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Somers Wharf plans recommended for refusal

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A rendering of a proposed privacy wall to be erected at Somers Wharf under a planning application (Image from planning documents)

Plans to convert three retail spaces at Somers Wharf into residences have been recommended for refusal.

Meyer Properties said the area had suffered from a lack of foot traffic and the units were not commercially viable, but a report prepared for the Development Applications Board said the proposal did not fit with planning policies.

“While the department acknowledges the financial struggles of the Town of St George and the grounds stated are logical and reasonable, these grounds are deemed not to demonstrate that no reasonable commercial development can be provided on the ground floor,” the report said.

“The proposal does not align with the objectives of mixed-use zones, in particular that it would support the further development of the town as a community centre and complements and contributes to the historical significance and identity of the area.

“While the financial difficulties in leasing these units are noted and having the units vacant would certainly not be in the best interests of the town, for the reasons noted above the residential use of these units is not considered to be supportable.

“Typically, residential uses of buildings abutting public spaces in this area will be limited to upper floors.”

The DAB is expected to deliberate on the application this week.

Plans for proposed changes to Somers Wharf, with units labelled A, B and C proposed to be converted from retail to residential (Image from planning documents)

Last year, Meyer Properties sought planning approval to convert 14, 16 and 18 Water Street, all at Somers Wharf West, from retail units to residential units.

A letter from the company included in the planning application said that it had struggled to keep retail tenants in the spaces despite decreased rents.

“While the company strives to support the vibrant live-shop-enjoy atmosphere of the area, dedicating non-street facing units to visitor-focused retail is increasingly becoming economically unviable,” the company said.

“Despite heavy investment, maintaining consistent retail tenants has been a challenge. Meyer has achieved relatively low turnover rates and limited its vacancies by keeping rental rates low and through seasonal adjusted rates.

“Rents to some tenants are now just a few hundred dollars a month and vacancies are increasingly difficult to fill.”

The proposal garnered a few objections, with members of the public expressing concern about the impact of the changes on the area and the precedent of converting ground-level retail space into housing.

Rachel Perry, owner of The Things We Love, a retail business based in one of the units earmarked for conversion, said foot traffic was good and retail sales were on the upswing.

Proposed changes to Somers Wharf (Image from planning documents)

The Corporation of St George also said it did not support the proposed change of use for the units.

In a letter dated February 26, the corporation said that the “overwhelming sentiment” of a town hall meeting held to discuss the proposal was against the change.

“The most significant point made was the gradual privatisation of spaces previously used by the public — park land to Club Med, beach land granted to St Regis and waterfront for the St George’s Marina,” the letter stated.

A letter of concern sent to Quinell Francis, the Mayor of St George, was also included in the planning file voicing “strong opposition” to the plan, stating she did not believe it was in the best interests of the town.

“The decision to convert commercial properties to residential units raises serious concerns about the economic vitality and appeal of St George,” the letter writer said.

“One of the key aspects that make our town unique is its rich commercial history, which has been a significant draw for tourists and cruise ship visitors alike.

“Transforming these properties into residential units not only diminishes the town’s commercial character but also poses a risk to the economic growth and sustainability of our community.”

The letter added that a residential neighbourhood may not offer the same “allure and attraction” to visitors as a thriving commercial district, and could lead to a decline in tourism and related businesses.

Correction: A previous version of this article attributed a letter of concern to Quinell Francis, the Mayor of St George when the letter was addressed to her. We apologise for any confusion.

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Published April 01, 2024 at 7:54 am (Updated April 01, 2024 at 1:09 pm)

Somers Wharf plans recommended for refusal

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