Bega Valley Shire councillors have voted in favour of an 18 metre height limit for buildings in the centre of Merimbula.
The site-specific approval, for an 18 metre height limit, covers land owned in the centre of the Merimbula CBD, by Robert Green, director of Merimbula Central Pty Ltd.
It opens the way for Mr Green to progress his proposed five-storey development.
Although council staff had recommended that the height increase be limited to 16 metres, councillors voted in favour of Mr Green's original submission, citing a need to see improvement in Merimbula.
Mr Green welcomed the decision commending councillors for their "courage and good sense to approve a landmark building in the middle of the town centre".
The councillors' approval comes with a voluntary planning agreement (VPA) which will formalise agreements such as having a six metre covered walkway between Market Street and the Park Street car park.
It will also include a three metre setback from the existing path in Market Street providing a three by eight metre strip to form part of a future town plaza.
"Ten years ago, the Lonely Planet guide described Merimbula saying: 'The rather unappealing town centre plays second fiddle to the rather pretty inlet and surrounds', Mr Green said.
"Three years ago, Bega Valley Shire Council decided to do something about it and adopted a plan which called for the Merimbula CBD to be transformed. For our part, we will do our level best to transform that vision into reality, he said.
It includes the demolition of all existing buildings and structures on site and construction of a new five storey mixed use development comprising ground floor commercial tenancies and car parking (over three levels), as well as four levels of residential apartments containing 52 apartments across three detached buildings.
It's time to get change into the town.- Cr Mitchell Nadin
The proposal to increase the height limit to 18 metres - it is currently 13 metres for that site - was sent for NSW Planning approval and was passed back to council for its final say.
The planning proposal and development application were exhibited from June 15 to July 15, 2022 and 34 submissions were received.
There was concern expressed over the size of the development, overshadowing and its context in the Merimbula streetscape.
Currently much of the area has two storeys but it does have a height limit of 13 metres and council's CEO Anthony McMahon said there were several DAs which had been approved but were "not yet overly visible".
In December 2022 council staff flagged they were looking at a compromise of 16 metres height because 18 metres would result in "a significant change of character to the Merimbula town centre".
I think we will look back and say it was a damn good decision.- Cr Tony Allen
"While 16m would also result in a change of character to the existing built form in Market Street, it is considered that this more moderate increase in height of buildings limit can be more comfortably accommodated at the site," the report to council said.
But on May 24 at the council meeting where it was discussed, councillors did not agree.
Cr Tony Allen said Merimbula needed something to happen.
"It's going to take a lot of guts for the developer to do and make this happen," Cr Allen said.
"I believe this fits perfectly into that site in Merimbula," he said.
"I think we will look back and say it was a damn good decision."
Cr Mitchell Nadin said it would bring a buzz back to the town.
"It's going to have a positive effect, it will change the character but it's time to get change into the town," Cr Nadin said.
Mayor Russell Fitzpatrick said it meant councillors were sticking with the original intent of the proposal sent to NSW Planning.
The VPA would be negotiated by Mr McMahon under delegated authority.
The details are expected to be sent to the NSW Minister for Planning Paul Scully, by August 2023 for his sign off.
Merimbula-based urban planner Roz Hansen made a submission and has suggested more one and two-bedroom units should be incorporated in the design.
Mr Green said it was something he could look at and was happy to have further discussions with Ms Hansen and swap out some of the three-bedroom units.
There is a feeling among councillors that while this might not be be considered affordable housing, it would allow older residents to move out of family homes and downsize, thereby returning family homes to the market.
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