion are exactly what Dominic wants.
"You've got a thousand people getting upset - talk to them!" he said.
"That's the only way you're going to get it for nothing. You get passionate about your gardens, passionate enough to go and storm that [council] office. Talk to the councillors on the phone, say what are you doing, this guy wants to do something and you're stopping him."
Dominic refused to say what will happen to the garden if the rezoning request is rejected but did mention the possibility of "cows walking around in here".
"We're having this conversation about security too early. I'm not going to offer anything until I know what the Growth Management Strategy is about," he said. "It's your garden. Fight for it!"
- The postponed public meeting to discuss the garden's future is on Wednesday November 20,5.30pm at 100 North Bank Rd Bellingen.