The approval of the Koko Molonglo development in Wright will come as a relief to the growing area’s residents who have been struggling without a functioning supermarket despite the completion in 2018 of the nearby Coombs shops.
The ongoing debacle of Coombs’ empty shopping centre prompted the Weston Creek Community Council to recently call on the Government to intervene.
In a letter to the Planning Minister Mick Gentleman, chair Tom Anderson says the issue has become more pressing in light of the possible closure of the site’s sole tenant, Ajijo, whose owners have suffered multiple break-ins and are now considering moving the store to another location.
“The time has come for the ACT Government to take decisive action to resolve what threatens to become one of the greatest planning blunders since the advent of self-government,” Mr Anderson writes.
The council called on the Minister to resume the Crown lease to allow the shops to be redeveloped or sold to a developer capable of providing an operational supermarket, or to call in the neighbouring Koko Molonglo development.
The Minister has insisted that his hands are tied over the Coombs lease but he too will be relieved that with the Koko approval a solution is in sight.
The revised Koko proposal, minus the controversial KFC takeaway, has been approved with a range of conditions, including that the supermarket must not be combined with any other shops, including a liquor store.
It includes an eight-storey, 132-unit apartment complex and future 91-room hotel, a 1500 square metre supermarket, five retail shops and basement parking.
Developer John Krnc Group has provided a new Master Plan and replaced the KFC with townhouses, along with a number of other changes to the development.
The Koko website says Woolworths is a confirmed tenant.
The revised proposal addressed matters such as inappropriate use, poor frontages, building height, overshadowing, lack of open space and inadequate landscaping, pedestrian safety and integration with surrounding walking paths, traffic concerns and the visual impact of signs.
But while many will welcome the go-ahead some residents will still be unhappy with the proposal.
The Coombs saga began in 2015 when Renato Cervo bought the land but took three years to develop the site after two development applications fell foul of planning rules.
The site was supposed to contain a 1000 square metre supermarket but the development has stood empty apart from the grocer since it was completed in 2018.
Meanwhile a stone’s throw away in Wright, the government sold the Koko site with zoning allowing a bigger 1500 square metre supermarket but the proposed development failed to pass muster with the planning authority, forcing the developer to dump the planned KFC takeaway.
The result is that Molonglo residents who can drive are shopping at Weston’s Cooleman Court, putting pressure on parking facilities and prompting the Government to announce a new car park will be built on parkland opposite on Parkinson Street.
Mr Anderson says this is no substitute for Coombs and Wright residents having their own supermarket.
Those without vehicles, such as public housing residents, are lugging groceries home by public transport or pushing trolleys from Weston.
While a fair degree of community anger has been directed at Mr Cervo, Mr Anderson says the problems appear to have been made worse by the government’s supermarket policies, which initially saw the Coombs site reduced to 1000 square metres from 1500 square metres under its CZ4 zoning, but then allowed the Koko site (CZ5) to be 1500 square metres, thus making Wright a more attractive proposition.
“Obviously, none of this would have been a problem if the owner of the Coombs shops had submitted, built and opened a compliant set of shops in the 33-month period between the two sites being sold,” an attachment to Mr Anderson’s letter states.
“Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, and Coombs and Wright residents are now stuck with a largely empty set of shops and no expectation of an operational supermarket within a 3.5 km radius until some time in the early 2020s.”
Mr Anderson says the people of Coombs and Wright want somebody to take responsibility for the situation and that after half a decade of delay they are owed a resolution.