A packed public gallery at yesterday’s Tweed Shire Council meeting erupted into cheers and applause when councillors unanimously backed the popular Sheoak Shack cafe-gallery at Fingal Head in its bid to stay open.
The Sheoak, owned and run by the sister of Greens Cr Katie Milne for over 10 years, has established itself as a social, creative and live music hub of the Fingal-Chinderah area but faced closure when it couldn’t meet council compliance requirements, especially for onsite parking.
Local musicians, artists and residents had appealed to council to help the cafe-gallery continue, as it provided a source of income for many.
Council staff and owner Andrea McKay had reached a stalemate in talks aimed at trying to resolve compliance issues such as parking, structures on the road reserve, extended trading hours and live music.
Yesterday, all councillors except Cr Milne, who left the room during the debate and vote due to her stated conflict of interest, voted to defer the issue to allow for further talks.
Cr Joan van Lieshout was cheered when she said it was ‘very apparent to us that the community of Fingal Head loves the Sheoak’, and that love didn’t just stop at Fingal Head.
Cr van Lieshout said that while there was a need for compliance, she believed Ms McKay was willing to comply and that council shouldn’t ‘rush’ a decision that could bind a future council to its decision.
‘This business adds diversity and character to the Tweed, it’s different and we have that point of difference that makes the Tweed attractive,’ she said.
She urged her colleagues to ‘show compassion’ and allow the business the chance to redress the issues.
‘If this became a community project, I’m sure they’d get a lot of help from the community to produce those (car) parks,’ she said.
Cr Kevin Skinner said he was ‘happy’ after checking on the venue last Sunday that there was no live music playing, which he said was a ‘step forward’ in compliance.
Cr Warren Polglase asked staff what council’s legal position was by allowing non-complying development on council land.
General manager David Keenan responded that council had roles in both fostering small business in the shire as well as ensuring compliance, and there were ‘risks and liabilities associated with every decision by council’.
Mayor Barry Longland said he didn’t ‘want to see the Sheoak Shack closed’ and hoped a new council would have ‘sufficient goodwill in the outgoing council to allow these negotiations to continue’.
Ms McKay told Echonetdaily the business could close as it couldn’t afford $60,000 staff had proposed she pay for the construction of four roadside car-parking spaces in front of the riverside cafe/gallery.
She said that would block the riverside view, the ‘very reason the business was created’, and instead proposed to pay a parking contribution of $12,000 if council left the grassed riverbank parking area across the road available for cafe patrons.
Council staff gave councillors two options to deal with the issue: refuse development consent for the venue outright or defer it to allow further negotiations.