People power halts old pub’s demolition

Good old fashioned people power pressed the pause button on developer’s plans to demolish the 109 year old Hotel Australasia in Eden at Wednesday’s Bega Valley Shire Council meeting.

Presentations by Peter Whiter, Con Castrissios and Allan Gibson convinced councillors to hold off on approving Great Southern Developments DA (No. 2013.199) to demolish the existing building and construct a new supermarket, liquor store, specialty retail shop and associated signage.

Carpenter Peter Whiter of Eden wasn’t planning on going to the Council meeting.

The proposed development would be the third supermarket for Eden, which already has a 1500 (retail) square metre BiLo and an 800 (retail) square metre, IGA.

“On the weekend, when I read the agenda, the staff were making pretty final, nail-in-the-coffin type recommendations to the council to approve the DA, and I sort of read that and went, ‘bugger it, we’re done, it’s gone’,” Mr Whiter said.

“At that stage I wasn’t even going to go. With a little bit of pushing and encouragement from others, I decided I would.

“Con (Castrissios – Eden IGA) presented some figures which make the economic impact statement (in support of the DA) ludicrous pretty much.

“I am also becoming increasingly suspicious about the branding as an IGA in the drawings because the developer didn’t bother to contact Metcash who are the owners of the brand IGA, they didn’t know about it.  

“Whatever that is, it’s not going to be an IGA. So all their costings and designs are done on that basis and if it’s not that, what is it? Is it really Woolworths? Or is it a speciality shop?” Mr Whiter said.

Following Wednesday’s council meeting Mr Whiter is more positive about preservation of the hotel’s façade, which he is lobbying for through an online petition (

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“If council does decide to deny the DA, the developer can still go to the Land and Environment Court and challenge the ruling,” Mr Whiter said.

“It’s a much more hopeful situation though. I almost feel sorry for him (the developer)…sort of. He sold the poker machine licenses so the building owes him zip. He’s got a prime piece of real estate for a gift.”

Con Castrissios moved to Eden two years ago from Canberra where he ran a takeaway and restaurant (Carlo’s) in Canberra’s Watson Shopping Centre.

Con is blunt about the impact opening another supermarket in Eden will have on his business.

“If another supermarket opens across the road it’s not viable for me to stay. We did have discussions with the landlord (about moving to the old pub site) but I couldn’t afford the fit out cost and the rent was too high,” Mr Castrissios said.

“They (the developers) may say they are going to employ another 90 people, but if they’re going to put in a butcher or baker, then the local butcher goes, the local bakery goes. They put more magazines in, the newsagent goes.

“It’s all those people in the other stores, with the 25-35 people who work here, that pay the price. Some may get a job across the road but others won’t. Anyone who doesn’t, their household will be affected.

“It wasn’t my concern that another supermarket was opening, it was more along the lines of the economic effects it would have on our town,” he said.

Mr Castrissios has taken his fight to stay in Eden in the IGA to the people.

He has placed a petition at each check out calling for signatures. The petition is simple: “Say no to another supermarket in Eden”.

The petition was put out on Tuesday night. By Thursday morning, over 400 signatures had already been collected.

“I was surprised by the extent of support in the petition,” Con said.

“I will have it out over the Christmas holidays and take it to the next Council meeting.

“I was happy with how Council responded to what I had to say on Wednesday. Everyone thought the DA was going to be passed, but it wasn’t. If it ticks all the boxes then it’s got to go ahead, but on the economic side, some of the figures they have provided are incorrect.”

Retired CPA Allan Gibson now runs bed and breakfast accommodation in Eden. Mr Gibson also took the opportunity to talk to Council for the allocated five minutes.

“Eden needs all the assets it can get. The Hotel Australasia is a very major asset as a tourist attraction and can bring people to the town. If the old building can be retained and restored, the upstairs section could be tourist/boutique accommodation run by the Eden Visitor Information Centre. That would provide enough money to maintain the ongoing building once restored,” Mr Gibson said.

“The ANU have spoken to our Access Centre about running their art research program from here. The Access Centre has acquired an art reference library of over 3000 books and that would be a perfect space to house it.

“Then the other side could be used for commercial purposes,” he said.

“My concern is, why doesn’t Council listen to their own heritage adviser? She has given an unreserved recommendation that the Hotel Australasia be classified. They have not accepted that,” he said.

Mr Gibson also had concerns about the DA’s economic impact statement.

“I’m a retired CPA. I read the (economic) justification. They include people as far south as 10 kilometres south of Bega as potential customers. People have to pass bigger supermarkets (at Tura, Merimbula and in Eden) to get here. Why would anyone spend money on petrol to do that?” he asked.

“When BiLo opened in Eden all those years back one butcher and one supermarket shut down. There’s no way those figures (in the economic impact statement) are realistic. I would like to know how they arrived at them.”

Mr Gibson was pleased that a decision on the DA approval was deferred.

“I was pleased that they deferred it and asked for another economic report. The figures were very strongly challenged. They (the councillors) also seem to be much stronger in support of the heritage aspects to the previous meeting and there seemed to be more support among the councillors.

“Eden certainly needs anything it can get and visitors want to see these sorts of buildings,” Mr Gibson said.

Councillor Russell Fitzpatrick moved the motion to defer the decision.

Asked ‘why?’, he said he also had concerns about the DA’s economic impact statement.

“I don’t think there has been enough input into the economic side. Claims that the development is going to attract people are false,” Mr Fitzpatrick said. 

“My worry is, if you had three supermarkets in Eden, I think everybody believes it just isn’t viable. In the long term you could risk two going broke and that’s not economically good for Eden in the long term,” the ex-banker, current deputy mayor and Bendigo Bank board member said.

“The economic impact statement wasn’t put with the current DA meeting papers and that makes me cranky. There was supposed to be a social economic impact study done study and Peter Whiter pointed out that that wasn’t there.

“The dilemma for council is that we are not to take into account economic competition when we make these decisions,” he said.

“So that has to be excluded. But building this may be fine in the short term, but in the longer term it doesn’t provide a shop that will drag people in from everywhere.

“It’s a risk allowing this shop to occur. Within 18 months of operating both could be unviable and the developer, other business and council will lose a lot of money.

“It’s definitely not a good outcome for Eden and the Eden community.

“I want development on the site, I’m supporting heritage. I don’t support the heritage act at all but in this case I believe it’s a 1900 façade and I look at the heritage look we have in Pambula and Eden should also be able to remember its history.”

It is unclear how quickly another economic impact statement can be commissioned, and be ready to be reviewed by councillors before the DA is again considered to Council.

With the Christmas shut down, it may not be achievable by the next scheduled BVSC meeting on January 22, 2014.

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