The backlash is building to the destruction of Carlton’s beloved Corkman Irish Pub, illegally demolished by its developer owners two weeks ago.
Stefce Kutlesovski and Raman Shaqiri bought the pub for $4.76 million last year, and reportedly told previous owner Alf King they intended to turn the property into apartments, despite the fact that a heritage overlay protected the 1857-built pub.
Early morning on Saturday 8 October, emergency services were called to the site of the pub due to a fire that had taken hold of the building. Police confirmed arson investigations were underway.
A week later, on the evening of 15 October, Carlton Council received complaints of demolition noise at the property. Inspectors arrived to find the pub mostly gone, but issued a cease work order. Ignoring this, crews returned the next day and finished the job.
Property experts suggested the value of the property had immediately doubled, to around $10 million.
Inspectors soon found asbestos waste at the site, and ordered it to be covered. Around the same time, a tip to the EPA’s hotline resulted in inspectors finding more asbestos waste – dumped illegally at another property owned by Kutlesovski and Shaqiri for just 10 weeks. The “new level of affordable luxury” 200-apartment Havenlead development, at nearby Cairnlea.
The EPA’s Daniel Hunt said if found guilty of dumping construction and demolition waste the defendants faced a fine of up to $758,350. Another fine of $7,500 is about to issued for failing to adequately cover the waste at the Carlton site, after the tarpaulins used were displace by wind and inspectors found them ineffective, allowing asbestos dust to blow from the site.
Planning Minister Richard Wynne is leading an action with the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) that began yesterday, attempting to force the owners to replicate the heritage building.
Separate to that, the Victorian government is about to introduce special legislation planning rules preventing anything from a two-storey venue of similar size and style on the property.
The planning amendment would apply to the location even if the current owners sold, or if their company 160 Leicester Pty Ltd went into liquidation, but will not as yet force it to be done by a specific date, and will not preclude the other penalties being pursued.
Kutlesovski and Shaqiri’s could see fines include up to $186,552 for breaking planning laws, and $466,380 for illegal demolition.
But there are cries for greater blood, arguing the punishment should be in proportion to the risk-reward.
“Fines need to be a deterrent, they should not be incorporated as part of the usual cost of doing business,” said Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio.
In a letter to the Planning Minster, National Trust chief executive Simon Ambrose suggested it may take larger fines and possible criminal prosecutions to scare parties considering abusing the planning process.
“I think appropriate penalties are enough to stop developers actually doing the work. So that might be $5 million, it might be a criminal penalty as well.”
Authorities are being further spurred by community reaction. A petition on Change.org has so far collected almost 18,000 signatures hoping to force the Corkman’s reconstruction.
Kutlesovski and Shaqiri have been avoiding the media, but have now engaged legal representation and lobbyists to help manage the fallout.
The Planning Minister yesterday received a letter from them apologising for the illegal demolition and pleading ‘best intentions’.
“We want to make absolutely clear that we will rebuild the building at our expense,” the letter said.
Supposedly, they had no plans to demolish the pub, which had been closed almost since purchase, but did so due to concerns about the structural integrity of the building after the fire, which had nothing to do with them.
Ignoring the stop-work Order was the result of “legal advice, engineering advice, weather forecast and injury litigation” – taking into account another building site case for which they are currently in Court.
Minister Wynne was not swayed, vowing to continue his action with VCAT to force the replication of the site “immediately prior to demolition” and going further to force the pub to be rebuilt with 12 months.
“We will not withdraw the VCAT action launched with Melbourne City Council.
“We want an enforceable order on the pub owners to reinstate the building within 12 months.”