After two decades’ management by Kevin Pritzler, Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council will not renew his lease on Queanbeyan Riverside Tourist Park after February next year.
Having invested enormously in the caravan park, including a Supreme Court fight with the former Queanbeyan City Council over rent hikes, Mr Pritzler says he is no longer interested in staying on “after what we’ve been put through. I just want to see the park stay open.”
In a prepared statement, the council acknowledged “the economic value of caravan parks for… tourism and lower cost accommodation,” and said it plans to upgrade the site “to make it more desirable for recreation vehicles and campers”.
But it did not outline plans for the award-winning park’s eight employees nor its residents.
QPRC’s proposed refurbishment includes access to the Queanbeyan River Walk, presently under construction, creating “a full circuit public walk around the Queanbeyan River from the low level bridge on Morisset Street to the suspension pedestrian bridge and back again”. The council would also “expand Queen Elizabeth II Park for community recreational use”.
This would leave the site on less than a hectare, meaning it would no longer meet NSW state planning requirements, which require it to have at least a hectare to operate as a caravan park.
The land has been used as a caravan park since at least the 1950s, as there are few other uses for the flood-prone area. The council statement did not account for flood management.
Mr Pritzler says he has sold his on-site cabins and offices and intends to take the website and booking system, which handles about 40,000 guests a year, offline in February.
“I estimate we generate about $6 million to $8 million for the town each year,” Mr Pritzler said.
“All cabins and offices have been sold, they are gone for good now. It will look like a ghost town, just a vacant paddock opposite the old nursery.”
Even if the council was able to negotiate the park’s one-hectare planning provisions with the State Government, Mr Pritzler reckoned a smaller park could only end up to be less profitable.
So “it will be an imposition to ratepayers,” Mr Pritzler said.
“The park is in dire need of TLC. We were prepared to fix it if the lease was extended so the park could be sold.”
Without a lease extension, he wasn’t willing to invest to maintain “because of the risk created by the council”.
Mr Pritzler says he was not allowed to attend the caravan park’s Trust meetings and was often informed of decisions “after the fact”.
The park’s future was decided by Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council in a closed session meeting on August 22.
The council statement described its August 22 decision as helping “meet the growth in demand for self-drive accommodation in Queanbeyan and support target markets identified in the QPRC Tourism Plan”.
With neighbouring amenity works to the walkway and public park, “all together this builds on the work already completed to reinstate the Queanbeyan River as a sustainable watercourse and desirable destination for families, visitors and residents to recreate,” the statement read.
Mr Pritzler challenged the plan for a sustainable watercourse, citing environmental concerns for the native water rat and platypus populations.
Especially since the development of Queen Elizabeth II Park, “the big lights the council has put along the river will get rid of platypus and water rats quick-smart. They need darkness.”
A caravan park also required “someone with a passion and experience,” Mr Pritzler said.
“We have evacuated the park in under 90 minutes in a flood; and we really know our clients.
“We used to offer free entertainment, buying (local) Lindbeck sausages and having barbecues for guests.
“This is really going to hit other local businesses, which [no one can] afford at the moment.
“The council keeps saying it won’t be ‘closed’ [but] the reality is the caravan park will be closed ...
“Instead of providing a reasonable offer for the business, they have just forced its closure.
“In the end, it just isn’t worth the stress. We’re walking away because of the council.”