“An opportunity wildly missed“ is how Cr Tom Wegener described Noosa Council’s refusal of an application by Cooroy resident Rob Noy to continue to operate a food and drink outlet at his Bus Stop Espresso from his property at 201 Mary River Road.
Mr Noy submitted an application to council to retrospectively approve his Bus Stop Espresso that serves his own and locally sourced food and beverages from a 1948 Victorian omnibus on his rural property about 2km from Cooroy.
About 18 months ago Noosa councillors were unanimous in backing the continued operation of the roadside stall which had grown into a food and drink outlet providing a safe sanctuary during Covid, enabling the operator time to apply for the appropriate permit to continue serving coffee at its onsite dining area.
At the time, the application sparked discussion on the value of small scale rural businesses to the community and tourism as well as the limitations in the planning scheme to enable a path of growth for small scale rural produce and creative industries that do not adversely impact the region.
At last Thursday’s Ordinary meeting all councillors, apart from Cr Wegener, voted to side with staff recommendations to refuse the application for a food and drink outlet but allow a street stall to operate.
Cr Wegener said the rules regarding food stalls were quite confusing. You can sell things you grow but what if you grow coffee, could you sell it, could you taste it, could you sit down and enjoy it?
“These questions are still out there. In 18 months we haven’t learnt anything,“ he said.
The stall sells honey and eggs, produced on Mr Noy’s property, fruit, vegetables and herbs grown on his and nearby properties, coffee processed and produced by Cooroy Coffee Roasters and had aims to expand its range, stall structure and dining opportunities.
Councillors spoke about the popularity of Bus Stop Espresso but council officers said they had received complaints over its operation relating to traffic, road safety and amenity, and the food and drink outlet was not consistent with the Noosa Plan.
At the meeting Cr Wegener moved a motion to extend to 24 months the applicant’s ability to operate without approval.
“We know we’re supporting agriculture. We want to move toward sustainable local agriculture,“ he said.
Cr Wegener said Bus Stop Espresso relied on council’s recommendation 18 months prior to submit its application but it was now being refused on the basis of inaccurate assumptions it was not in the public interest, not an urban enterprise, had limited tourist interest.
“It’s proven this is what the community wants,“ he said.
“We can learn from it. We need to know for our own good, where it’s going. We need to do this by giving us 24 months to investigate Bus Stop Espresso.“
Cr Wegener said he thought complaints from neighbours could have been better resolved through dispute mitigation.
“I don’t think closing down the bus stop will end that dispute,“ he said.
“I’m in favour of dispute resolution getting in early on so this doesn’t happen.“
On a broader scale Cr Wegener asked councillors what message this decision would send to the hinterland community.
“I think we’re telling them, give up,“ he said.
“We live in a place where food grows abundantly. We should be focusing on our own economy and being more self sufficient.
“The problem is, we aren’t learning from this success, as a culture, as a community. We should be learning from what’s going on. Why did it work?“
Cr Amelia Lorentson moved a motion to expedite an investigation into the need for a mobile coffee trader in the hinterland, including at the botanic gardens and hinterland playground, but officers confirmed any such option would need to progress through a tender process, and, despite queries at the meeting, it was not expressed whether Rob Noy had an interest in finding an alternate site for his Bus Stop Espresso.
Cr Wegener said it was a sad day with a small (silver) lining.
“The food stall is glorious. It is a big step forward for the economy,“ he said.
“We say to the hinterland, don’t give up. We can make a difference to the plan.
“As of now, seating at food stalls is not allowed. We can take what bus stop espresso has done and moving forward, can do that.“
After the meeting council chief executive officer Larry Sengstock said it had been a difficult and for some an unpopular decision, however, council had a consistent approach to adhering to its existing regulations in the Planning Scheme.
Development and regulation director Richard MacGillivray said the application to include a food and drink outlet (coffee shop) was inconsistent with the Noosa Plan 2020.
“The food and drink outlet component of the application was refused as it was contrary to the site’s rural zoning, and traffic and car parking impacts were not adequately addressed,” he said.
“Officers based their recommendations on the current regulations and carefully considered all aspects of the Planning Scheme.“
Mr Sengstock said council had approved the establishment of a new building for a roadside stall which enhanced the operator’s capacity to promote and sell local food produce from the site, and he would work with the applicant to look at options for an appropriate alternative site for the food and drink outlet.
Resulting from the decision, the applicant will be advised the food and drink outlet must cease operating from the site within three months with any unapproved structures removed.