Clearing the way for Coolstores to thrive

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THE struggling Moorooduc Coolstores commercial centre is being thrown another lifeline in its long battle to remain viable.

Its trading future has not been helped by the advent of Peninsula Link, which now diverts most peninsula tourist traffic away from the extensively renovated heritage buildings just south of Frankston.

Although the centre now houses several businesses, including an Endota Spa and a cake shop, it needs more tenants.

At the 22 April Mornington Peninsula Shire planning meeting councillors resolved to simplify the procedure for approving changes to use of the site, at the corner of the Moorooduc Highway and Eramosa Rd West – where in the past many a lively night has been had involving strong drink and live music, among other activities.

Now the site is aiming at emerging anew with a plan including a restaurant where pub rowdiness once occurred, and attracting health and tourism operators to its 500 square metres of shop floor space – developing a theme of “wellness, health, entertainment, food, wine, tourism, local farm produce even”, according to Mornington Peninsula Shire strategic planning manager Allan Cowley.

When last used as a coolstore nearly half a century ago the building became a blacksmith-cum-light engineering shop. This was deemed an eyesore. The site was given special exemptions for activities otherwise not permitted in the rural zone, which became the more strictly controlled green wedge zone about a decade ago.

That was lifeline number one. More followed. A major one came in 2009 with a change to the shire’s planning scheme that, according to Mr Cowley’s report to councillors, approved more uses otherwise prohibited in the green wedge zone that have “so far proved to be commercially unviable”.

Now, council is considering another lifeline. Some councillors were fervently pro-lifeline. A minority argued the site could not expect to get shire help forever and voted against the new proposal.

They argued the site was zoned green wedge, and the activities occurring there, and proposed new activities, were an anomaly, out of kilter with shire policy of supporting townships and activity centres. Besides, it was now out of the tourist traffic stream that could have – but didn’t – make it thrive.

The buildings that have housed art and craft shops, plant nurseries, a dwelling, a museum, an antique shop, a function centre and a radio station are now to be tried as a health and tourism precinct, hoping to attract travel and medical clinics, and possibly agricultural produce processors. No adult sex shops or laundromats permitted.

Cr David Gibb, a grazier and staunch defender of the green wedge, failed to halve the shop floor space to 250 square metres, or 10 per cent of the site’s total floor area. This would be “a more appropriate number” for a use otherwise prohibited in green wedge, he argued.

Mr Cowley said councillors could alter the 500 square metre figure; it had been included to provide “wiggle room” for councillors to adjust if they chose. Cr Bev Colomb wanted the link with agriculture strengthened, to reflect the coolstores’ past. That could be “encouraged” or even “required”, Mr Cowley agreed.

Cr Graham Pittock, supporting Cr Gibb, declared forthrightly: “We’re not in the business of handing out lifelines. [The site] is becoming too retail.”

Cr Antonella Celi, also forthright, disagreed. There was a viable businesses looking to thrive on that corner, to awaken that corner, she said. “My ethic is not to be cutthroat to people … who look to do the right thing and come to council in seeking to work with council,” she argued.

“How many years have gone past, that Eramosa Rd – this place – has been used? A lot of businesses have gone bankrupt. Personally, I want to see that corner thrive, if there’s a business plan that has the potential to work.

“I’m all for it. I’m not into destroying peoples’ livelihoods and businesses on this Mornington Peninsula.”

So, when is green wedge land not to be treated as green wedge land? Answer: when slightly off-kilter council decisions taken over decades prolong the life of a chronic commercial invalid.

If this lifeline, equivalent of changing the patient’s drip, fails to bring the Moorooduc Coolstores back to rude good health, does the shire throw it another? And another? Such are the dilemmas councillors face.

First published in the Mornington News – 26 May 2015

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