The saga of the Coombs shops has taken another twist with the site listed for sale, but many in the community feel it may be a lemon and the only option is for the government to buy it back.
Developer and owner Renato Cervo bought the site in 2015, a development application was approved in late 2016 and he completed the centre in 2018 but has only managed to attract one tenant, an Asian convenience store, and not the anchor supermarket it needs.
Repeated community appeals to the government to do something about the situation have been in vain with Planning Minister Mick Gentleman saying that under the terms of the lease his hands are tied.
The issue was integral to the Legislative Assembly calling for an independent review into development in the Molonglo Valley.
Mr Gentleman said in a statement today that the situation was a poor outcome for the community.
”The Government is exploring all options, including a recommendation in an independent report to buy back the shops,” he said.
Weston Creek Community Council chair Tom Anderson, who has been lobbying for action on the matter for at least two years, said this would be welcome, although many in the community would also like to see it demolished.
”We’d love [the government] to buy the shops, get them filled, and provide the services the people need,” he said.
He said some people had lived in the area for eight years without any shops or services.
A possible impediment to a sale could be the limited size of the supermarket site at only 1000 square metres, the result of what many called a failed government policy.
The other deterrent could be the approval of the Koko Molonglo development in nearby Wright, which will have a 1500 square metre supermarket and is due for completion in late 2022 or early 2023.
Mr Anderson said the size would not interest any of the bigger supermarket players but could suit an IGA.
Molonglo community activist Ryan Hemsley says the Coombs centre could go the way of the Giralang shops – ”a dead abandoned site stuck in planning hell for years and years”.
But with Koko some way off there was an opportunity for a new owner to open a supermarket at Coombs and get a jump on a likely competitor.
”If they do manage to find a buyer that would be absolutely fantastic,” he said. ”We’re all desperate for a development there of some description.”
Mr Hemsley said it was clear that the current supermarket size restrictions hadn’t worked in the consumers’ favour, and Mr Gentleman had refused to take responsibility for placing a 1000 square metre site in Coombs surrounded by sites 500 square metres bigger.
He said the developer had not shown an ability to deliver a vibrant community centre.
”There are plenty of people living nearby, plenty of demand. It’s hard to see how a local centre couldn’t have taken shape,” he said.
Mr Anderson said the difference between the Suburban Land Agency-driven suburbs of Wright and Coombs with the privately developed Denman Prospect – with its shops, cafe and supermarket – was stark.
In a letter to Mr Anderson, Mr Gentleman acknowledges mistakes have been made in Coombs, saying he has asked officials to investigate potential changes that would prevent a similar situation from occurring in the future, or that may allow the Government to take action as appropriate.
He says the situation has prompted the government to review its processes for selling commercial land and several changes have been introduced to ensure the purchaser is able to deliver developments appropriate for commercial tenants.
The lack of services in Coombs and Wright has had implications for the nearby Weston Group Centre where parking and services are under pressure from Molonglo residents.
It appears the Coombs centre was listed back in March and few have noticed. It is for sale by negotiation. There is speculation the owner is asking $12 million.