A PROPOSED $6.4 million Aboriginal community services headquarters and cultural centre fell at the starting line last night when Warrnambool City Council refused a planning permit.
Instead of following planning officers’ recommendation to issue a notice of decision to grant a permit, the majority of councillors gave it the thumbs-down.
They said the proposed uses were inappropriate for the site at Harris Street Recreation Reserve, posed traffic safety issues and would be detrimental to the neighbourhood.
Gunditjmara Aboriginal Co-operative already has a $900,000 funding commitment from the state government and has $1.1m in other funds to start the project, which would replace an earlier base abandoned after an extensive fire in 2010.
The co-op engaged an architect to design a landmark-style three-level building with new car parking off Harris Street. An initial application triggered five protests from nearby property owners worried about extra traffic, the building’s size, impact on local amenity and a possible liquor licence for a proposed café section.
Cr Michael Neoh was the only councillor to back a permit, but his motion to approve the recommendations lapsed without a seconder.
This outcome was anticipated by mayor Jacinta Ermacora, who produced an alternative motion with reasons for refusing a permit.
She described the proposed centre as “sensational”, but in the wrong place. “Warrnambool needs an Aboriginal culture centre,” she said.
“But council has responsibility to maintain and preserve open public space. It’s important we assist Gunditjmara to find a place that is conducive to this proposal.
“I think it would be better to do it one stage at a time.”
Councillor John Harris said he was concerned extra traffic would lead to accidents particularly with children using the reserve’s soccer fields.
Traffic exiting onto Harris Street would increase ten-fold and proposed new parking bays were close to the sharp bend at Cramond Street, he said.
Cr Peter Hulin said it was an over-development for the site and would create traffic safety issues.
Cr Andrew Fawcett agreed the design was too large. He also said it would affect other users of the reserve and he doubted if there would be enough money to complete the project.