It was a night of celebration for the team behind Grima Bros Wholesale Produce at Gregory Hills.
At last night’s Camden Council meeting, councillors unanimously decided to allow the embattled fruit and vegetable shop to continue operating even though the size of the store was not compliant with relevant planning controls.
Dart West Developments – a major developer in Gregory Hills – started legal proceedings against Grima Bros as the store “significantly exceeded” the allowed maximum size for a grocery-style shop.
Dart West Developments were concerned the size of the Grima Bros store would have a “detrimental affect” on the Gregory Hills Town Centre.
Council staff recommended the store’s development application be refused however councillors, led by Cr Paul Farrow, voted otherwise.
Grima Bros owner Joe Grima said the result was unexpected.
“No way did I think it would go the way it did, I thought it was all over,” he said.
“When the councillors started changing [the recommendation] I felt like passing out, I just can’t explain how that felt.
“I am just amazed – it was not our intention to cause any trouble, just to run a good business.”
Hundreds of people came to the meeting wearing badges of support and approximately 14,000 people signed a petition to keep the shop open.
“There were about eight people I knew there, the rest of them were just from the community. I couldn’t believe they were there to support us,” Mr Grima said.
“Our customers have been amazing, it has been a very nerve-racking time but they have given us the strength to fight.
“Without them I might have just put my head down and closed (the shop).”
Mr Grima said he was delighted with the council’s decision.
“We are just three farming brothers who dreamed of opening a business,” he said.
“I’d like to thank the councillors for recognising the strength of the community and showing that they are here for the community.”
At the meeting Cr Farrow moved that the store be allowed to operate at its current size.
“This has been a tough issue ... but we were elected to apply a little bit of discretion,” he said.
“I fully support [allowing Grima Bros to continue operation].”
Councillor Peter Sidgreaves said the store was ‘completely unique.’
“The business owners have done everything they can to ensure they are operating legally,” he said.
“I understand the argument on both sides but if the community want something, why should we refuse it?”
Camden mayor Lara Symkowiak said she had agonised over the decision.
“Grima Bros was issued a compliant operating certificate by a private certifier,” she said.
“Council has been unfairly blamed for this.
“It is a very difficult situation. This is one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make in my eight or nine years on council.
“This has weighed heavily on me as a small business owner myself.
“I can’t support shutting down Grima Bros.”
Dart West general manager David Taylor said allowing the store to operate at its current size could have a detrimental effect on Gregory Hills Town Centre.
He said this decision would make it difficult to bring in new tenants at Gregory Hills Town Centre.
“It is not our intention to have Grima Bros close down,” Mr Taylor said.
“We want to ensure Gregory Hills Town Centre is viable … families in Gregory Hills deserve to have that vision delivered.
“This could also set an undesirable precedent.”