East Melbourne residents put heat on council over controversial guesthouse redevelopment
The East Melbourne Group (EMG) residents’ association has continued its fight to thwart any plans of a historic guesthouse from being redeveloped in their neighbourhood.
A $4.5 million proposed redevelopment of the three-storey Magnolia Court guesthouse at 95-101 Powlett St was approved by councillors on April 12 despite attracting 100-plus objections.
It would see the building refurbished including a bigger restaurant and lobby area, while consisting of 37 guest rooms and be limited to 88 patrons.
But residents say it would be “major commercial expansion” and not appropriate for the area, citing increased noise and traffic concerns, as well as impacts to the neighbourhood’s amenity.
The EMG confirmed it would appeal the council’s decision at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal – but before that took place, the EMG put a series of questions to the council at its August 16 meeting, the first community-held Future Melbourne Committee meeting to be held in East Melbourne.
“Given the 100-plus objections to the proposed Magnolia Court Hotel in the middle of the residential area and the East Melbourne Group and neighbours presentation, how did you arrive at the decision to still approve the application which only benefits an international developer?” the EMG’s president Ian Mitchell said.
He continued, “Do you believe it serves the East Melbourne community to have us now fighting the decision at VCAT? I think it would be useful for us to know the council’s strength of conviction and what we will be fighting at VCAT.”
He also questioned whether the council would have a Queen’s Counsel to present their case during the VCAT hearing.
In response, Lord Mayor Sally Capp, and the city’s transport, infrastructure and operations portfolio lead thanked Mr Mitchel for his question, and “noting the importance of the matter, advised that a meeting will be set up to share the appropriate information before the VCAT date in October.”
“The Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece advised that he is happy, along with any other councillors who wish to, be part of the conversation ahead of the matter going to VCAT,” the council meeting heard.
However, in a statement, the EMG said the council had “hastily convened” a meeting at the eleventh hour to explain their decision while quelling growing public anger.
“The process lacks basic standards of transparency and accountability and instead relies on secrecy and sham public consultation,” the EMG said, adding Magnolia Court is “just the tipping point”.
“Other residents’ groups in the city are faced with the same planning dysfunctions, and are spending large amounts of their own money to fight similar bad decisions.”
The EMG added residents were “livid with the CoM’s decision” that “jeopardises the integrity of Melbourne’s most iconic residential area.”
Therefore, the EMG said East Melbourne residents were now actively considering organizing teal-style, grass-roots candidates to stand against the current council at the 2024 elections.
“They are extremely angry at the disrespect both the Lord Mayor and Deputy Lord Mayor have shown by ignoring wholesale the legitimate concerns detailed in nearly 100 resident objections in favour of a Singaporean developer,” the EMG statement said.
In June, the EMG called for mandatory planning guidelines to provide greater transparency and accountability in the council’s planning governance. •