Sapphire Beach community loses appeal to keep Beachstone Cafe

Beachstone Cafe at Sapphire Beach has been given the go ahead to become a childcare centre and a kiosk, following much debate at the recent Coffs Harbour City Council meeting. Photo: Beachstone Cafe.


AFTER around two hours of contentious debate, Coffs Harbour City Councillors narrowly resolved four votes to three to approve a controversial childcare centre at Beachstone Cafe, Sapphire Beach.

The development application for the childcare centre involved a change of use of the existing cafe building, including demolition, alterations and additions to establish North Sapphire Beach Childcare Centre, and a kiosk.

The site is burdened by a restriction on use (covenant) which mandates that any building on the land must be used as, or in connection with, a general store, restaurant or cafe.

Following public exhibition of the development application, Council received 382 submissions (including one petition) with 381 submissions objecting to the development and one submission in support of it.

Councillors heard from Beachstone Action Group members Dorothy Ayers and Simon Young at the Council meeting on Thursday 12 November, who called on councillors to reject the Council staff recommendation to approve the childcare centre and kiosk and remove the current restriction on use, and asked councillors to help save the cafe and recognise the loss of community locals will experience if the childcare centre is approved.

They argued that the cafe was a profitable business, however Beachstone Cafe owner Danny Cougle refuted this at the Council meeting and stated that the present cafe was unviable and his family were “at a loss as to how to turn it around”.

Mr Cougle described the restriction on use placed on the cafe business as “crippling”.

“We see it as crippling; a Council saying it has to stay as a cafe even if it has to close its doors,” Mr Cougle said.

“We can’t keep going, we are seeing a return of less than 2.5% on this place.

“We just can’t seem to make a go of it.”

Mr Cougle said the cafe’s current tenants had advised that they would be vacating the business in early December.

“The cafe therefore will certainly be closed over the entire Christmas period, with no reopening date in sight,” Mr Cougle confirmed.

“That outcome’s not in the community’s interest or our interest.”

Cr Tegan Swan moved an alternate motion at the meeting, that Council approve the childcare centre and kiosk, but still retain the restriction originally placed on the use of the business.

Cr Swan said the alternate motion respected both the community’s wishes to retain an area where they could gather together, and also respected the wishes of the business owner and what they wanted to achieve.

“They (the community) like that space, they want to still be able to have that space for connection,” Cr Swan said.

However, Cr Swan said it had been 15 years since the cafe was established and she believed it was important to “allow things to evolve”.

“And potentially a childcare centre could be very valuable, if not to the people there now, then in the future,” Cr Swan said.

“I think that we do need to find that happy medium; this isn’t the be and end all for their community space.”

Cr John Arkan agreed that this was the best way forward for both the community and the cafe owner.

“It does show a way forward of allowing the business to prosper, because the landowner has a business and has a right to conduct business on that premises,” Cr Arkan said.

“This is a nice clean way forward that will allow both the developer and the community to coexist.

“This allows both things to go ahead.”

Cr Sally Townley however fought for the community’s right to have the business’ restriction on use honoured.

“We do know why the covenant is there, you only have to go back and see the early planning documents and the sales pitch for this award-winning development to see that the concept of that community hub/beachside cafe is very much a focal point of the development application in the beginning,” Cr Townley said.

“It’s part of the reason why people bought into that development.

“What they are asking now is to be released from that covenant, but I can’t see what the community is getting in return for the release from that contract.”

Cr Townley called on fellow councillors to uphold the restrictive covenant and not approve the childcare centre.

“We can’t ignore that fact that that restriction is there,” she said.

“It’s very clear that the motive was to create this state of the art cohesive community that offered much more than what a normal subdivision does.

“The covenant is there, it’s a legal instrument, it’s legally enforceable and all those people have got a right to expect its continuation.”

Cr Keith Rhoades questioned how much worth the covenant had.

“What is a covenant, what basis has it got? Cr Rhoades asked.

“Covenants aren’t really worth the paper they are written on, but they are a good selling tool.”

Cr Rhoades said forcing the cafe owner to retain the cafe or refusing their development application would be the “death knell of that business”.

“What the applicant has put forward is something that they believe will be viable,” Cr Rhoades said.

“You can’t tell people how to earn their living.”

Council narrowly resolved four votes to three to approve the development application for a centre-based childcare facility and kiosk (change of use involving demolition, alterations and additions) at Beachstone Cafe, Sapphire Beach subject to conditions including a restriction on title to enable a building on the land to be used as, or in conjunction with, a ‘centre-based child care facility’ and ‘kiosk’, and to support the modification of the restriction on use of the land to enable a building on the land to be used as or in connection with a centre-based child care facility and/or kiosk.

Cr John Arkan, Cr George Cecato, Cr Keith Rhoades and Cr Tegan Swan voted for the motion, and Cr Denise Knight, Cr Paul Amos and Cr Sally Townley voted against.

The childcare facility is proposed to cater for 40 children aged from three to five years and will operate between 6.30am and 6pm Monday to Friday.

The kiosk is proposed to operate between 6.30am and 9pm Monday to Sunday.

The childcare centre will be fenced off to the public, while the Beachstone coffee bar will remain open.

Legal action and a possible class action against Council and/or the developer may now be investigated by the Beachstone Action Group, following approval of the childcare centre.



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