Distillery given tick of approval

Cr Martyn Evans addressing tonight’s meeting.

THE rum distillery proposed for Willow Court has been given conditional approval at tonight’s special meeting of the Derwent Valley Council.

After two councillors declared conflicts of interest and left the room, the remaining five councillors gave unanimous approval to the first stage of the New Norfolk Distillery project.

The council was one member short owing to Cr Paul Belcher being on leave, but there were still enough members present to hear the application after Crs Anne Salt and Rachel Power left the room. The matter was dealt with in four minutes, with Cr Marytn Evans moving the acceptance of the council planner’s recommendation, seconded by Cr Jessica Cosgrove, and after a short discussion it was carried without dissent.

A spokesman for the developers said a public statement on the decision would be made tomorrow. In a staged development, the council-owned former hospital ward Alonnah House will be converted into a distillery, tasting bar and sales area. The $70,000 first stage will see a 300L still installed in the northern corner of the building.

The council was to have considered the application at its monthly meeting on May 16 but the absence of two councillors, and two declaring conflicts of interest in the proposal, saw that meeting temporarily without the numbers necessary to proceed. The council was subsequently granted a two-week extension by the developers, resulting in the application going before the special meeting tonight.

The area shaded in pink is proposed to be the
first stage of the distillery project.

Opening the discussion at tonight’s meeting, Cr Martyn Evans said it had been an interesting journey to get the application to where it is. “Lots of discussion and lots of community consultation has taken place by the proponent,” he said. “The planner has done a great deal of work and I commend them for that. I will be supporting this application.”

Cr Julie Triffett said she was disappointed not to have been able to deal with the application at the last meeting. “It is a planning matter and I know it’s hard to separate the emotion from the bricks and mortar [but] that’s what we need to do. There were lots of responses to the [Development Application] which I thank the community for; I also thank the planner for the brilliant report she has put up.
“It doesn’t matter what decision is made tonight. Some people will go away disappointed, sad and upset, but history will be the judge if we’ve made the decisions right tonight or not. If the D.A. is approved tonight we can have everything… we’ve got a two chef hat restaurant in Willow Court, we can have a world class rum distillery and the proposal that was put up by the distillery proponents I think included art installations and artifacts. So just imagine, we can have it all,” Cr Triffett said.
Deputy mayor Jessica Cosgrove was next to speak, stating her full support for the application. “I also agree with both of my colleagues’ comments, especially in relation to the fact that we are acting as a planning authority so we can’t really get involved in too much emotive discussion around that, which pretty much leaves me with not a lot to say,” she said.
“However I think it would be wonderful to have this area, after 20 – don’t quote me – but 20-odd years, finally activated and I believe that it would help with increasing tourists in the area. To finally see some movement would be wonderful. I have taken note, too, of the overwhelming support from members of the public which did contribute to my decision this evening, and for those who are not 100% confident that this is the right move for our community I am also open to discussion and further consultation about what else can happen in that area and I believe that we can all work together to achieve the best result for the Derwent Valley,” Cr Cosgrove said.
Cr Luke Browning said he too was fully supportive of the application, “It looks like a lot of work has gone into it, there’s a lot of conditions, full support of the well thought out process,” he said. “I’m just satisfied that a lot of work has gone in and that we can get a good outcome for everyone.”
The meeting attracted a big audience in the public gallery.

Closing the discussion, Cr Evans thanked his colleagues for their comments and said they had obviously read the documents quite thoroughly. Mayor Ben Shaw then put the matter to the vote and it was carried unanimously, followed by a round of applause from the public gallery.

Some of the conditions attached to the planning permit relate to proposed alterations to the heritage-listed building, including the need for an archaeologist to monitor any works requiring ground disturbance, refusal of the complete removal of a security window, and limits on proposed internal demolition work. The developers will also be required to prepare a site interpretation plan.

The 1960s building is one of the youngest on the site, which served as a hospital from 1827 until 2000. New Norfolk-based aged care provider Corumbene last week lodged a development application for a $5 million redevelopment of two other buildings at Willow Court, which is expected to go to next month’s council meeting.

In her report to tonight’s council meeting, planning officer Linda Graham noted that during the period of public comment on the distillery project, 54 objections had been received and 31 letters of support.

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