Owner demands $20,000 for patch of land

Wollongong City Council's efforts to resolve an ongoing dispute over a tree, a fence and pedestrian safety at a busy CBD roundabout have stalled after a landowner demanded that the council pay more than $20,000 for 4.5 square metres of land.

The issue arose last year, when a steel fence built on land occupied by ADM Architects blocked pedestrian access at the intersection of Stewart and Kembla streets, across the road from the Woolworths car park.

The fence extends to the base of a large fig tree considered to have "significant" heritage value in the council's local environment plan.

This means pedestrians are forced to either squeeze through the gap between the tree and the fence or step out onto the road to get around the corner.

To resolve this "major hazard", the council valued the corner last October and offered the owner $4500 to allow for future roadworks.

However, the owner - the wife of ADM Architects director Angelo Di Martino - asked the council to pay $20,250, or $4500 per square metre, for the land.

The council then offered $6000 for the land, but this was also turned down.

According to council documents, Mrs Di Martino did not respond to further correspondence, leaving the council to apply to the NSW government for compulsory acquisition of the land.

The council has already reached an agreement to buy a similar piece of land across the road and will pay its owners, the Illawarra Retirement Trust, $2250.

At Monday's council meeting, councillors will vote whether to ask the NSW governor and the Minister for Local Government to allow them to secure the land occupied by the architect to build a public walkway.

Council staff have recommended that the acquisition proceed, as the current situation poses "a significant risk to the public".

Speaking to the Mercury yesterday on behalf of his wife, Mr Di Martino said the council should not have released information about how much he wanted them to pay for the land.

"Council have made an error and they've printed what should have been commercial in confidence," he said.

Mr Di Martino said he was still in negotiations with the council over the cost of land and noted that the fence was erected within council rules to prevent pedestrians from walking onto private property.

"Where the pedestrians were crossing at a previous point, the issue was that there was no more grass there and when it rained it became very muddy," he said.

"We advised the council that was an issue and decided to erect a fence on private property for security purposes, as well as [to stop] pedestrians traversing through the property.

"We're fully aware that pedestrians have to cross the road rather than try to clamber over the tree.

"We're still working with the council to resolve the matter as soon as possible."

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