By Colin MacGillivray
AN application to demolish a building at 37 Sydney Street in Kilmore has sparked a war of words between property owner Alan Wilson and Mitchell Shire Council, with Mr Wilson claiming council had attempted to ‘acquire the property by stealth’.
Mr Wilson submitted a planning permit application to demolish the structure – a bluestone building behind the Hektik Kebabs van – in 2020, but said he had been waiting for 19 months for council to deal with his request.
Mr Wilson had previously applied to demolish the building as part of a proposed food truck park development in 2019, but said he now wanted to pull it down for health and safety reasons.
He said the building’s foundations were crumbling and the structure was in danger of collapse.
“Along the base it’s all powder – the bricks are gone,” he said.
“I’ve had many sleepless nights about this. We’ve had experts say that if this falls down it’s a danger of causing damage to properties, but if someone is around, they could die.”
Mr Wilson accused council of delaying its decision in an attempt to force him to hand over the property.
“Council have to deal with an application within 60 days, and this is now month 19,” he said.
“They’ve used RFIs [requests for information] to continue to say they’ve requested further information and that’s how they deal with it.
“For example, they requested further engineers’ reports and heritage studies. Back in September 2020 my lawyers wrote to them and said they’d done three engineers’ reports.”
An excerpt of a letter signed by Mitchell Shire Council statutory planner Robert Ford sent by Mr Wilson to the Review said that, in light of an incomplete RFI response, ‘incorporating the continuation of the Mill Street pedestrian path through to Melbourne Street [could] form part of the proposal.’
The letter stated that under such a plan council would require an indicative six-metre reserve for a future pathway.
Mr Wilson said the letter was tantamount to council coercing him into surrendering the property.
“The property is only six metres wide, so giving up a six-metre reserve would mean I have to surrender the entire property,” he said.
“Council’s pre-planning has already designed a walkway through my property. They are trying to acquire my property by stealth, and it’s as simple as that.”
Council chief executive Brett Luxford hit back at Mr Wilson’s claims, saying some of them were simply untrue.
“Council’s planners requested updated plans and reports from the applicant in order to make an informed decision,” Mr Luxford said.
“To date, we have not received the updated information which, ultimately, led to a recommendation for refusal to demolish the building.”
Mr Luxford said an engineering report submitted by Mr Wilson had been peer-reviewed by council and an independent engineer. He said the independent review had determined the building was not in danger of collapsing.
Mr Luxford said council had served Mr Wilson a notice to stabilise elements of the building, not pull it down.
Sydney Street properties fall under a general heritage overlay, and Mr Wilson’s proposal to demolish the building as part of the 2019 food truck park development received objections from members of the public including the Kilmore Historical Society on the grounds that it had significant heritage value.
Kilmore Historical Society member Francis Payne, who owns an adjacent property at 39 Sydney Street, said the structure was possibly the oldest surviving building in Kilmore.
“We can definitely date it back to the early 1850s, and there is some suspicion from some features of the building that it may be a decade or two older than that,” he said.
“It is quite possibly one of the oldest, if not the oldest building in Kilmore, and I think it would be a real shame for it to be demolished.
“It’s covered by the general heritage overlay on Sydney Street and we think it should have its own heritage listing.”
A research document on the history of 37 Sydney Street submitted to the Review by Mr Payne said the alignment of a strip of land sold by William Hay in July 1850 suggested the existence of a building at that date, while an advertisement in the Kilmore Examiner in 1856 showed the building was not aligned to the street frontage – an unusual fact for buildings along Sydney Street, and possibly suggesting that the structure was built before Sydney Street was laid out.
But Mr Wilson said other evidence presented by the historical society did not add up.
“The building has never been heritage listed and there’s no provenance,” he said.
“The historical society have sent in a document saying this property originally had a skillion roof … but the property we’re talking about has a gable-ended roof.
“They said it was a multi-room building – it’s a single-room building. They say it had a chimney in the middle, but there’s never been a chimney and there’s no indication of one.”
Mr Wilson said there was now so little remaining of the original building that it was not worth preserving.
“A wall is all that’s left of the original building. Everything else is gone,” he said.
“The roof was completely changed in 2004. It’s a green Colorbond roof. The previous owner changed it.
“Along the side of the wall next to number 39, it’s a 1950s brick fence. This fence isn’t actually attached in any way to the building that’s left.
“The front part of the fence to Sydney Street was removed when the building in front of it was pulled down.
“What’s holding it together is an illegal verandah that was built in the 1980s that leans on the building next door. If that was removed everything would collapse.”
Mr Luxford said council officers were working to examine the heritage value of the building and would make a recommendation on whether to issue the permit before councillors vote on it at a future council meeting.
“A report was presented at a council meeting on July 19 recommending a refusal to demolish the building,” Mr Luxford said.
“Councillors deferred the decision of the application and sought officers to commence a report on the heritage status of the building.
“We must work to the Mitchell Planning Scheme and various local planning overlays for each project.
“We will continue to work for a positive result for both the site and community.
“A council investigation and an independent review has determined the building is still safe to the community.”