Hopes for council U-turn on rezoning decision

MEMBERS of Kerry County Council are expected to do a U-turn on a controversial rezoning decision in one of Killarney’s prime tourism areas.

Residents in the scenic Aghadoe area are up in arms over a recent decision to rezone a four-acre site for a storage depot and councillors have been invited to a public meeting called by residents for tonight.

Independent councillor Danny Healy-Rae, who had seconded the rezoning proposal, yesterday confirmed he was no longer supporting it. Several other councillors are also coming under pressure to reverse the decision to rezone the agricultural land at Gortree, Aghadoe.

Residents’ group spokesman Michael Rosney accused the council of trying to industrialise one of the jewels of Irish tourism.

“Putting warehousing into this site would be akin to building a wind farm on Innisfallen or allowing a casino in Muckross House,’’ he said.

“We’re hoping that councillors may not have been fully aware at the time of the implications of the way they voted.’’

However, senior planning engineer Tom Sheehy recommended councillors to vote against the rezoning, saying the land was not suitable for that type of development and a precedent could be set for other development if it was granted.

The rezoning decision was taken on a 14-6 vote at a council meeting, on January 29, on the proposal of Fine Gael councillor Tom Sheahan, seconded by Mr Healy-Rae.

Mr Sheahan declined to comment on reports that he will do a U-turn and vote against the proposal when it comes up again at a council meeting on April 2.

“I’ll be making an unequivocal statement at the residents’ meeting and that should put the matter to bed,” he added.

However, Mr Healy-Rae said if had known that the proposal would upset local people so much he would not have voted for it. He also said he would be proposing at the next council meeting that the public be first consulted on zoning matters prior to councillors voting.

“The present situation should be reversed. There’s no reason why the public should not be first informed about zoning issues, similar to the situation whereby a person applying for planning permission has to put up a notice on the site,’’ Mr Healy-Rae went on.

Killarney developer Pat Duggan, who is seeking the rezoning, has said his plans have been misunderstood. He said the four acres were intended for private storage and not for commercial or light industry. There was no warehouse.

The residents’ group, however, is insisting that such zoning is not suitable for a premier tourist area.

Mr Rosney, an Aghadoe hotelier, said the area in question was internationally famous and was frequented by tens of thousands of visitors annually.

“Virtually every visitor to Killarney, be they walkers, cyclists, motorists or on a coach tour, visits Aghadoe as part of their holiday in order to enjoy the panoramic view encompassing the Killarney lakes, the National Park and the McGillycuddy Reeks mountain range,’’ he remarked.

In a submission to the council’s planning department, the residents said that to allow any form of storage depot, or warehouse development, would create an extremely dangerous precedent in Aghadoe.

“If the four-acre area in question were to be zoned to cater for a storage depot, then it is quite likely that in the fullness of time proposals to increase the size of the proposed commercial area would follow. This proposal is quite likely to represent the thin end of the wedge,’’ it stated.

Residents are also objecting on grounds of traffic problems, as well as noise and light pollution.

Meanwhile, Independent councillor Brendan Cronin said he would be proposing a reversal of the rezoning decision at the April 2 council meeting.

“The natural beauty of Aghadoe and its value for tourism must be protected,’’ he said.

The following councillors voted for the rezoning, on January 29: Tim Buckley, Michael Connor-Scarteen, Seamus Fitzgerald, Pat McCarthy, Bobby O’Connell, Johnny O’Connor, Liam Purtill and Tom Sheahan, all Fine Gael; Michael Cahill, Tom Fleming, Paul O’Donoghue, and Michael O’Shea, all Fianna Fáil; Danny and Micheal Healy-Rae, both Independents.

Against were: Robert Beasley and Toireasa Ferris, Sinn Féin; John Brassil, Colin Miller and Ted Fitzgerald, Fianna Fáil; Brendan Cronin, Independent.

Abstained: Pat Leahy, Labour, and Anne McEllistrim, FF.

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