The unprecedented decision has been taken by Killarney Town Council to rezone the 20-acre Gleneagle Hotel complex, despite being strongly advised not to do so by town planner Fiona O’Sullivan.
Gleneagle managing director Patrick O’Donoghue is a Fianna Fáil member of the council. He remained in the chamber while the debate was taking place, but abstained in the vote.
Ms O’Sullivan said the council executive strongly opposed the rezoning.
“This type of development could seriously detract from the vitality and viability of the town centre,” Ms O’Sullivan said.
The town planner added that the granting of town-centre zoning to areas outside the centre would “work directly” against objectives in the town development plan to preserve and promote the town centre.
The proposal to rezone the complex was tabled jointly by Fianna Fáil councillors Tom Doherty (the town mayor) and Brian O’Leary; Fine Gael’s Sheila Casey and Independents Donal Grady and Niall O’Callaghan.
In a bid to find a compromise that would allow for tourism-related developments only on the site, the council adjourned for consultations with Mr O’Donoghue, who refused to drop the town centre zoning from the proposal.
South Kerry Independent Alliance councillor Michael Gleeson, seconding the amendment, maintained town centre zoning was not appropriate for the overall well-being of Killarney.
“A fundamental objective of our town development plan is to preserve and strengthen Killarney town centre,” he said. “I want to ensure the centre remains strong and vibrant.”
Mr Gleeson said that he and other councillors had met Mr O’Donoghue in advance of the meeting to discuss the issue. He added that he (Mr Gleeson) was happy he had taken time to deeply consider the matter before making up his mind on it.
Though Mr Doherty was among those who put down the rezoning motion, he voted for the amendment and abstained in the vote on the actual proposal.
Mr O’Leary said that the O’Donoghue family was well known for developing tourism in Killarney, and added: “I believe they should be free to develop this land in a proper fashion, as they have been doing for so many years.”
The prime Gleneagle property, which runs along the banks of the river Flesk and has a pitch-and-putt course with public membership, includes both the Gleneagle and Brehon hotels and five apartment blocks.
Mr O’Donoghue said afterwards that he could do very little with the land under current zoning.
He also said he had no immediate plans for development on the property.
Mr O’Donoghue’s company is undertaking a major €25 million development on the former Scott’s Hotel site, in the heart of Killarney, involving the building of a new hotel and a pedestrian street.