Martinborough's Waihinga Centre was yesterday given the green light, when South Wairarapa District councillors voted unanimously to press ahead with stage one, despite opposition.
A petition to halt the project with 744 signatures and a full chamber of residents mainly against the proposal failed to persuade a single councillor into dropping their support for the centre.
The $5.1 million Waihinga Centre project includes strengthening and refurbishing the historic town hall, a new extension and landscaping.
South Wairarapa mayor Adrienne Staples extended the public participation rights from the usual 30-minute limit to an hour and allotted each speaker three minutes.
Among the speakers was Trish Higginson of the Martinborough Ratepayers & Residents Network, the faction behind the petition.
"The petition must surely be seen as a clear signal that people right across our community do not want you to simply proceed with the Waihinga Centre."
She said the petition showed that people did "not feel they have been properly engaged or consulted before council had made previous decisions".
Ian Cresswell, past chairman of the Martinborough Town Hall Committee, said the town hall had suffered "appalling neglect".
"This council is the only one as far as I know who has actually begun to try and do something about it."
He said although he did not sign the petition or agree with the views of the network, he did agree that the project needed to be put on hold so "a fresh look" at the plans could be taken before proceeding.
Martinborough ratepayer Glenys Hansen said it was the first time she had felt strongly enough about an issue to express her views.
"I was okay when the group were raising funds to earthquake strengthen the town hall ... but at some point it seemed to morph into a community centre."
She said ratepayers should be asked if they are "even in favour of retaining the existing town hall, and then consider other options".
"Most of us wish to see a democratic outcome and in my opinion we do not have that at present ... In my opinion, I think it is an ugly building and needs to be bulldozed."
Karen Krogh, a Martin-borough resident and registered architect, said the project was "ill-conceived in many ways".
She said the town hall was under-utilised, and compared it with some relationships, saying "some people profess their love for this building but they're not there for it".
Ms Krogh said the project which proposed "a refurbished heavy old masonry structure and attached to it a relatively light new structure" was the same type of building that suffered "some of the worst damage" in the Christchurch earthquake.
"When the energy of the earthquake hits that building the old part and the new part will react totally differently. The wave lengths of the reaction to that energy are different. The building will try to move separately but it can't, it's tied together and will pull apart and bash together [repeatedly]."
David Kershaw said that the financial side of the project would stack up. He said Martinborough was a "flourishing tourist town but needs to think bigger".
Mr Kershaw said the Waihinga Centre had the potential be successful like the Carterton Events Centre.
Frank Cornelissen said the overwhelming majority of businessmen supported the project.
"Anyone in town who has a genuine business and doesn't support it needs their head read."
Mrs Staples acknowledged it was a big decision and not everyone in the community would support the decision made.
"I do not believe that we have heard anything new from our public participation today. I do not agree that the building is an earthquake risk, we have used the highest-quality consultants that we could possibly afford."
Mrs Staples said the project had "considerable support" based on the grants given for the cause.
Greytown ward councillor Margaret Craig said it was important to preserve the town hall, which had the best acoustics in Wairarapa, "and quite possibly the best in New Zealand".
Featherston councillor Dean Davies sought confirmation from SWDC chief executive Paul Crimp that adequate contingency funding was in place, including inflation allowance.
Martinborough councillor Brian Jephson said as a businessman he could see real gains for South Wairarapa and that the sale of unwanted land could be used for the building project making the dispute "a bit of a no- brainer".
Greytown councillor David Montgomerie said the list of those supporting the Waihinga Centre, including Plunket, the Toy Library, librarians and schools highlights those who would get good use out of the building in future years.
Deputy mayor Viv Napier said as far as criticism over consultation was concerned, a whole range of people in the community had had their say in various ways.
"We can't individually ring every ratepayer on every issue -- it would drive them round the bend."
Mrs Napier said the refurbishment of the Greytown Town Centre had been very much vilified by some people, as had the Carterton Events Centre, but those people now admit they were wrong.
Featherston councillor Colin Olds said if the project was delayed or there was a pause, council would be missing an opportunity because the momentum would be lost.
Martinborough councillor Julie Riddell said the town hall had been built in 1912 by founding fathers with foresight.
She said it had been a place that many people had enjoyed social engagements in and to restore it would be a fantastic asset that would attract a lot more social events, especially musical ones.
Featherston councillor Solitaire Robertson said she would be very troubled to see a project like this dropped.
She was looking forward to seeing it finished, despite "utterly disgusting" behaviour used by some people trying to discredit it.
Martinborough councillor Max Stevens payed tribute to Masterton builder and developer David Borman, who he said had been an inspiration by giving his service to the project without cost.
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