5 July 2023

Councillors send planning proposal for seven-storey hotel in Merimbula to State Government

| Albert McKnight
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concept image of a hotel

A concept image of the proposed seven-storey hotel at Club Sapphire, Merimbula, included in council documents. Image: BVSC.

Bega Valley Shire’s councillors have sent a planning proposal for a seven-storey hotel and conference facility at Merimbula’s Club Sapphire to the State Government for gateway determination, despite the council’s own staff recommending against the move.

The proposal involves amending council regulations to increase the club’s height limit from 16 to 26 metres to allow for the hotel’s development.

Before the matter came before councillors for determination on 28 June, Club Sapphire CEO Damien Foley gave a presentation to them in which he said the club was a not-for-profit, community-owned organisation with about 8200 members and 100 employees.

“To remain relevant and viable, the club must change its business model, and even more so if it’s to achieve its most important strategic objective, that being to reduce reliance on gaming machines,” Mr Foley said.

“This need is both economic and a social responsibility.”

Mr Foley said the development of the club’s land assets, including the creation of its proposed hotel and 500-seat-plus conference facility, was seen as the only real option for achieving this objective.

An extra 30 to 35 jobs would be created when the facility was operational, he said.

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Mr Foley said both regional tourism bodies and the council had said the shire needed a four-and-a-half-star accommodation and conference facility.

“Our proposal is just that – but to be viable, it needs height,” he said.

He said the club was concerned about the recommendation and report by council staff, saying the proposal had been with the council for seven years, the club had spent about $500,000 on the process so far and he claimed it appeared there had been almost no assessment of its detailed concept development application.

“If council and the tourism industry want to see a four-plus-star hotel with conference facility in this shire, we believe there is only one way to do it,” Mr Foley said.

“That is by gaining efficiencies through co-locating it with an existing facility like Club Sapphire and with the height that achieves the critical number of rooms with views that are worthy of a four-plus-star rate.

“We believe our site is the best in town for this concept.”

In documents prepared for the meeting, council staff said the planning proposal was in regard to amending council rules to allow for the height increase.

But staff claimed the proposal “does not provide sufficient justification for inconsistencies with relevant council land use and tourism strategies and NSW Government plans and guidelines”.

“Staff conclude that the proposal would result in a significant departure from council’s adopted strategic planning framework and as such should not be supported,” council staff wrote.

Also, the staff said a concept development application (DA) for the planning proposal sought concept approval for the demolition of part of the existing club and construction of a new seven-storey mixed-use and hotel development.

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This would include a club and hotel foyer at ground level, function and conference facilities on the first level and five levels of accommodation above, containing 100 rooms, as well as a new vehicle entry, public domain works and landscaping.

“The DA is on hold pending council’s consideration of this planning proposal report,” staff said.

“Should the concept development application be approved, a subsequent detailed development application will need approval prior to any works commencing.”

Ultimately, at the council’s meeting on 28 June, eight of the councillors agreed to submit the planning proposal to the NSW Department of Planning and Environment for gateway determination.

This involves a review to see whether the proposal should proceed to public exhibition.

As an employee of Club Sapphire, Cr Mitchell Nadin had excused himself from voting with the rest of the councillors.

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