Rich Lister and Melbourne developer Tim Gurner has launched a Supreme Court challenge to a planning tribunal decision that rejected his apartment redevelopment of Fitzroy’s Spanish Club.
The Club and Mr Gurner agreed to a development deal in 2015 to transform the club’s headquarters at 57-61 Johnston Street into a seven level apartment complex, plans which were later rejected by the local Yarra council.
The $35 million project included renovated space for the Spanish Club on the ground floor alongside a Spanish restaurant and was touted as a lifesaver for the club which was facing financial pressure from dwindling membership.
But Mr Gurner lost a recent appeal against the council’s rejection at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal leading him to lodge a Supreme Court action.
The knockback is the second high-profile planning failure for Mr Gurner’s development company in as many months.
State Planning Minister Richard Wynne, under pressure to defend his inner-city seat from the Greens at next year’s election, stepped in to pacify residents last month, placing a 10-storey height limit on another proposed Gurner tower in North Fitzroy.
Well-organised residents had run a campaign against Mr Gurner’s proposal, originally mooted to be 16 levels but subsequently dropped to 12, on a former industrial site in Queens Parade that, until the minister’s intervention, had no height limits.
Mr Gurner’s prolific developments in Melbourne and Brisbane have catapulted him up the ranks of Australia’s rich where he debuted aged 34 in 2016 as the BRW Rich List’s youngest member, worth $460 million.
His company is constructing the last of three major apartment towers in Brisbane and last year made its first foray into the Sydney market purchasing two adjoining development sites for about $24 million in the city’s south-east which he will turn into 120 apartments.
That off-market deal left Mr Gurner with control of 444 Gardeners Road in Alexandria.
Spanish Club president Margarita Ros said in a letter to Yarra Council this week the club had only managed to stay afloat after Mr Gurner provided personal guarantees over bank loans which were “about to be called in”.
“We are desperate to see our club continue in the future but its position grows more precarious by the day. If we are unable to obtain a planning permit it will signify the end of our club. However the result through VCAT has left us with little hope,” Ms Ros wrote.
VCAT member Laurie Hewet’s decision to reject the Spanish Club development hinged on the impact exhaust fans from a neighbouring car repair workshop would have on future apartment dwellers.
“It is however incomprehensible that the amenity impacts … could be regarded as anything other than unreasonable,” Mr Hewet said.
There was also a “very real” prospect the car repair workshop would go out of business if the project was approved, a result contrary to the area’s mixed-use zoning which was designed to support a range of residential, commercial and industrial uses, he said.
Mr Gurner said the project was rejected on a “technicality” and the Supreme Court challenge was designed to get the case reheard at VCAT.
Mr Gurner said he offered the owner of the car workshop to move the exhaust fume fans to a better location and introduced design changes to minimise any impact.
The car workshop’s exhaust flue failed to meet Environmental Protection guidelines and didn’t conform to the area’s zoning, he said.
The club, originally known as the Spanish Roman Catholic Mission before being renamed Hogar Espanol (which translates as Spanish Home), has been in the two-level Johnston Street building since 1969.
The club founded the popular annual Johnston Street Spanish Festival, an event that shuts down the street for a day.