A HEATED and vocal gallery at last Wednesday’s council meeting made for a chaotic and, at times, offensive debate on the proposal to build a Woolworths at Bermagui.
In the Bega Valley Shire Council Chambers it was standing room only – even after extra chairs had been brought in – as councillors were scheduled to discuss a development application by Woolworths to build a 1500sqm supermarket, including a liquor outlet, specialty retail store and 89 car spaces, in the seaside tourist town.
Council staff recommended the development be approved - with 64 conditions, many of which stemmed from concerns raised during the DA’s public exhibition process.
However, the meeting was almost hijacked by several members of the public gallery who shouted their disapproval during petitions, when councillors had the floor and all the breaks between.
This came on top of the general mutterings of discontent among the gallery, which appeared overwhelmingly against the supermarket giant’s Bermagui proposal.
Despite threats from Mayor Bill Taylor to evict members of the gallery if they continued to disrupt the meeting, followed by assurances from Cr Michael Britten it was likely any decision on the DA would be deferred until further community consultation, several people in the audience continued to hurl abuse at the Woolworths representatives - and even former mayor Cr Tony Allen.
Woolworths development manager Wes Dose did well to keep his cool throughout the tirade as he used his five minutes to explain the development was “in accordance and permissible under the site’s B2 zoning” and that the development would provide local jobs during the construction phase and ongoing employment opportunities once open.
Causing the most consternation among opponents was his assertion “Woolworths takes giving back to the community seriously”, using examples including the Earn and Learn promotion and support for disaster relief efforts.
Mr Dose also reiterated the company’s stance put forward in its DA that the outlet would prevent “escaping expenditure” from Bermagui and would even have a positive flow-on effect to other businesses in the town with less people leaving to do their shopping in either Bega or Narooma.
Cr Anne Mawhinney raised a view she said was held by some in the Bermagui community that Woolworths was only interested in the site to future-proof its hold in the area over potential competitors.
“Can you give a watertight guarantee you will build there if this DA is approved,” she asked Mr Dose.
“It’s been delayed long enough,” he replied.
“I would have preferred to be there before now.”
Mr Dose said once - and if - the application was approved, construction could be completed and the store open within 10-14 months.
Perhaps reading the mood of the room, the second Woolworths representative listed to petition council then withdrew his request saying he had nothing more to add.
Once the public petitions had been heard, the Woolworths DA was the first order of business in the council meeting proper.
In keeping with the council’s code of meeting practice, Cr Britten moved a motion to defer any decision on the Woolworths DA until a further report was prepared based on possible new information discussed by the petitioners.
It is also the councillors’ intention to inspect the site as well as meet with community members for further feedback at a date and venue to be advised.
The motion passed unanimously.
Not surprisingly, after the controversial matter was dealt with during the council’s infrastructure committee meeting, the gallery cleared completely and the remainder of the meeting passed relatively quickly and without incident.
Bermagui worried about Woolies mammoth
SEVERAL impassioned speakers petitioned last Wednesday’s meeting of the Bega Valley Shire Council on the sensitive subject of a Woolworths for Bermagui.
While several of them reiterated the council received 382 submissions on the Woolworths development application, of which 351 were against the supermarket’s arrival, it was left to six speakers plead the opposition case this week.
Most striking was Kathleen Sherwin-Ozawa’s speech imploring councillors to listen to their ratepayers.
“These are our homes, and the occupants those who built this community,” she said to great applause from the public gallery.
Ms Sherwin-Ozawa was one of four Bermagui residents and property owners to petition council, while Frances Perkins was also there on behalf of the National Trust Far South Coast branch, and Johannes Wuerbels represented independent assessors Wakefield Planning.
Resident Geoff Steel highlighted the potential “downstream economic impacts” on community groups other than the local businesses he said were bound to be affected.
“It’s hard to argue there’s a silent majority,” he said, in reference to the public submissions.
Mr Steel said sports groups and arts initiatives such as Sculpture on the Edge rely on donations from local businesses and would suffer as a result of those businesses losing custom to Woolworths.
“We also don’t believe a town with a limited police force should have a third liquor store,” Mr Steel said.
Neil McPherson, who has spoken out against the development proposal since it was first announced early last year, suggested the council build a temporary structure of poles and hessian to visually gauge the impact it would have on the low-density residential zone surrounding the Young St site.
Ms Perkins also questioned the visual impact of a typical Woolworths, suggesting if it were to be approved, architecture and heritage values of Bermagui should be considered.
“The conditions set down by the council address some, but by no means, all of the concerns of the National Trust,” she said.
Ms Perkins said a timber-clad building similar to the Fishermen’s Wharf could be considered, adding that the wharf’s designer, renowned architect Phillip Cox, had also suggested a potential design for a supermarket and would be willing to discuss it.
“The design should reinforce the character of Bermagui,” Ms Perkins said.
Meanwhile, resident Cathy McGee and Wakefield Planning representative Mr Wuerbels used their allocated time to highlight potential implications on other businesses in Bermagui and surrounding towns.
“It’s good to talk about how Woolworths will look, but I want to talk about what Woolworths will do,” Ms McGee said, labelling the company “ruthless and rapacious”.
“Many other local businesses will be squashed.”
Mr Wuerbels said the impact would spread wider than Bermagui’s existing supermarket SPAR.
He said Wakefield Planning’s report found about 30 per cent of Bermagui’s businesses were already unprofitable in the tourist town’s seasonally affected market and that Woolworths “would render these unviable”.
“Locating the Woolworths behind the main street essentially encourages one-stop shopping,” he said.
“There’s a flow-on effect to non-food businesses as well – business support services such as accountants and so on.”