By Kirra Grimes
KORUMBURRA residents are pleading with the South Gippsland Shire Council to save a row of historic houses from demolition, fearing an important part of the town’s heritage could be lost, should the buildings be torn down.
Bulldozers ripped through two South Gippsland Shire Council-owned buildings in Korumburra last week – including an unoccupied house at 1 King Street – prompting renewed calls to protect remaining houses on King Street from demolition.
The remaining four houses – 3,5,7, and 9 King Street – were purchased by Michaels IGA in Korumburra in 2017 and 2018, as the land was required as part of plans to build a new supermarket and carpark at 155-165 Commercial Street.
Those plans came to a halt in December 2018, when Michaels IGA and the South Gippsland Shire Council, the owners of 155-165 Commercial Street, failed to come to an agreement about the amount of money that should be put up as a guarantee that the prime main street location would be used for the developer’s stated purpose, and not merely ‘locked up’ from potential competitors.
But the stalling of the development has not allayed the concerns of community members, including members of the Korumburra Historical Society, several of whom have reached out to the shire council over recent months to express concerns over the possible demolition of the King Street houses, most of which have sat vacant and boarded up since their sale to IGA.
Historical society members, who did not wish to be named, first contacted Council in February 2019, asking the then CEO Tim Tamlin to “confirm or allay [their] fears as to demolition of these historic homes,” and recommending that “if the current plans for a supermarket do not proceed in the near future, then this collection of homes should be retained and restored”.
“As members of the Korumburra Historical Society, we feel a responsibility to guard the historical integrity of the town and area,” reads the historical society’s letter to Mr Tamlin.
“The buildings to which we refer have significant historical and architectural value which we do not want to lose.”
The letter also referenced the former Korumburra saleyards site in describing the authors’ fears as to what may happen if the King Street houses were “needlessly destroyed”.
“We do not want a repeat of this disregard for the amenity of the town,” it said.
As last week’s demolitions progressed, other community members added their voices to the plea, with some suggesting the houses at 3 and 5 King Street may be some of the oldest in
Korumburra and “most certainly the first brick constructed units,” built around 1927 using left-over bricks from the Korumburra Picture Theatre, according to Robert Newton’s book ‘Korumburra and District Road Names and Places History’.
“The architectural style of this building is not replicated in the town, it would be an injustice to the history of Korumburra to demolish the building,” said Korumburra’s David Hurst in a recent letter to Council.
Mr Hurst has vowed to continue the fight against the demolitions, with or without Council support, and says he’s already been in positive discussions with Heritage Victoria.
Council disputes historical significance
THE South Gippsland Shire Council has given no indication it would be prepared to intervene to prevent the demolition of any of the King Street houses owned by IGA, with Building and Planning Enforcement Officer Jennifer Fallu disputing claims of the houses’ historical significance.
“In 2004, the South Gippsland Shire Heritage Study assessed and identified all places of cultural and historical significance within South Gippsland Shire that were listed on the Victorian Heritage Register,” Ms Fallu said in a written response to Mr Hurst.
“Numbers 1, 3 and 5 King Street are not on the Heritage Register, and have no Heritage Overlay planning control – therefore they could be demolished if the current owners wish to do so,” she said.
Director of Infrastructure Anthony Seabrook’s response to the Historical Society was that: “…3 to 9 King Street are not Council owned, and therefore Council has no control over the future of these properties.”
“Although the Korumburra supermarket proposal is on hold at this point in time,” Mr Seabrook’s written response reads, “it is vital that the site remains as a valuable community asset and retained for the purposes of future development.”
Council-owned buildings at 1 King Street, 28 Victoria Street, and 4 Victoria Street, were scheduled for demolition before the end of this financial year, in accordance with a resolution made at the December 19, 2018, Ordinary Meeting of Council, as these premises were “run-down, not fit for purpose, and surplus to Council’s requirements,” Mr Seabrook said.
Once the demolitions of these three buildings are complete, grass seed will be sown and the land will be mowed by Council’s Parks and Gardens team on a regular basis “to ensure these sites do not effect to the amenity of the town (sic),” Mr Seabrook said.
‘No plans’ to begin demolition
When contacted by the Sentinel-Times last week, Michaels IGA said it had “no plans in the foreseeable future” to demolish the King Street houses.
The company’s operations manager, Dominic D’Agostino, confirmed Michaels IGA was the owner of 3,5,7, and 9 King Street, as well as 30 Victoria Street, but said the company had “no intentions of demolishing any of the properties” while still at a “stalemate” with Council over the proposed supermarket site.
“Until such time that we can reach an agreement [with Council], everything will remain as is,” Mr D’Agostino said.
“That’s not by choice. If it was up to us, we’d be getting right into the development, and we’d see demolitions as a good sign because that would mean it would be going ahead and the towns of Leongatha and Korumburra would be progressing forward.
“But it’s out of our hands at this point in time. We’ll see if changes in the council will change anything for us,” he said.
Michaels IGA is currently renting out two of the houses in question to long-term tenants, while the others are “dormant”.
All five properties will continue to have their lawns and gardens maintained by Michaels IGA, said Mr D’Agostino.
The company was not concerned about squatters or vandals, he said, as all properties were “securely locked up”.