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.
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.
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.