Locals turn on pub plans

By David Schout

CBD residents have turned on plans to transform the site of a run-down Bourke St building into an almost 1000-patron late-night venue.

Resident groups claim they were “misled” by developer O’Brien Group’s plans to turn the 1840s-built Job Warehouse building and two adjoining lots into a large-scale hotel, and rejected the company’s claims of having earned their support. 

In a meeting with a representative from the hospitality and entertainment company in February, EastEnders president Dr Stan Capp and Residents 3000 president Rafael Camillo were informed the new venue would seek a 1am liquor licence for between 300 and 400 patrons, which they tentatively endorsed.

The empty heritage building, one of the oldest in Melbourne, has become an eyesore in recent years and calls for its restoration have come from across the board. 

However, the planning application made public on April 27 instead sought a 3am license for 957 patrons and noted support from both groups, a claim that was vehemently rejected.

“That was misleading,” Dr Capp told CBD News.

“We had talked about one set of circumstances which was quite different to the planning application that was submitted. It’s a bit disingenuous to move from some positive conceptual comments to something that’s grossly different.”

The groups’ concerns chiefly surround the noise and amenity impact on nearby residents in Liverpool St, and in particular next door at 50 Bourke St which, at ground level, sits 10 metres from the proposed hotel.

Dr Capp said he was in favour of a “well-restored intimate area” on the site, and initial plans from the O’Brien Group, which owns the nearby Imperial Hotel, appeared a step in the right direction.

But he said what then appeared was different.

“I’m not against a respectful renewal of the Job Warehouse. It’s an important heritage building that dates back to 1848 and it’s been a disgrace the way it’s been allowed to deteriorate. So, I’m all in favour of getting it right. But you’ve got a real direct interface with residents (under the current plans).”

By late May the plans, which are yet to go before the City of Melbourne, had already received more than 50 objections.

O’Brien director Michael O’Brien did not directly address the concerns raised by residents, but said it was “committed to the renaissance of Bourke Hill”, a CBD pocket which takes in some of the city’s most historic buildings and unique streetscapes.

“O’Brien Group Australia has been actively discussing this state-significant project with the state government, the City of Melbourne, Heritage Victoria, Bourke Hill traders, Bourke Hill residents groups and will continue to do so.”

The application - which includes plans for a restaurant, bar and two courtyards - rejected the notion that those nearby would be adversely impacted. 

“The proposal seeks to provide a hotel in a central and accessible location which will have little discernible impact on the commercial or residential areas, as its activities will be absorbed within the existing environment,” it stated.

While resident groups voiced their criticism of the plans, others expressed support - perhaps most notably the nearby Salvation Army, which has been located at 69 Bourke St since 1894.

Major Brendan Nottle said late-night activation of the area would increase foot traffic throughout the night.

“This increase in activity would encourage people to self-regulate their behaviour because of an increased awareness that they are being observed by other customers, the increased security presence and CCTV surveillance,” he said. 

Similarly, Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar next door endorsed the 3am license as a way to “reduce the window of opportunity for street crime and graffiti” which reportedly affects their business. 

By the time of publishing the June edition, the O’Brien Group had been provided with residents’ objections.

Council process allows the applicant an opportunity to respond to the concerns raised and, should they wish, amend the application.

While it is unclear when the matter will go before the council, it is believed to be unlikely before July. 

The council’s chair of planning Cr Nicholas Reece said the council would duly weigh up each piece of evidence.

“The City of Melbourne has received a large number of objections from local residents to the proposal,” he said. 

“As is always the case, council will consider all the matters raised in objections against the requirements of the planning scheme.” •

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