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Queanbeyan plaza dreaming: perhaps not so fast

Reaction from immediate neighbours has been mixed to the QPRC administration’s concept plan for a council headquarters and civic plaza in the Q carpark.

Concerns revolve around lack of consultation and lack of planning options presented to the community, as well as business access and cost questions.

Unhappiness extends to plans for demolition of a row of what some call ‘heritage’ houses on Rutledge Street opposite the library, in a council deal struck in recent months with a consortium of developers who lodged an ‘unsolicited bid’ for the land.

It was confirmed that under Administrator Tim Overall council entered a Heads of Agreement outside the tender process with Downtown Q Pty Ltd (Milin Builders, Turnkey Projects and McNamee Development Division).  However the Bulletin was told the land sale is still subject to further consideration “by council” and independent land valuations.

That proposal is for residential and commercial space with underground parking.  Council interim general manager Peter Tegart said it will bring much-needed foot traffic into the CBD and any land sale proceeds would go towards the plaza works.

civic-plaza-bottlo-imageA number of merchants whose premises back onto the Q car park, and, like Walshes Hotel bottle shop, rely on easy customer access from there, object to the proposed $25 million new council headquarters going behind their premises, blocking future car access from Lowe Street.

“Why couldn’t they just rebuild on the existing site of council offices?” asked realtor Peter Stumbles from Elders Real Estate which is next to the hotel. He has customer parking issues, as does David Reid from WJ Gibbs Real Estate a few doors down. Reid said he currently has 18 allocated parking spaces behind the building owned by his family that also houses Country Heir coffee shop and a shoe shop.

Former Queanbeyan councillor Kenrick Winchester noted that the previous Queanbeyan council, while amenable to a civic plaza development, had assumed that the existing council offices facing Crawford Street would be renovated and extended upwards for the new headquarters.

“I have these questions about consultation,” said Stumbles. “It seems to me they have done things backwards. Who looked at this in the first instance and came up with these placements of buildings and a new park of trees on the (plaza) site?”  Stumbles said in addition, the lack of Monaro Street parking doesn’t help main street merchants in Queanbeyan competing against malls with parking lots.

But another neighbour, Vince Suraci, who owns the old Tab arcade, was more relaxed about the whole thing and says any development is good.

Council’s plan went on public exhibition (until mid-August). It proposes bringing an expanded administration into a new six storey building as described, selling off other buildings, and making the plaza a tree-filled civic space between Bicentennial Hall and the library. Public parking would go elsewhere, where is unclear.

Tegart confirmed a Heads of Agreement with a “major tenant” has been signed. They would occupy some basement car parking and most of ground level and floor one. Council chambers, a casual office space called a ‘smart hub’ and council offices would fill the rest.

The major tenant is widely rumoured to be the NSW Police who would move from their current bunker across Monaro Street.

Tegart said council proposed to borrow $35million from the State Treasury Corporation for the whole project with $25 million allocated for the new administration building. The rest is for demolition works and the development of temporary car parking for the construction phase, another sore point for the neighbours.  Tenant fees would contribute to paying off some of the loan.

The Bulletin was told by several sources that the senior citizens who built a centre in a council–owned building on site are very unhappy about being moved to the suburbs away from coffee shops and other amenities and costing more in transport. Council agreed it has held discussions with the senior citizens and Queanbeyan FM and provided both groups with alternate locations per a council report in July 2017.

While the final disposition of all this will surely rest with the newly-elected democratic council, some of the neighbours continue to worry aloud about “secret dealings” and the way things have been done.

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