PEOPLE who spoke out against plans for a shopping complex opposite the North Buderim IGA say they have been scared off by a letter from lawyers for the site's developer.
The proposal for a new shopping centre, including a Woolworths supermarket, across the road from the existing IGA and other shops was rejected by Sunshine Coast Council last month.
That decision was against the recommendation of council planning officers. More than 1100 submissions were received, mostly against the proposal.
Negative impacts on nearby shops and a lack of demonstrated need for the new shopping centre were among reasons the council cited in its decision.
The developer, Harvest Investment Co, lodged an appeal in the Planning and Environment Court days after the council's decision.
Under the Sustainable Planning Act, submitters such as the residents have the right to appear in the case.
But a letter dated December 22 from Connor O'Meara solicitors, on behalf of Harvest Investment Co, has the residents worried.
It states that if the developer wins the court case, it will seek to have its legal costs paid by the respondents, which could include residents if they become co-respondents with the council.
"(The applicant) has got very deep pockets and they could spend millions of dollars on a court case," one Buderim resident said, on condition of anonymity.
Before he received the letter, he had been considering "backing up the council" by appearing as a co-respondent, but the letter had changed his mind.
"I'm retired - what assets we have now have to last us the rest of our lives," he said.
"The last thing I'd want to find out is we're up for a $100,000 bill or even a $1000 bill. I don't think it's a fair thing ... it's just a case of frightening people from supporting the council."
A Sunshine Coast Council spokesman yesterday refused to comment on whether it had counted on submitters joining it as co-respondents.
While it is a requirement under section 482 of the Sustainable Planning Act for an appellant (Harvest Investment Co) to send a notice of the appeal to all submitters, planning and environment lawyer Matthew Bryant, of Cooper Grace Ward, said the formal format of the correspondence sent to residents was unusual.
But he said they shouldn't be scared as it was "normal practice" for an appellant to seek its costs in an appeal.
"This shouldn't be taken as a veiled threat or similar," Mr Bryant said.
But that's cold comfort for another Buderim resident and petitioner, who said she had been so frightened by the letter, she would think twice before signing another petition.
"Is it really of any help if it's going to be stymied like that?" she said.
North Buderim IGA owner Ben Crous said he didn't believe people who made submissions against the development should list as co-respondents, as it could "drag out the process".
The stoush between North Buderim Shopping Centre - including the North Buderim IGA - and its potential rival, North Buderim Supermarket Centre - including the proposed Woolworths - will likely continue as the appeal progresses over the next year.
"We'll be standing beside council," North Buderim Shopping Centre owner Dale Massie said.
"And if there are others in the community who are wanting to do that, that's a matter for them.
"But we will definitely be co-respondents in this appeal."
A Woolworths spokesman declined to answer questions about the letter sent to submitters, saying the company was "only a tenant" of the complex.
Attempts to contact Harvest Investment Co and its solicitors were unsuccessful.
Roy says service station would be better
STAFF at North Buderim IGA have been approached by more than 20 of the petitioners worried they will be held liable for court costs.
One of them was Buderim resident Roy Gibson, owner of a garden maintenance business who has lived in the area with his wife Kerrie and children for 20 years.
"We know the area so well, and we don't want a Woolies there," he said. "We're passionate about it."
Mr Gibson said he would support a service station or other development being placed at the vacant lot opposite the IGA, if roads were upgraded to accommodate the increased traffic, but not a Woolworths supermarket.
"It's just the area's not big enough - there's no new housing estates opening up," he said.
"There's no growth, and they're just basically going to steal somebody else's business for no good reason."
Mr Gibson was a regular at the IGA, and was yesterday baking meat for his son's 21st birthday celebration that he'd bought at the nearby independent grocer.
The letter he received from Connor O'Meara solicitors on behalf of the developer hadn't frightened him, he said, and he would continue to voice his opposition.
Owner of North Buderim Shopping Centre, which includes an IGA supermarket, Dale Massie, said it was unfair of the developer to issue a letter on December 22, when recipients would be unlikely to get legal advice to clarify its meaning, during the holiday period.
"Of all the times to send out that letter to the objectors...those people are average mums and dads and they're not lawyers," he said.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.