Spanish Club in jeopardy after VCAT decision

Spanish Club in jeopardy after VCAT decision
Spanish Club in jeopardy after VCAT decision

The future existence of Fitzroy’s Spanish Club on Johnston Street has been thrown into jeopardy, after a recent VCAT decision denied a planning permit for the redevelopment of the existing building.

Papers have already been lodged to Supreme Court to appeal VCAT’s decision.

The site’s developer Tim Gurner had agreed to absorb the Club’s substantial debt and transfer ownership of that debt into his company’s name to ensure that the banks could not pursue the Club for costs whilst the redevelopment was ongoing.

Proposed plans by his Gurner firm would have seen the 787 sqm site transformed into a new Spanish bar and restaurant, with clubhouse facilities at ground level and apartments occupying the 5 – 6 levels above.

After successfully mediating with all objectors except for one, the permit was denied on a technicality due to an adjoining property owner’s automotive paint shop, and this landowner’s refusal to negotiate a new location for an exhaust flue on the shared boundary.

The elected president of The Spanish Club, Margarita Ros, explained that unless the decision is overturned the business will have to sell up and close, as without the support of redevelopment its business model cannot remain viable in its current form.

“Tim Gurner had taken on personal liability for the Club’s existing debt and has been paying our interest for over a year to ensure that we could continue trading and operating in the community until the redevelopment had been completed, however now I don’t see how we can repay the debt and continue to function as a community,” Ros said.

“The Club has played a vital role in helping to integrate and promote multiculturalism in Victoria. Over the years, it has also assisted the broader community through fundraisers for various disaster recover appeals. To think that this might be our last year working with the community is too upsetting to contemplate. It’s just devastating.”

The location of the flue fails to meet Environmental Protection Authority guidelines and is also a non-conforming use within the current mixed use zoning, leading the VCAT Member to rule that the flue was in an unacceptable position for the proposed development. 

Commenting on the matter, Tim Gurner said that it was disappointing to see the permit denied on such a small technicality.

“To have a scheme overturned due to a neighbouring land use that is not even allowed in this zone, and from an exhaust flue that is not compliant with EPA guidelines is incredibly disappointing and shortsighted,” he said.

“The Spanish Club has been celebrating the unique culture of Spanish immigrants for the better part of 50 years; it is run by a voluntary committee and all income that is generated is reinvested into the Club.”

Immigrant social clubs all over Australia have been ordered to either adapt or close their doors for good in recent years. The Sydney Spanish Club was forced to shut in 2013, while Melbourne’s Celtic Club has been on the market for many years after failing repeatedly to forge agreements to redevelop the ailing pub.

“We will be challenging the decision at the Supreme Court to attempt to keep the Spanish Club alive and thriving into the future,” Gurner added.

“What doesn’t make sense is that the VCAT Member even stated he was in support of the project in terms of its overall design outcome and height. Why then fail to provide a permit on a technicality, why not instead issue a permit pending the ability to resolve the issue.”

Victoria VCAT

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