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Byron Shire
April 14, 2021

Green Star-rated shopping centre for Byron Bay

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Perspective drawing of the proposed development as viewed from the Jonson Street frontage.
Perspective drawing of the proposed development as viewed from the Jonson Street frontage.

 Chris Dobney

Byron Shire Council yesterday approved the largest-ever shopping centre development for Byron Bay township after a marathon debate lasting over and hour and a half.

Despite the five-star Green Star rating of the new building, which will replace the current Palace Cinema and the buildings behind it, one councillor retained concerns about the fact it would break council’s height limit for the commercial zone by some 10 per cent.

The existing cinema, carpark and shopping centre will be redeveloped to create a 3,400 square metre mall with a ground floor supermarket, first floor retail shops, restaurants, a bowling ally, an art gallery, a seven-cinema complex, two levels of basement car parking and a terrace over Jonson Street road reserve.

A centrally located roof feature will provide natural light and ventilation, contributing to the green-star rating but placing the building above the set height limit.

Council has inserted a novel feature in the consent that will attempt to prevent major multinational fast food chains opening up there.

Change of plans

Mayor Simon Richardson, who brokered a deal with the developers after he described their initial proposal as ‘making Byron Bay look like Surfers Paradise’, commended the final plans to council.

‘We are lucky the proponents agreed to consider community concerns – a great position for developer to start with. Council and the proponents worked together to get a five-star Green Star building, the only one in regional Australia: a building with an art gallery and public spaces,’ Cr Richardson said.

‘I think it is the best we can get within the parameters; it’s a great testament to [planning director] Ray Darney and planning staff.

‘It’s a great template for future developments and says to developers “if you’re content with maybe a bit less and give us something the community wants, council is prepared to be flexible”.

‘As a council and staff we are reshaping how we deal with community opportunities in our town,’ the mayor said.

Perspective drawing of the proposed development as viewed from the Jonson Street frontage.
Perspective drawing of the proposed development as viewed from the Jonson Street frontage.

Keeping out chain stores

Councillors then spent much of the next hour in committee debating the matter, with their main issue being what planning mechanisms were available to ensure the centre did not simply fill up with ‘all the usual chain stores’.

Eventually a clause was inserted requiring that ‘prior to issue of an occupation certificate, both council and proponents develop a formal agreement based on a section 88E Conveyancing Act 1991 restriction, that is supported by both parties’ to limit the tenancies.

Cr Ibrahim agreed with the mayor that the final plan was a good outcome.

‘In relation to the leases and tenancies, I think we now have a workable compromise. In landscaping, there was a lot already set and there’s now an opportunity to make a beautiful open space for the community. Early on I had concerns about the height but I found the argument from the architect compelling,’ Cr Ibrahim said.

‘I only hope we haven’t reduced the capacity of the building to achieve its light and ventilation aims by reducing the height,’ he added.

Cr Woods strongly opposed the attempts to keep out multinational food chains, which she described as a restriction of trade.

‘My understanding is the proponents have given verbal undertaking and I think this is a slap in the face. I think it’s probably anticompetitive,’ she said.

Mercato-3Over height

Cr Cameron remained opposed to the development on the grounds that, despite its green credentials, it exceeded the height limit, which said could come back to bite council in future.

‘Councilllors are feeling the weight of commercial and legal pressures and they simply aren’t prepared to stand up for what’s important, he said.

‘Height is arguably the most important provision – no other more clearly reflects the nature of Byron Bay – yet we’re prepared to roll over on it.

‘For the future, when we have items like this, I would encourage the mayor and the proponents to engage the councillors and the broader community from the outset, and then maybe we can avoid compromise outcomes like this,’ Cr Cameron said.

But the mayor declined to be swayed by the comments, which he called ‘mean spirited’.

‘I take umbrage at the accusation of a flawed process and the community not being involved. We need to look at what is the norm: usually a DA is lodged with staff – without us or the community having any input. It the comes to us, it goes out on exhibition, it comes back to us and we vote on it,’ Cr Richardson said.

‘This time we’ve had three designs – all completely different – two public exhibition periods that the community responded to. Just one councillor feels he hasn’t been listened to. You won’t be able to see the element that is above height from the road and the only benefit is to its sustainability.’

The development was approved, with the unlikely duo of councillors Woods and Cameron voting against.

The building will be sited on a potentially radioactive tailings dump, the end result of decades of sand mining in the town. Yet, while it was noted as a consideration in the approval document, and despite the long discussions by councillors, no mention was made of that issue.

Site of the new development, in what is currently known as Byron Plaza.
Site of the new development, in what is currently known as Byron Plaza.

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    • Just cannot comprehend how any designer would include a friggin bowling alley in such an outdoors place like Byron.
      Bowling alleys are for mundane urban areas bereft of any other aesthetic or athletic possibilities.
      I thought Byron was extremely space limited.
      What a waste.
      Simply stupid.
      A hallmark of the design generally ???
      No thanks.

  1. After the building is built, there will be a new owner who can put in whatever they want, read multi-nationals.

    Also, there will be too much retail in Byron now. Watch poor local traders go out of business for many years to come.

  2. Are they going to be spreading radioactive dust into the town and surrounding businesses while they create the foundations for this ugly building that reminds one of the council chambers.. ?

  3. I wonder why Byron Councillors are not talking about the contamination..? the last council meeting I was at I noticed that when Councillors debated the Rail Trail proposal not one of them mentioned the chemical contamination in the corridor and the RT proposal not dealing with this. The contamination of old railway and mining land in the town used to be a hot topic? In the last few years our tourism numbers have grown so much, that now people want to open up public spaces, but no one is talking about how to clean up the mess that was left decades ago?

  4. A bowling alley? Really?

    Well I guess when it goes broke it will be easy to redevelop into another 10 or 15 new “designer” shops….

  5. will the contaminated dust be allowed to blow across town and into the business close by, as they dig the foundations for this complex?? and yes, you are correct Don… Byron as we all knew and loved it is going, going gone… 🙁

  6. SO much for having voted for green to preserve Byron instead of turning it into gold coast plastic fake wreck.. disappointing to no end..

  7. Yes Byron has gone… It was once called Cavanbah and was a meeting place .. then it became Byron Bay and was still a meeting place.. with lots of little cafes and vegetarian food spots. With unique little shops and with a flavour that set it apart from everywhere else. People gathered to chat and share thoughts and ideas. To meet and catch up. To gather in the sense of a community. To share culture, music, dance, laughter etc. Now it is a big shopping mall with chain stores, a place to buy buy buy, consume consume consume. It has now lost any uniqueness and is like everywhere else. And now they want to put a big shopping mall in the shopping mall town. Sad very sad and what a shame that again money and commerce win out over lifestyle, culture and individuality. Bye Bye to the uniqueness of Byron.

  8. What a vast improvement on the orginal horror design! This looks great and the 5 star green rating is something to be very pleased with. The majority of the commentators here clearly are just ‘anti’- the types who will never be pleased with any change- even when it is good. Sad. The existing design is totally daggy but this architecturally sympathetic design will really change the area to look much more semi-tropical and welcoming. Thrilled to see developers listen to constructive suggestions and excited to see a really ugly and central part of our town be transformed into something outstanding! Great outcomes all round. Let’s hope the section north of woolworths is next for a similar makeover. It’s so cruddy looking right now.

  9. Seems like a reasonable outcome to me. Sure, small local organic shops and artisans and lots of open natural space would be fantastic but this development will replace a Woolies Supermarket (with another one probably) and a car park and several local shops (that can relocate to the new mall if feasible). In the end businesses need to make a profit or they close their doors. Many people buy into franchises because it is easier than doing it all on your own. But sadly, it will probably result in a Macca’s or KFC in the town – somehow enough people buy that stuff. I like that their will be some public space to enjoy. And the bowling ally is a strange choice but is fun for kids on a rainy day.

  10. Further to my concern about the precedents created by this development. The current design is much improved. It’s the bulk and scale that is a problem.
    The ‘architectural feature’ that exceeds the limit does play a part in cooling the building, however this could have been used on a scaled down version that did not fill the building envelope so completely. The planning provision for applicants to apply to vary the height limit by up to ten percent is to ensure that site constraints such as sloping land do not unreasonably impose the limits where the nature of the site itself makes it difficult to build within the limit. This is a flat site with no such constraints and the additional height is based purely on the design. A design that is too big. In arguing the case to exceed the limit, the proponent of course used the precedent of the architectural feature locals know as Rupunzel’s Tower, which also exceeds the limit.
    Height limits are not the only provision that help Byron maintain it’s subtropical feel. Another important provision is the requirement for a minimum amount of open space and landscaping. In this development, it has been reduced to an under cover area mostly landscaped in concrete with a few pot plants. The central focal point in this area is the escalators. This lack of genuine landscaping emphasises the overall bulk and scale of the design.
    As the North side of the plaza is in the same ownership, it is hoped that it contains a significant amount of open space to rebalance the site overall when it is redeveloped. Unless councillors open their eyes, the real possibility is that the North side will be equally high based on the precedent of the southern approval and the entire area will be filled with large buildings and no open space. We can and need to do better if the whole of Jonson Street is not to sucumb and the Byron feel is to be saved.


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