Has Development Victoria genuinely listened to the community's concerns regarding the proposed development of Dan Murphy's in Junction Place?
How Development Victoria and the developer respond to community objection provides a moment of truth in how committed they are to the vision of Junction Place in creating a city heart and pride of place in Wodonga's CBD.
Notwithstanding the slow progress in securing appropriate tenants and developments for Junction Place, the community is very proud of the station building and Goods Shed precinct.
These buildings were restored in a way that respected their history while making them appropriate for the right use and tenancy we see today.
Development Victoria also invested appropriately in improving the surrounding amenity, constructing the promenade area and gantries that make up Junction Square.
Likewise, Wodonga Council, largely through federal grants, has invested in the surrounding amenity.
This included building Richardson Park and landscaping Junction Square.
The council also has appropriately activated the space with some highly-patronised pop-up businesses that complement Junction Place nicely.
In this context it's therefore hugely concerning that Development Victoria and its partners could be displaying such a tin ear to the community's opposition to both Dan Murphy's proposal and a revised master plan.
Those who participated in Development Victoria's recently completed consultation can rightly feel sceptical about the intent of the consultation.
The consultation was initiated after the Dan Murphy's application and revised master plan permit applications were submitted.
Many in the community share the view that a revised master plan is at best predetermined and at worst, a Trojan Horse for getting the Dan Murphy’s development approved.
When asked in the first community consultation session about jettisoning the Dan Murphy's proposal, the developer's representative said they were committed to retail on that corner and that Dan Murphy's had provided a "strong proposal".
There was little acknowledgement, if any, of the strength of opposition by the community to the proposal.
By inference the community could conclude that their concerns were being dismissed.
Under the umbrella of what was expected to be a genuine engagement and consultation, you can forgive the community for thinking the developer has already made their mind up.
Many in the community share the view that a revised master plan is at best predetermined and at worst, a Trojan Horse for getting the Dan Murphy's development approved.
Both items will be going before Wodonga councillors in coming months for determination.
Adding to this is a strong community perception that progress on the site has been painfully slow.
In 2018, it was announced a cinema would be built and completed by the end of the following year.
But nothing eventuated with that plan and it has subsequently led to a Dan Murphy's being proposed for that key location on the corner of Elgin Boulevard and Smythe Street.
In early 2019, the commencement of a 70-townhouse development was announced, but so far only one on South Street has been partly built.
All this contrasts starkly with what has been the largest property boom in Wodonga in 32 years.
Developers have been experiencing unprecedented demand and sales.
The community is puzzled when trying to reconcile the difference between what is going on in the rest of Wodonga versus Junction Place.
Trust could be restored by not just pausing the application for Dan Murphy's, but withdrawing it permanently.
The developer can then work with the community in securing appropriate uses and tenancies.
The community is asking, given the lack of progress, why isn't Development Victoria cracking the whip and demanding more of those they have entrusted in the site's development?
Development Victoria and major projects minister, Jacinta Allan, owe it to the people of Wodonga to get this once in a lifetime opportunity right by delivering on the community vision for Junction Place.
If not, find a developer who can.
Michael Gobel is a regional economic development consultant and former Wodonga Council investment attraction director.
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