Days numbered for Barn Owl Cafe in Silvan

Katie Wolff at Barn Owl Cafe. 195726 Picture: ROB CAREW

The Barn Owl cafe in Silvan might close after Yarra Ranges Council found it was operating illegally in a Green Wedge Zone.

The ordeal started last year when the council advised 26-year-old Katie Wolff that the building she was operating from was registered as a shed and not a cafe, and that it would have to be closed.

“Twelve months ago I got a letter saying I had to close in seven days,“ she said.

“We were told that the building is registered as a shed, not a cafe, so I was illegally trading and that I had to go to a building surveyor to make it compliant.

“I got the list done and probably spent $60,000 or more to get the building compliant and then sent the permit off to council, and it got rejected by planning because of the land we’re on.”

That land is in a Green Wedge Zone, which is defined under the Planning and Environment Act 1987 as land that is recognised and protected for its agricultural, environmental, historic, landscape or recreational values, or mineral and stone resources.

This means a cafe cannot exist there.

An amendment to change the land zoning would require authorisation from the State Government Planning Minister, which would then need to be passed by Parliament.

Despite the land zoning, Ms Wolff explained that the building had been running as a cafe for eight years before she leased the space.

She said that from the beginning there was never any suggestion that she could not operate a cafe from the building.

“I knew I had to sell the berries from the farm in this cafe in order to stay open, but that was literally all I was told when I took over,” she said.

The closure will not only affect Ms Wolff but her 11 employees, who all live in the area.

A petition she created a week before she spoke to the Mail to engage community support had already received nearly 8000 signatures.

Yarra Ranges Council social and economic development director James Collins said council staff would be meeting with Ms Wolff at the end of the month to “find the best way forward to resolve any planning and building issues for the site”.

He said that in 2015, the council issued a permit to use the land for a rural industry, winery, manufacturing sales and sale and consumption of liquor, and associated signage.

Mr Collins said that last year, the council issued a building order to a cafe asking the business operator to retrofit the building to meet current building regulations.

“This is to ensure that buildings are safe for public and private use,“ he said.