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GURNER heading to Supreme Court over The Spanish Club

People & Companies / Latest News


Apr 26 2017

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The survival of Johnston Street’s The Spanish Club, Hogar Español is in doubt after a recent VCAT decision denied a planning permit for the redevelopment of the existing building that would have seen the 787sqm 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 site’s developer, GURNER™, was denied a permit 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 location of the flue fails to meet Environmental Protection Authority guidelines and is also a non-conforming use within the current mixed use zoning.  The current operator of the shop has been shown leniency by City of Yarra due to the existing nature of the business, however under the current planning scheme this business type would be strictly prohibited in this location. 

In its current location, the VCAT Member ruled that the flue was in an unacceptable position for the proposed development, however after numerous attempts by GURNER™ to find a solution with the adjoining owner, he was not willing to negotiate the exhaust’s relocation elsewhere on site. 

Under the proposed agreement between The Spanish Club and GURNER™, the developer was to absorb the Club’s substantial debt and transfer ownership of that debt into the developer’s name to ensure that the banks could not pursue the Club for costs whilst the redevelopment was ongoing. 

With the permit for the redevelopment now denied, the elected President of The Spanish Club, Margarita Ros said the future of the Club had been placed in serious jeopardy. 

“We are devastated. Unless this decision is overturned we will have to sell up and close the club - without the support of this redevelopment the business model just isn’t 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.  

“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. 

“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,” she said.

Tim Gurner said “it is just so disappointing to see our 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. 

 “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.

“We are now in a position where absolutely nothing can happen on the site as the adjoining owner was not willing to discuss any resolution. 

“We have numerous buildings within this precinct and have been working with the Spanish Club for over three years now to come up with a solution that will help see them survive. To think one individual can see the demise of such an important cultural icon is just not right,” he said.

The developer and the Club are now taking the case further with papers already lodged to Supreme Court to appeal VCAT’s decision.  

“We believe the decision was incorrectly made and of a poor judgement.  We will be challenging the decision at the Supreme Court to attempt to keep the Spanish Club alive and thriving into the future,” he said. 

What were once regarded as cultural institutions, immigrant social clubs all over Australia have been forced 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 and is embroiled in controversy after failing repeatedly to forge agreements with either purchasers for the site or developers to redevelop the ailing pub.  

Melbourne’s Swiss Club has suffered a similar fate with the club forced to lease out its restaurant to new tenants in order to stay afloat, while Canberra’s Italian Club has endured a well-documented battle with the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal in an effort to keep its embattled pokies venue alive.

Established in 1969 along Fitzroy’s effervescent Johnston Street, The Spanish Club was founded by Padre Eduardo Sanchez, the Chaplin to the Spanish, who persuaded the Spanish government to partially assist in purchasing the building to serve as a social centre.

The club was originally called The Spanish Roman Catholic Mission, before later being renamed ‘Hogar Español’ meaning Spanish home. 

The club quickly grew to become a home away from home for hundreds of Spanish immigrants settling in Australia in the late 50s and early 60s, and over the years it evolved to offer extensive social and education opportunities for the Spanish and wider community.

One of Johnston Street’s most iconic venues, The Spanish Club has become synonymous with Fitzroy’s celebrated multi-cultural heritage and has played a pivotal role in the area’s vibrant character, most notably one of the founders and initial trustee of the annual Johnston Street Festival. 

Papermill Media

SOURCE: Press Release


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