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HISTORIC ‘BRANDLESOME’ – A LITMUS TEST FOR COUNCIL

Truly a once in a lifetime opportunity, Bexley’s most Iconic Residence… This Federation Masterpiece is full of Period features, including High Ornate Ceilings, Wide Hallways, 4 Original Fire Places, Tiled Foyer Entry, Lead Light Windows and Main Entry, Slate Roof, Pressed Metal Ceiling and much, much more…

Not my words, the real estate agent’s… And this gracious description accompanied by bright and airy photoshoped images obviously went some way in selling the unique residence… Late in 2015 the house at 580 Forest Rd Bexley known as ‘Brandlesome’ traded at auction for $2.77 Million. It was owned by the Formby family for four generations prior, but unoccupied for many years and as a result both cocooned as a period time capsule, while also showing some signs of decay such as rising damp that inevitably result from such lack of use.

Brandlesome represents an outstanding example of Federation architecture that has rapidly disappeared from the local area. The building exhibits some fine ornate features consistent with the era, including herringbone brickwork, high chimneys and terracotta features, and those wonderful lead light windows that worked as a selling point for the real estate agent… Even rare examples of half-timber work are present, and this is not seen on many local Federation buildings.

Additionally, the very layout of the building is unique, being transversely designed, with a central front porch and large looping ‘keyhole’ arch. This is highly unusual among the regular rectangular or square shapes of Federation housing common of the time.

The fact that this house has been owned by four generations of the Formby family adds immensely to the heritage value for the local community, not to mention the original front boundary fence and the fact the house is basically complete and unaltered over the decades as many others have been.

All this would point to local heritage listing. But there is none.

Naturally a certain sense of speculation surrounded the future of Brandlesome when it was put on the market after being tightly held for so many years. But all bets were off just a short time after when a DA was presented offering complete demolition of the Federation beauty, subdivision into three land parcels and construction of three separate modern ‘superdwellings’.

photo1

580 Forest Rd. Three oversized boxes proposed to replace one heritage marvel. DA image by ZTA.

photo2

The development would be acceptable IF it didn’t involve destruction of a historic building. DA image by ZTA.

This could be seen as ‘very disappointing but very predictable’– words used by St George Historical Society president Bernie Sharah to describe the somewhat unsurprising outcome… Old house, big block of land, development biased council? We have seen it all before.

But one question still has to be asked, and that is this: Can this house be saved, and can it be saved while still making the new owner some financial gain?

The answer is Yes.

It has happened in other council areas such as Marrickville, whereby the development controls have been slightly altered to allow retention of the heritage property while adding value to the land by allowing more development in the surrounding parcel. In the case of Brandlesome, being slightly off centre on a large 2000 metre block of land, townhouses could be substituted down one side and along the back in an L-shape around the existing building, offering a better range of housing, and potentially increased profit for the developer, while most importantly retaining the heritage item.

This can be seen as a successful alternative to complete demolition, and one that offers a win-win-win situation by allowing the developer to increase their financial return, Rockdale Council to set a new standard for heritage retention mixed with quality new construction, and of course community benefit by preserving an extremely important piece of local heritage.

Far too many unique iconic houses are being lost in the area, as can be illustrated by another recent announcement that historic Halstead House in Mortdale, the oldest building in a heritage listed precinct, will be demolished in exchange for two modern dwellings. The owner says he doesn’t want to live in a heritage home, but then he should move out and leave it for somebody else. The reality is he wants to make a profit from the size of his land. And he certainly isn’t the first nor will he be the last. This will go on and on until many of our historic homes are lost.

halsteadhouse

Another St George grand home to go, Halstead House, which was removed from heritage listing in 1999. Image Fairfax Media.

And that is why we need councils such as Rockdale to act creatively, to work with developers for best results, to be strict and consistent with guidelines, and to put local heritage retention at the forefront when determining DAs. This isn’t happening at the present time, but we need it to, as the stakes are so high. Heritage only gets one chance. And houses like Brandlesome are way too precious to sacrifice for the financial gain of single owners who came in at the last minute just to turn a profit. That is no way to treat our architectural assets that mean so much to us all.

The fate of Brandlesome rests with Rockdale council. This is now a litmus test to see if a local council has the will to ensure survival of its historic buildings. The new owners have already decided to neglect their building, filling it with bags of rubbish, leaving the windows wide open and the lights on day and night. But not all is decided, and there is still time to write a letter of objection to council, or a quick email to rcc@rockdale.nsw.gov.au (quote Ref Number: DA-2016/137).

 

Images above by Ray White Real Estate. Title image Inheritance 2016.

 

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BURWOOD BEAUTY IS IN THE EYE OF THE DEVELOPER

A beautiful Federation mansion in Burwood is now under imminent threat of demolition following the lodging of a DA to build eight townhouses on the 1853sqm estate. The six bedroom property, at 18 Wyatt Avenue Burwood sold at auction in April 2012 for $2,950,000 to Mr. Zhou who placed the DA in October 2013.

The house was once owned by Edward ‘Red Ted’ Theodore, who led an illustrious career as a Union leader, Queensland Premier and Federal Treasurer under the Scullin Labor government during the Great Depression, later making his fortune as a private business partner of Sir Frank Packer setting up gold mines in Fiji and holding the position of Chairman of Directors within Packer’s publishing giant ACP. Theodore has been described as a radical thinker of his time and has been immortalized with both a township in Queensland and a suburb in Canberra named after him.

The house backs on to the heritage listed Appian Way, and forms part of the fabric of the heritage-rich Burwood area, a landscape local residents fear is being eroded piece by piece if proposals like this are allowed to gain traction. That fabric was tethered a few years ago with the loss of the magnificent Federation mansion Tilba to a unit development – this new case is already drawing comparisons and can be seen as another litmus test of just how determined council are to protect the significant heritage assets of Burwood that happen to fall just outside their rather inadequate conservation zones.

Worryingly the determination of Burwood Council may not be where it should… The council’s heritage architect has already approved demolition of the property. It is now before councillors for final approval, who have received 39 letters of objection amongst a growing tide of concern by residents who have invested significant amounts of money to live in an area they see as a stronghold of Federation era heritage and a charming suburb of aesthetic beauty in its own right.

Former owner Edward 'Red Ted' Theodore. Image State Library of Queensland.

The Cary Grant-like former owner Edward ‘Red Ted’ Theodore. Image State Library of Queensland.

An elegant Federation mansion. Image federation-house.wikispaces.com

An elegant Federation mansion. Image federation-house.wikispaces.com

Rear of 18 Wyatt Ave Burwood. Image federation-house.wikispaces.com

Rear of 18 Wyatt Ave Burwood. Image federation-house.wikispaces.com

President of the Burwood Historical Society Jon Breen knows all too well about the imminent danger not only for this house but the suburb in general. “This side of Wyatt Ave has always been seen as a bulwark or protection zone for the internationally significant precinct of Appian Way,” he told Burwood Scene. “Twenty years ago the National Trust proposed a buffer zone around Appian Way to protect this unique and historically important area. Such a buffer zone would have stopped the demolition of a number of historic buildings.”

On the other side, building company Ausray International appears to see this as a done deal, already advertising the new townhouses on its website under the name ‘Ausray Wyatt Place’, making enlightening claims that “18 Wyatt Ave, Burwood is located in the best street in Burwood, it has best combination of character homes with peaceful leaf and green areas.”
…umm, is that one of the so-called character homes that you just applied to demolish?

Ausray International has already advertised the development. Image Ausray.

Ausray International has already advertised the development complete with plastic people. Ausray.

The proposed eight townhouse development.

The proposed eight townhouse development.

Inheritance has joined the fight by writing a letter of objection to any intention of approval. Our associate NSW Heritage Network have done the same. What remains to be seen now is whether Burwood Council will side with the concerns of residents they are meant to represent, or side with a new breed of developer-buyers who are more than happy to invest in the area purely to knock down these magnificent treasures in order to turn a quick profit and at the same time destroy the wonderful local heritage these homes represent. Considering 18 Wyatt Avenue sold for $2,050,000 back in July 2002, an average profit of $90,000 a year was made by the previous owner just by holding onto the property, which goes to show you don’t have to demolish to make money out of real estate in Sydney. Just treat it with the respect it deserves.

Link to Burwood and District Historical Society ‘Changing Scene’ page showing multiple heritage demolitions around the area.

Main title image federation-house.wikispaces.com

ST GEORGE UNDER SIEGE 2: CLASSIC BOWLING CLUB TORCHED

st george bowling club pinOn Sunday October 6 the classic Federation style St George Bowling Club on Harrow Road Bexley was burned down by vandals. Nearby residents awoke to see flames gutting the heritage listed building around 1.45am.

Three people, aged 19, 15, and 14 were arrested at the scene, but the 14 year old was subsequently released on a youth caution. A fourth man, 18, has also been charged with the arson attack.

The bowling club, founded in 1900 and relocated in 1919 due to railway expansion, had remained uninhabited and its greens overgrown for several years. At a time when bowling clubs are struggling to maintain membership, many are folding or seeking other options such as amalgamation. Two clubs in the St George/Sutherland region have sought amalgamation in the last year alone, while another, Mortdale Bowling Club, was closed and demolished last year. Others are left derelict such as the St George Bowling Club, and can easily become a target for vandals and arsonists.

It is upsetting to see any building lost to deliberate arson attack, but to see a beautiful and rare Federation example of a bowling club such as this go up in flames is devastating. As a result the area has lost one of its landmark buildings and heritage treasures.

Before the fire. Image online-utility

Before the fire. Overgrown but still a grandiose building. Image online-utility

After the fire, walls and structure still appear sound.

After the fire, walls and structure still appear sound.

The club house should be rebuilt.

Inheritance has requested the clubhouse be rebuilt.

Appropriate street name...

Appropriate street name…

Bowling clubs are true community assets – they retain open space for recreational activity, and foster vital social gathering among residents. Not only that, they hark back to an Australian way of life quickly disappearing before our very eyes, and are often, as in this instance, architectural gems that warrant retention. Occupying large swathes of open real estate, they are also targeted by dozer-happy developers for ever-increasing medium density residential supply.

It is our opinion that the site of the St George Bowling Club should remain a public asset, and if not suitable as a bowling and recreational club, should be re-purposed for child care facilities or something similar. The fabric of the heritage clubhouse appears to have escaped the brunt of the fire, despite the interiors being gutted and the roof structure showing extensive signs of collapse. Being a double brick structure, the clubhouse could be re-built in the original style and used once again as a communal facility.

For it to be redeveloped as residential units would be a travesty for the community and send a very clear message to developers that they can get their right of way over publicly owned sites once a heritage building is vandalised or partially destroyed by fire.

Considering the state of the building, Inheritance has formally requested Mayor Shane O’Brien and Rockdale Council to rebuild the clubhouse as a heritage item for adaptive re-use as a club or childcare facility. At this stage we are awaiting response.

We also believe the state government should be adopting a strategic plan for the future of lawn bowling clubs if and when they should reach the end of their useful life as a club. This should be a statewide policy that prohibits private development on bowling club lands, instead preserving the community assets for what they were originally intended, public open space and/or public amenity. Anything less is a sell-out.

A nearby club at Hurstville was partially converted into a communal vegetable patch a few years ago, and a highly successful one at that. Many  former clubs have been re-purposed as child care or elderly care facilities, many more have been sold out to private development, a point that may resonate with members of the 50-strong Sutherland Croquet Club who have practiced their game on the lawns next to Waratah Park, Sutherland for over thirty years, and have now been told that the grounds are being redeveloped for highrise of more than 500 units. See that sad story here.

The value of a simple bowling club cannot be overstated, as a place to get together, as a place to meet and greet, to share a laugh, a story, or a beer. A place for our elderly to congregate and play their sport, out in the open, in the fresh air, and live a more helathy lifestyle at a time when our medical professionals are trumpeting the virtues of activity and well-being… When or if population dynamics and financial pressures dictate that a club is no longer viable as a bowling club, then it should be re-purposed, to suit the next trending requirement. But it should always remain a public facility, with open space, community, and heritage in tact. More than anything it is public asset. And let’s not forget, once an asset like this is lost, it is lost for good.

As for the brainless vandals that caused the devastation to the St George Bowling Club, they will probably never know the full extent of the devastation they have caused…

Former club grounds at Hurstville, now a thriving vege patch.

This is what occupies the former club at Hurstville.

Former club grounds at Hurstville, now a thriving vege patch.

Former club grounds at Hurstville, now a thriving vege patch.

Once a proud institution... Photo Jack Hickson, 7 Aug 1954, archived State Library of NSW

St George Bowling Club. Once a proud institution…
Photo Jack Hickson, 7 Aug 1954, archived State Library of NSW

A rare reminder of days gone past... Photo Ron Golding, 13 Aug 1955, archived State Library of NSW

A rare reminder of wonderful days gone past at the club…
Photo Ron Golding, 13 Aug 1955, archived State Library of NSW

Title image: still from video by Storm Pickett.

ST GEORGE UNDER SIEGE 1: ‘DEVELOPERS WELCOME’

This post relates to a previous one regarding a Federation house that was for sale at 26 Dunmore Street Nth Bexley, for more details read here. As I feared at the time, the property was eyed off by developers in the hotly contested southern suburb of Bexley, and snapped up at auction for the princely sum of $1,446,000. As it turns out this was land value only, as soon afterwards the “fence of doom” went up and neighbours got their final glimpse of this beautiful Federation diamond in the rough that could have been saved, should have been saved, but was instead briskly turned to rubble.

The owner has advised council he will be subdividing the property and building three modern dwellings on the site at a proposed cost of $850,000 plus $10,000 demolition. Residents in the historic street are now banding together to try and stop inappropriate development taking shape on this block, hoping the new buildings will be more sympathetic to the current streetscape they value so dearly. As I reported in my previous post another owner tore down a similarly neglected Federation home on a corner block several years ago and after negotiation agreed to shape his new home in a style emulating that of a Federation house. Will the new developer be just as sympathetic, considering he proposes to build not one but three townhouses and has obviously bought the block to turn a profit?

That remains to be seen. What we do know is that the original house should have been protected from redevelopment in the first place, for a number of reasons.

First and foremostly it was a heritage building, a beautiful example of a Federation purpose built corner block, and it showed off many stunning period features that are now simply lost.

Secondly, it is located smack bang in the middle of a heritage precinct; its demolition detracts from the heritage value of the streetscape just as propping up three modern townhouses in its place would cheapen the entire surrounds. Whether Rockdale council has officially listed it or not as a heritage precinct is irrelevant, it is a heritage precinct, and certainly one of the best in the area and in fact southern Sydney. Rockdale council, which governs an area containing many fine heritage buildings, that also bond together to form some important heritage streetscapes, does not have any defined heritage precincts in their portfolio, meaning any street in any neighbourhood including the wonderfully embellished Dunmore Street Nth Bexley, is open for business to developers.

And don’t they just come rushing, especially when an unloved old building on a corner block like this, overgrown garden, probably a deceased estate, comes up for grabs. It doesn’t take much to look and see pure dollar value on this kind of investment; buy one, build three, triple your bottom line without too much effort exerted. And why wouldn’t they, more often than not they aren’t connected or affiliated to the particular area in question, they don’t walk around the streets and peruse the heritage quality of the neighbourhood or do the necessary groundwork to find out if their investment decision will have a negative impact on the area in which they have just bought – that’s the council’s job… And because they either refuse or can’t be bothered doing the research and making the decisions that will keep our heritage assets from falling, then it remains open season for developers, and houses like this will fall time and time again, only to be replaced with cheaply built office-like boxes overcrowded onto tiny blocks that do nothing at all to better the area they represent in any way, but return maximum profit to the said developer, who by now, is probably driving his brand new Merc AMG home to his concrete Mcmansion in a leafy suburb far, far away.

Meanwhile residents of Dunmore Street Nth, Bexley, are left to scratch their heads and gather together with placards saying “Developers not welcome here” wondering when did their beautiful heritage street that they have invested hard earned savings into start to go so horribly wrong. Unfortunately for the residents, who rightly claim some sort of ‘ownership’ to their street and their community are slightly off the mark this time – Developers ARE welcome here, they have been welcomed by council, they have been welcomed by the state government, in fact they are more than welcome, they are encouraged to build these sorts of over-sized monstrosities with heritage destruction as a by-product. The councils, the state government, they don’t really care about your heritage houses, your heritage shopfronts, your suburbs and your precincts – these are only in the way of more development. If they did, unlike in Rockdale Council’s case, they would have allocated neighbourhoods like Dunmore Street Nth Bexley a dedicated heritage precinct many years ago. But they didn’t, and so, as always, developers are welcome.

26 Dunmore Street

A Federation Diamond in The Rough stood here.

DSC03669

Of solid construction and intricate detailing, this should never have been allowed to be knocked down for profiteering.

At least in the case of 26 Dunmore Street Nth Bexley, residents should have been given a chance to be informed about the demolition prior and as a result make submissions to the proposals. Under planning laws to be introduced soon by Premier Barry O’Farrell and (Bad) Planning Minister Brad Hazzard, even this simple right would be wiped away from neighbours. The first thing they would know or see would be the dreaded “fence of doom” go up by which stage, as we know,  it is all too late. This is what we have to look forward to in this state once these reforms are pushed through… it makes no difference if the house is an ugly shack or a Federation diamond, if there is no heritage listing, it is fair game. And the fact that private certifiers are on the increase means council will have even less input and developers will have an easier and quicker path to get their foot in the door, or, perhaps more to the point, knock the door over.

The services of a  private certifier were indeed utilised in the decision to allow demolition of this house. Almost within the blink of an eye the house was sold at auction and bulldozed without residents input. Remembering the response I received from council when I questioned the possibility of demolition immediately after the sale, it read “Any development application lodged to either demolish the building or undertake alterations and additions to the building would consider what impact such has on the nearby heritage items, with specific matters for consideration included in both Rockdale Local Environmental Plan 2011 and Rockdale Development Control Plan 2011…” In this case I don’t believe the private certifier has duly considered the impact of demolition on the nearby heritage items… Have they consulted with residents at any point? If not I believe residents would have a right to deem the legality of the demolition highly questionable.

Such is the future of planning in NSW under the state government’s exempt and complying development code, and White Paper reforms which are still being pushed through despite strong disapproval state-wide from many stakeholders. Welcome to the brave new world of planning in NSW, where heritage is seen as nothing more than something that ‘gets in the way’ of new development, and developers are clearly ‘welcome’ at every corner.

Dunmore Street demolition

This is what remains. Very few trees were spared on the block too.

Forest Road

Just sold around the corner on Forest Road. Will this house share the same fate?

Just sold on the corner of Dunmore St Nth and Forest Rd. Another fine example of a Federation corner block.

Just sold on the corner of Dunmore St Nth and Forest Rd. Another fine example of a Federation corner block.

Inheritance Society has written to Rockdale Council with a submission against any new modern-looking development on site, while questioning how demolition was allowed when it so clearly impacted nearby heritage items, and also requested Rockdale Council to consider Dunmore Street and surrounds as its first official heritage listed precinct.

Title image by Chris Lane, The Leader.

FOR SALE: A FEDERATION DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH

There is a renowned heritage street in Bexley that holds many a fine residence… Victorian, Federation, Bungalow, Art Deco… a walk down Dunmore Street North is like stepping back in time. Bookended by classic main street shopfronts and churches up on Forest Road, down to the state heritage listed Seaforth Park at the lower end, the street and suburb it occupies are home to many splendid gardens as well, some immaculately pruned and tended, and some, let’s just say, a little rougher around the edges.

Look carefully at the jungle growing on a block at 26 Dunmore Street North. Between the trees and shadows you will find a hidden Federation masterpiece, waiting to be uncovered and have new life breathed back into it, like a dusty Rembrandt sitting unknown at the back of a museum storeroom. This house is ripe for renovation, and in the afternoon light stunning period features still shine and give away a hint of the extravagance waiting to be uncovered and brought back to their timeless beauty by someone with a keen eye for what constitutes smart ‘forward thinking’ real estate value and a worthy investment. Bullseye leadlight windows, turquoise Art Nouveau tiling, patterned brick archways, delicate balcony timber fretwork, this house has all the wonderful features of the period.

Federation homes were exceptional in their level of embellishment, quality of workmanship and attention to detail, as well as giving us our own national style of architecture; those on corner blocks were even more impressive as they were always built to suit the site, facing two directions to greet the outside world and often taking advantage of winter sun flooding through bay windows, while maintaining an air of coolness in summer with deep and richly decorated porches.

That’s the end of my real estate agent spiel; it may not be along the lines the agents are pushing this time, considering the land size of 1,176sqm lends itself to perhaps something of a different scale. As quoted from the Domain website by agents Raine and Horne:

“Property Features:

*Original 4 bedroom federation full brick home in need of TLC

*Potential for Developement (STCA)

*Situated on a corner position

*2 Driveways

*Level clear block of land

*Approx 23.4 metre frontage X Approx 50.2 length

*Family orientated area, with excellent schools, transportation, and ease of access to Bexley shopping village.

Will be sold at Auction!!”

A few years ago a corner parcel came up for sale with a similar unloved Federation home at the bottom of the street. What happened next was a little strange. Residents at the time were concerned for the streetscape and lobbied for the new owners to retain the house. It didn’t stand for long, and was levelled and replaced by a large gaudy modern home ‘in the Federation style’, complete with sandstone foundations and stained glass. Why anyone would demolish a Federation house to build a Faux-Federation I don’t know but the trend has spread next door to where an almost identical building has sprung up.

Don’t let the developers get this one. The street is too picturesque and historically revealing to be ruined by duplexes. Any astute heritage buyers, this is the one for you. For sale by auction, Saturday 1st June. Be quick…

Click on images below to enlarge gallery…

‘RAMSGATE BEACH SMALL VILLAGE’ ALL OF A SUDDEN VERY LARGE

In what can only be described as a planning joke, residents of picturesque Ramsgate Beach are to be marooned with a six storey block of units on an already busy intersection directly across from a shopping centre that struggles with vehicular traffic on a daily basis. The 21.5 million dollar Helm Developments proposal at 158-162 Ramsgate Road has just been unanimously approved by the Joint Regional Planning Panel comprising three state government nominated professionals as well as two local council representatives.

The funny thing here is how a six storey block of units gets the green light so easily on this site. This has occurred after both Rockdale council and the NSW state government have admitted there was a ‘bungle’ on the revised height limits for the so-called ‘Ramsgate Beach small shopping village’ (which is not so small after this). After council upgraded the limit to 16 metres in December last year, somehow it was passed by the Planning Department at 20.5 metres, and apparently now is locked in, pending what Rockdale council terms ‘community consultation’ over maintaining the new, higher limit. Helm Developments saw their window of opportunity and quickly upgraded their development to take full advantage of the height increase. In the context of the area, this apartment block is clearly over sized and would dominate the beachfront dramatically. In fact where the building would sit is currently occupied by two single storey cottages and a double storey dwelling. So increasing that to 39 units plus six commercial shops over six stories totaling 20 metres would be, to say the least, a dramatic change.

The aesthetics of the area would be altered from a small beachside suburb to a high-rise high-density inner city style hub in one fowl swoop should this development proceed. The increased traffic, increased congestion during and after building completion, lack of public transport options (where is the nearest railway station?), the fact this is situated smack-bang on one of the main city-south motor carriageways, overshadowing, loss of views, destruction of the character of Ramsgate beach, precedent for further developments in and around Ramsgate and along the foreshores of historic Botany Bay – was any of this considered by the so-called expert panel and if so how did it pass?

The fact that the zoning height limits are basically on hold and only in place due to a planning error means that any development application should be put on hold until the zoning issues are resolved, and actually both council and the Planning Department should be investigated in a legal sense for breaching the trust of their ratepayers. New mayor Shane O’Brien on one hand claims to oppose the development while on the other wants to investigate retaining the 20.5 m limit because this Helm DA has already been lodged and the Rockdale council is still playing blame games with the Planning Department over the cause of the issue… I mean, C’mon Shane, this is not cricket. You are a newly elected Mayor, this is not a good first public impression for you. A bureaucratic bungle in zoning that we as residents are supposed to just sit back and cop sweet, and even now you want the error in zoning to stand? You must think your ratepayers are a bunch of small brained idiots. Let’s get this right, let’s go back to the drawing board and come up with something worthy of the area. This isn’t the inner city after all.

Title development image courtesy The Leader.

ELSEWHERE…
Rockdale Council area is being besieged by over-development at the moment, with little regard for heritage values or appropriate sizing. Just down the road from Ramsgate beach lies Dolls Point. After a recent development of units replaced a service station, a neighbouring house has just been sold as a development site, showing how one block of units leads to another, and the scourge spreads. See image below.

Five minutes the other way along the Grand Parade, Brighton Le Sands is undergoing massive highrise changes. Small seaside blocks of Art deco buildings don’t stand a chance, particularly with the O’Farrell government’s plans to allow developers to buy-out whole blocks of units with only 75 percent consent of owners compared with 100 percent previously. This gem below known as Romax Court is being sold as a development site.

Windows like this are set to disappear from our suburbs.

In another part of the Rockdale council, at 1 Caledonian St  Bexley stands a charming deceased estate Federation house on 1278 square metres of land. This home occupies a quiet area just around the corner from the heritage precinct of Dunmore Street, but that hasn’t stopped it being listed as a development site for 7 townhouses. “Developers came from everywhere” said Real estate agent Doug Turnbull but the house was passed in at $1.175M. It is only a short reprieve before another magnificent Federation is lost and replaced by ever more townhouses.

On Bay Street Rockdale new blocks of units are rising where single storey dwellings were. There is a seismic shift happening as seen below, where a couple of rather forlone looking cottages cling on to their small patch. Now they too are for sale by the ironically named Good View Property, seeing as the owners enjoyed the good view of development next door so much they just had to sell.

A ‘good view’ property.

THE MAYOR, THE FIRE, AND THE MOSQUE

This is the curious case of the mayor, the fire and the mosque that would be… Now listen carefully, it may seem like a fairytale, but no, this is true, this is what is happening in the inner western suburbs of Sydney, Australia in 2012.

Back in 2009, the mayor of Auburn Ronney Oueik bought himself a beautiful 1916 heritage-listed house known as Camden Lodge in the neighbouring suburb of Homebush from previous owners, family of the late Arthur Bush (of A.J.Bush and sons butchers). Being a self described heritage lover the home was seemingly going to good hands, but Mayor Oueik is also a property developer, and soon lodged a development application to demolish the federation mansion which strides two blocks and replace it with a new home with swimming pool, tennis court and cabana. However his application was unanimously refused on grounds that the house was in ”good condition with high intactness and integrity” and could easily be restored to protect its ”exceptional heritage, social and historical significance”.

In the heritage streetscape of Burlington Rd there was strong local opposition to the DA. A 306-signature petition was presented to the council, and resident Ms Doran said neighbours were dismayed by what they claimed was a lack of maintenance and “demolition by neglect” of the property by the new owners. “When you first saw the house it had a beautiful garden, it was a beautiful home,” she said. “They bulldozed the garden as soon as they bought the house.”

Mayor Oueik argued that the renovations to restore Camden Lodge to its former glory would be cost-prohibitive, despite the fact he found 2.5 million AUD to buy the property in the first instance. So we have a heritage-listed mansion, in a heritage street, held in high esteem by residents and council alike, and one angry Mayor. Now this is where our story gets a little skewed…

Neighbours started noticing things happening here. Trees were removed from the heritage gardens and not replaced, leadlight windows had gone missing. When questioned the Mayor said he had left the windows open to clear out the bad smell of the house and gone for the day, when he came back they had mysteriously disappeared. But then came the worst news. On the night of January 30 2012 a fire suddenly ripped through and gutted the 95 year old mansion, caving in the roof and leaving it in a state of disrepair. Fire crews and Police investigated and opened a crime scene on the site citing suspicious circumstances.

Gutted by fire. Main structure still looks sound. image Inner West Courier

Since that time the house has stood, uninhabited and burnt out, but the debate continues. Mayor Oueik campaigned again to push ahead with demolition, but Strathfield Council rightfully believe the house can and should be saved, and that the damage is not beyond repair but rather that the home remains structurally sound. Cr Oueik was asked to restore the property in 60 days and additionally, place tarpaulins over the hole in the roof to stop weather affecting the building’s internal structure. But since then it was reported the tarps were still not erected.

“If it’s rejected I have a buyer to buy it and what they do with it is up to them,” Mr Oueik said. “I also said to council if you’re so concerned with heritage why don’t you buy it and give it back to the community, but they weren’t interested.” He said the house was not insured at the time of the fire and he couldn’t afford to restore it. He also claimed “I love heritage, that’s why I bought this house. But its not safe to live in.”

But there was to be one more twist in this story. Undeterred by being foiled twice on his demolition plans, Mayor Oueik issued an ultimatum to the council and the community, saying he would turn his house into a Muslim prayer hall if he wasn’t allowed to knock it down. And as if a threat to make good on this promise, he has been seen showing men in traditional Muslim robes around the property. “He’s told us he will be selling it to a Muslim community organisation which wants to use the site as a prayer hall. We don’t need that in the street” one neighbour said to the Daily Telegraph.

But others, like Marlene Doran, who has lived in Homebush for 60 years and is the archivist for the heritage society were less sympathetic, saying the threat to sell the house to turn it into a Muslim prayer hall was nothing short of disgraceful. “This is a threat to get the neighbours onside so he can demolish,” she said. “It’s disgusting. He’s done nothing whatsoever with the house. It’s demolition by neglect… It’s absolutely devastating that such a beautiful home has been destroyed. All the hard work and time we’ve put into saving and protecting this home, which is such a jewel in the precinct, has literally gone up in flames.”

Mayor Ronny Oueik. image Daily Telegraph

So now the fate of this magnificent home, a landmark in the area, lies in the hands of engineering structural reports. What a shame it would be for this grubby Mayor to finally get his way. We believe that the house should be restored no matter what the reports bring up, and Cr Oueik should have to pay in full. Being a director of a construction company and having more than one house to his family name should help him find the required funds.

And what about poor Auburn, the council that he presides over as Mayor, what hope does heritage have there? Are these the heritage values instilled in that particular council? The Auburn City Council website reads “By preserving, displaying and restoring historic buildings, landscapes, artefacts and archaeological sites we are connecting ourselves to our past and leaving important legacies for future generations.”

Is that what you yourself are doing, Mayor Ronny Oueik, leaving important legacies for future generations? We sincerely doubt that.