COUNCILLORS have rolled the development dice in an effort to ensure a “substantial” food and drinks service is offered at the Mentone Hotel after any conversion to apartments.
A 5-4 majority of councillors at a public planning meeting last Wednesday evening (22 November) voted to reject a “compromise” proposal by Central ward councillor Geoff Gledhill that would have seen the developer agree to install a 250 square metre “licensed facility” in the ground floor of the hotel building.
The planning application will now likely head to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) with council set to hire a special counsel to legally argue council’s case that a pub of more than 250 square metres should be included in any redevelopment of the hotel, known locally as The Edgy.
There was extensive debate among councillors about a scaled-back planning application to build 16 townhouses and 13 apartments over two storeys at the Mentone Hotel site.
Developer Paul Huggins, of Momentum Developments, had initially proposed building a four-storey “layer cake” apartment block on the hotel’s car park but council stood firm on a maximum two-storey height limit in the area.
Mr Huggins said no food and drinks venue would be included in any two-storey development but Cr Gledhill said the developer had subsequently agreed in-principle to a 250-square metre licenced facility.
Save The Edgy representative James Shannon addressed councillors on behalf of objectors to the planning application.
“This intense development proposal is not within the accepted walking distance of an activity centre — not even close,” Mr Shannon said at the meeting.
“Right throughout metropolitan Melbourne, the community is sick and tired of these historic venues being gutted to suit the short-term wealth needs of property developers.”
A council officers report tabled at the council planning meeting recommended the planning application be approved subject to conditions.
Property consultant Jamie Govenlock, of Urbis consultants, addressed councillors on behalf of the applicant, listed as Mentone Bayside Corporation Pty Ltd in the planning application, before debate at the meeting.
“All of council’s specialists — in terms of urban designers, heritage personnel, traffic and drainage people — support the proposal as do the town planners,” Mr Govenlock said.
Crs Tamara Barth, David Eden, Georgina Oxley, Rosemary West and the mayor Cr Steve Staikos voted down Cr Gledhill’s suggestion that a 250 square metre food and drinks venue would be acceptable. The same five also voted to reject the planning application and hire a lawyer and heritage expert to represent council at any VCAT hearing.
Crs Tamsin Bearsley, Ron Brownlees, Gledhill and George Hua voted to accept the Gledhill proposed compromise and also voted against rejecting the planning application.
Cr Bearsley said she was disappointed Cr Gledhill’s suggestion was not accepted by a majority of councillors.
“It was achievable, practical and pragmatic,” she said.
“I feel that we’ve done a disservice to Mentone and to the hotel however I am hopeful that in mediation we get a successful outcome that looks something like what Cr Gledhill proposed.”
Cr Brownlees criticised the spending of ratepayers’ money on hiring a special counsel and heritage expert to argue council’s case at VCAT.
Cr Eden said council should be willing to “step up” on behalf of residents who objected to the planning application.
“One of the most disappointing outcomes we have with planning applications is when we [council] refuse it and residents are left to go to VCAT by themselves and very rarely are residents able to get expert witnesses and it’s not reasonable to expect them to come up with five or ten thousand [dollars] to run a VCAT case,” he said.
Cr Gledhill, the preselected Liberal Party candidate for Mordialloc for next year’s state election, said it is concerning that the vacant Mentone Hotel building will sit empty for “six months or more” while the planning application potentially heads to a VCAT hearing.