EAST FREMANTLE council has given short shrift to developer Saracen Properties’ hopes for an 18-storey tower behind the heritage listed Royal George Hotel.
At a special council meeting on Wednesday evening the council voted unanimously to adopt a scheme amendment that would effectively limit any development on the site to six storeys. It didn’t even leave wriggle room for discretionary bonuses.
Around 60 residents filled the council chamber for the vote, with the majority of speakers applauding the council for taking up the amendment, but a few such as artist Tony Jones arguing the council was being too harsh.
“I am dead scared they will walk away,” Mr Jones said of Saracen, noting he’d recently found a 20-year-old conservation plan for the hotel which had never been acted on.
Peter Unsworth, owner of the nearby Brush Factory on Duke Street, supported the amendment, saying apartments plus a hotel would mean the area’s already notorious parking problems would become completely unmanageable.
Deputy mayor Michael McPhail said the council’s hand had been forced because it had been effectively locked out of planning for the site by the State Heritage Office and Saracen.
He said a previous scheme amendment for the site was adopted by the council in 2017 to create a special zone around the hotel. It didn’t contain many controls over development because there was an in-built consultation process.
Cr McPhail said he “obsessed” over balancing controls over the site while ensuring development would be economically viable, and says he’s comfortable six storeys was the right decision.
“I could not agree with anything that changed the character of George Street, which is a very important heritage streetscape,” he said, noting that an 18-storey tower would shift the focus away from the Royal George.
He said the proposed scheme amendment was still the “most pro-developer framework” that had ever been applied to the site.
Cr Jenny Harrington said councillors and residents had been “frightened” by the prospect of an 18-storey tower, describing it as a “huge, oppressive building” more suitable for the Perth CBD or the Canning Bridge precinct.
Saracen project director Joel Saraceni said he acknowledged the proposal wasn’t “simple” and would be hard for some residents to accept, but the company had crunched the numbers and the only way to pay for the $4 million restoration of the hotel itself was a development three times the size of the Royal George’s block.
He also got stuck into the council, saying as the only owner directly affected by the proposed scheme amendment, Saracen had been poorly informed.
“I am disappointed by the lack of consultation and transparency from the council,” he said.
“In June, the first we learned about the scheme amendment was when it landed in our letterbox — on our desks,” he said.
They’d also heard about this week’s council meeting only days earlier.
Mr Saraceni said the council had also produced a draft scheme amendment some time ago which had recommended capping heights at nine stories, which the company thought would be achievable.
“After making our submission on that, we were called into a meeting and were told there would be just six stories,” he said with some frustration.
The scheme amendment added a number of other conditions, including staggered setbacks for any development behind the hotel, which would also have to contain a residential component.
The amendment now goes to the WAPC which may adopt it as is, make some of its own changes, or simply reject it.
by STEVE GRANT