WORK is already underway to make part of the footpath a 172-seat outside dining area for Sorrento’s Continental Hotel despite there being no agreement on leasing costs.
Mornington Peninsula Shire councillors last week authorised CEO John Baker to reopen negotiations with the hotel despite their decision in December to $38,000 for the first year, $45,000 in the second and $50,000 in the third year.
The hotel, through its lawyers, has rejected the lease conditions and “sought exclusive possession of the licence area”.
Cr David Gill was the only councillor against the Mr Baker going back to the hotel to try and reach agreement.
Cr Gill said the council had “already made a decision [on 14 December] and if the [hotel] doesn’t like it, they can walk away”.
“[Setting the lease amounts] was a council decision, not a negotiation,” he said.
Cr Gill said council officers had originally suggested council charge half of what it eventually decided.
“Council decided that wasn’t a good enough. The outcome should be a fair recompense to our community for giving up public land.”
“The hitch in all of this is the officers came back originally with a much smaller lease amount and then we’re going back to negotiate again – the outcome’s fairly obvious to me.
“We shouldn’t be negotiating. We should be saying ‘do you want it? This is the price’.
“You don’t ever get to halve the lease amount on a house. There seems to be a belief we’re the bunnies.
“We’ve already made up our minds but [now] might change on the basis [the hotel] might walk away. I just don’t accept it.”
Cr Susan Bissinger thought it “a good idea to have negotiations go on”.
“Sometimes things get lost in emails and all that kind of stuff,” she said. “There needs to be some kind of face-to-face negotiations and see what the best outcome for the community is.”
Nepean Ratepayers’ Association president Colin Watson, in a letter to Mr Baker, said the shire was “in the unenviable position” of having the hotel refuse to agree to the lease.
Mr Watson accused council officers of providing councillors with “incorrect and contradictory” information about the legalities of the hotel occupying the footpath.
“The NRA urges all councillors to consider very carefully the implications of the refusal of the developer to agree to a proposed licence fee and the seeking of exclusive possession of the licence area,” Mr Watson wrote.
He said the proposed $38,000 to $50,000 annual fees were “well below market value”.
“The [shire] is well within its rights to deny the exclusive possession of a community asset and can demand that the developer make good by returning the area to seven car parking spaces and footpath,” Mr Watson stated.
“Should the developer again refuse to pay a discounted fee and enter into the licence to occupy then we urge all councillors to issue an order to remove the outdoor dining, return the seven parking spaces and make good the footpath.”
Councillors who voted for Mr Baker to resume negotiations with the Continental Hotel were Antonella Celi, Kerri McCafferty, Sarah Race, Susan Bissinger, Lisa Dixon and the mayor, Anthony Marsh. Against: Cr Gill.