Cost, not heritage, drives Hotel Australasia decision

Money was a driving factor in Bega Valley Shire Council’s decision yesterday afternoon to approve Great Southern Developments Pty Ltd’ Development Application for the Hotel Australasia site in Eden’s main shopping precinct.

Deputy Mayor, Councillor Russell Fitzpatrick, says the likely loss of nearly $500,000 in car parking offsets, combined with an estimated cost of over$1million to retain the 1906 heritage façade, made it impractical for Council to continue to oppose developer Rodney Thompson’s plans on heritage grounds.

Council considered four options for the DA at yesterday’s meeting:

1. To accept an offer by the developer at a Land and Environment Court, Section 34 conference, to retain the 1950s facade, to be traded off for cash-in-lieu car parking contributions to the value of $476,595 as at December 2013;

2. Recommend that the Court (Land and Environment) approve the developers’ application as recommended by Council staff on December 18, 2013, which would see the pub demolished and a third supermarket built;

3. Leave the decision up to Commissioner Tuor from the Land and Environment Court, based on the July 2014 conciliation conference, or

4. Go back to square one and start the conciliation process over.

“The Council recommended that the Land and Environment Court approve the application, in accordance with the staff recommendation conditions of December 18, 2013,” Clr Fitzpatrick said on Thursday morning.

“The option of retaining the 1950s façade would have seen us lose our car parking contributions of nearly $500,000.

“It would have cost well over $1million to restore the 1906 façade and it was pointed out to the Commissioner that this wasn’t economically viable.

“The developers weren’t willing to go to that extent.

“We’re not willing to forgo losing that parking offset; it’s unfortunate that then gives them (the developer) the right to demolish the building.”

Voting on the decision was five for (Taylor, Allen, McBain, Mawhinney, Britten and Fitzpatrick), one abstained (Tapscott), and two against (Seckold and Hughes).

Clr Fitzpatrick accepts the decision will not be a popular one.

“Half a million dollars of ratepayers money is a lot to give away for fewer people in Eden.

“It’s with a heavy heart that I go this way - sooner or later you’ve got to consider all ratepayers, not just those in Eden.

“These are hard decisions, but you don’t put your hand up to run for local government if you don’t expect to cop some criticism from time to time, ” he said.

Asked if he thought it possible that Commissioner Tuor would recommend anything other than to align itself with Council’s decision, and approve the development to proceed, Clr Fitzpatrick was blunt.

“No, I think she’ll rule for demolition.”

The Land and Environment Court advises that Commissioner Tuor’s decision is scheduled to be handed down on Friday, August 1, 2014.