By Michael Giles
THE Bass Coast Shire Council’s planning department has picked the most public place in the shire to play out its latest dispute with a local property owner.
And, if you can believe an explanation given by the shire last week, the owner of the property and his builders have chosen the same high-profile site to try and pull the wool over the council’s eyes.
It’s an accusation that Sam Tamburo, representing the owners of the property, Tropical Coup Pty Ltd, rejects as absolutely outrageous.
The dispute revolves around number 32 McBride Avenue, Wonthaggi, its historic building, not-so-historic veranda and distinctive tower, situated right in the centre of town.
But it’s a dispute that Mr Tamburo and others believe is symptomatic of a litany of complaints about the slow, obstructive and uncooperative approach of the shire’s planning department to growth and development in the town and the municipality generally.
Unfortunately, since Mr Tamburo and the firms involved in the project insisted that the matter be brought to a head last week, the shire has escalated the situation by making it a condition on the planning permit, and the property’s title, that the original 1910 veranda be recreated.
That is despite acknowledging that the veranda is no longer within the scope of the present or even future works.
“It’s blackmail,” claims Mr Tamburo and he’s fighting it.
The matter is destined for an expensive challenge through VCAT; meanwhile the work remains unfinished, the builders’ barriers and screening stay in place at the busiest time of the year, nearby traders and shoppers put up with further disruption and the would-be tenants, LJ Hooker Real Estate, have to continue cooling their heels in premises that are too small for them.
“The problem is that they should have told us in the beginning that we needed a planning permit. We’d have had no problem with that,” Mr Tamburo said this week.
“It was their stuff up and now we’re paying for it.
“They said at the time we would only need a building permit for what we wanted to do.”
That was back in July this year.
Mr Tamburo said his designer and planning consultant, Darren Brown Design, provided the shire with a detailed drawing of the works proposed, including the replacement of the shop front, masonry work, internal shop-fitting and associated structural work.
His designer, Daren Brown, has since provided the Sentinel-Times with a copy of that original email.
“To be honest, we were surprised when the response came back that we didn’t need a planning permit and could simply go and get a building permit.
“We were delighted because it meant we could get straight on with the work.”
Despite the original email, the shire disputes his account.
It offered this response when the Sentinel-Times put Mr Tamburo’s concerns to them:
“With regard to your inquiry about the building at 32 McBride St (sic) (corner of McBride and Graham), Council can only provide advice based on information provided by the applicants. In July 2013, the owners’ consultant, Darren Brown Design, made an inquiry as to whether a planning permit was required for the replacement of glass within a window of the building.
“He was advised that provided he was only replacing the glass and was not altering the external facade in any way, that he would not require a planning permit for this. Clause 62.02-22 of the Bass Coast Planning Scheme provides an exemption for repairs to an existing building or works.
“The Development Approvals Manager later had a meeting on site with Darren Brown Design and the owners to discuss the replacement of the veranda. At this meeting it was identified that works were being undertaken to the structural facade of the building that went far beyond what was initially discussed in July, and that illegal structural works were being undertaken. The Municipal Building Surveyor brought this matter to the attention of the owner’s building surveyor, Gippsland Building Approvals, who then instructed the owners that works on the premises would have to stop until a planning permit was issued for the alterations.”
Mr Tamburo is outraged at the claim made by the shire that “illegal structural works” were being undertaken.
“Even if you don’t accept that the shire stuffed up, and they’ve admitted as much to us themselves, these are highly reputable local building practitioners they are talking about, people who have been associated with some of the most important projects we’ve seen in this area and elsewhere.
“There’s no way they are going to do something like that and, in any case, it’s ridiculous to think they’d do it right in the middle of town, right under the shire’s nose.”
Mr Tamburo said it was his belief that a shire councillor or staff member noticed some repair work going ahead on the outside of the building and misconstrued it as alterations to the integrity of the building.
“There have always been steel pillars on either side of the windows, but in keeping with the other pillars, we had them bricked and painted to match. That’s all.
“A couple of them were a few centimetres out when they were done the first time and had to be pulled down and done again. That’s what someone has probably seen and they’ve reported it.”
Although Mr Tamburo says the shire should have done its work properly in the first place and required a planning permit, he accepts that one is needed now and is prepared to comply.
“The problem is they’ve introduced these new conditions on the permit that were never discussed with us.
“It’s almost impossible to talk to anyone up there, which is why we called this meeting.”
The main sticking point is the condition on the permit relating to the veranda.
It is a condition of the permit that:
“Within six months of the date of issue of this permit (December 19, 2013), an agreement under Section 173 of the Planning and Environment Act 1987 must be entered into between the owners of the land and the Responsible Authority, which ensures the following: The replacement of the verandah to reinstate it to its original timer construction typology and form; including erection of the correct number of verandah posts in their original locations as evidenced in historical images of the building.
“The agreement must be registered on title.
“All costs associated with the preparation of the agreement must be borne by the developer/owner. All costs incurred by the Responsible Authority associated with the preparation, negotiation, execution and recording of the agreement and any amendment to the agreement must be fully reimbursed prior to registration by Council.”
The permit also makes other stipulations including what colour can be used on the brick facades (Dulux Volcanic Brick) and that the amenity of the area cannot be “detrimentally affected” by the building works while in progress.
Mr Tamburo says it’s not clear when the shire requires a replica of the historic 1910 veranda to be constructed and also states that there’s no way he can agree to having such a condition placed as an impediment on the title.
“We originally proposed fixing up the veranda because it was leaking water all over the windows but we’re not going ahead with it now. Everyone has agreed on that so why have it as a condition on the permit? It’s just crazy but we’re going to have spend $30,000 at VCAT just to prove it.
“I’m asking the shire council to intervene and take it off as a condition of the permit but I’m not sure they are even prepared to challenge their own planning department when they know something is wrong.”
The shire has a different take on this part of the dispute.
After work was stopped on the site three months ago, the shire acknowledges that Darren Brown Design applied for a planning permit “for building works including the replacement of the veranda”.
“As the building is covered by a Heritage Overlay, Council referred the application to the external Heritage Advisor, who recommended that the replacement veranda be designed to reflect the original design features. As a consequence, changes would be required to the plans.
“On 11 October 2013, Darren Brown Design amended the application to remove reference to the replacement of the veranda. He advised that the owners would be re-lodging a separate application for the replacement of the veranda. At the time the permit was issued, no new application had been lodged.”
The shire did not expedite the planning permit, even though traders in the area were becoming anxious about the onset of Christmas.
It took an ultimatum from Mr Tamburo and his building consultants to bring the matter to a head with a meeting just before the Christmas break.
The shire continued with its explanation last week:
“A planning permit was issued for the alterations to the façade on 19 December 2013. A condition requiring a Section 173 Agreement was placed on the permit in relation to any future replacement of the veranda. It does not set a timeframe for the replacement of the veranda, but rather flags the requirement on title that any future replacement of the veranda would need to be designed in accordance with the heritage advice received by Council.
“Owners need to be aware of the planning controls which apply to the land and the implications this can have on development. In this instance there is a Heritage Overlay, placing restrictions on the type of alterations that can be made to the building.
“The requirement for a Section 173 Agreement in no way holds up work from proceeding. It does not prevent an occupancy certificate from being issued, and further, does not require the owner to erect another veranda. It simply flags on title that should the veranda ever be replaced whether it is while the Tamburos own it or another person owns it, then it needs to be consistent with the advice received by the Heritage Advisor.
“Council sought the advice while the veranda was a matter of the application. It is appropriate that the advice received in relation to this be included on the title to avoid this information being sought again in the event that an application is made to replace the veranda.
“As mentioned before, there has been no planning permit application for the replacement of the veranda since it was deleted from the original application.
“The application was determined well within the 60 days statutory timeframe which was quite reasonable given the complexity of the matters due to illegal works being carried out.”
The shire also denies claims by Mr Tamburo that he was treated shabbily by the shire’s planning department.
“With regard to the claim about ‘lack of respect’, I understand from the officer who attended the meeting that there was no such thing,” said the shire.
Mr Tamburo’s building consultant, Darren Brown said this week that the whole incident was regrettable.
“The shire admitted they made a mistake not issuing a planning permit in the first place but everyone makes mistakes and we were prepared to move on but I can certainly understand Mr Tamburo’s concerns about the conditions relating to the veranda,” Mr Brown said.
“The fact is the heritage conditions are already covered by the heritage overlay and don’t need to be specifically placed on the title.
“It’s just an expensive waste of everyone’s resources,” he said.
Asked about the dispute about the original information provided to the shire, Mr Brown was emphatic.
“If they can’t read a set of drawings, where does that leave anyone trying to get some work done?”
Mr Tamburo says he is aware of others who have endured similar treatment.
“I know I’m sticking my neck out here and for what good purpose?
“I’d like to see the condition about the heritage veranda removed from my planning permit, sure, but I’d also like to see this new CEO, when he comes in, have a full review of the process, people and attitude of the shire’s planning department.
“It’s really holding this community back.
“They seem to be prepared to turn themselves inside out to get the big firms settled in town but not the locals. They want to put us through the mill.
“We’ve owned this building since 1985 but ultimately I’m only looking after it for the community and, in time, we’ll pass it on to the next person. We were just trying to give it a future by doing the necessary maintenance on it.
“But other shop owners are going to look at our experience here and say, ‘no way’. They’ll run a mile before applying to fix up their own places.
“And like us, are they going to be asked to re-create heritage verandas like they were 100 years ago? Is that even a policy of the council?
“Their previous policy on that was to have those old verandas pulled down.”