In Redevelopment by Clyde Mooney

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Developers are making the most of Victoria’s updated development laws – and challenging those they don’t like – putting many historic pubs under threat or under another structure.

Bridie O’Reilly’s in Brunswick is an institutional Irish pub for the people, with a popular beer garden and lute-wielding peasant on the logo. Built in 1852, it was long known as the Sarah Sands Hotel, before being rebranded with its current moniker in 1997.

In late 2015 it was sold by John Connellan to developer Joseph Chahin’s Peregrine Projects for $6.03m, representing a super-tight 4.23 per cent yield on the freehold. The property was sold with development approval for a residential apartment at the rear of the generous 1120 m block.

Peregrine has not yet revealed its own plans for the lot, which is thought to be based in construction of a five-storey block containing 40 apartments, but told the Herald Sun the pub would remain as the “linchpin of the development” and that the project would pay homage to the history of the site.

The plans, expected to be revealed later this year, intend to revive the Sarah Sands title.

“Once you remove the Irish theming from it, you’re left with the residual bones of a pub with an amazing presence in Brunswick,” said Chahin. “I want to bring the Sarah Sands back to life. Owners like me are just a custodian and a chapter in the life of a pub like that.”

Image: Bridie O’Reilly’s Facebook page

Fans of the pub have cried out on social media, scrambling for tickets to the ‘Last St Patrick’s Day’ and last ever recurring events, such as the Bridie karaoke night. The announcement of its pending demise included invitation to party hard up until closing time.

“We are hellbent on making this the biggest celebration of all time, and it’s all about spoiling you. Yes, you, the brilliant people that have made this pub the fantastic place it has been for the last 150 years.”

Projecting itself as a conscientious developer, Chahin (Peregrine) was horrified at the illegal destruction of Carlton’s Corkman Irish Pub and reportedly tried to buy the rubble site from owners Stefce Kutlesovski​ and Raman Shaqiri. Negotiations for the sale did not amount to anything, and the two parties now disagree about the price even discussed.

Kutlesovski​ and Shaqiri bought the pub in late 2014 for $4.76m, and demolished it without permission or approved development plans in October 2016, shortly after a suspicious fire in the unoccupied building. Real estate pundits suggested removal of the heritage-listed Corkman pub immediately doubled the value of the block of land.

The demolition, which earned the pair the label of the “cowboy developers”, sparked outrage from the people of Victoria, already wary of the number of historic buildings being torn down courtesy of the revised planning laws.

Beyond the illegal demo, asbestos waste from the demolition was found improperly contained at the site, and more dumped at another site owned by the pair. Fines have been issued for both EPA breaches.

Plans emerged soon after the destruction for a 12-storey apartment complex, but planning minister Richard Wynne was one of those outraged, and submitted an Order to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) to rebuild the pub, limiting any subsequent development on the site to just two storeys.

The rogue developers hit the media back-pedaling, with promises to make restitution.

“We will rebuild the building at our expense,” said a statement. “We will willingly enter into the appropriate enforceable undertaking.”

But this promise came to naught as the matter reached legal proceedings, with lawyers for Kutlesovski​ and Shaqiri submitting a Statement of Grounds refuting the validity of the Planning Minister’s order, and outright refusal to acknowledge terms for an enforcement order “at all”.

The legal statement accuses the Order of being “vague, imprecise, and incapable of being complied with” and questions both the heritage value of the site, the relevance of the Order to reconstruction versus new development, and the Minister’s authority to submit such an Order without public consultation.

The defence also accuses the Minister of executing the Order to “punish the Respondents” and of standing in the way of an “appropriate planning outcome”. It goes so far as to claim Wynne was in defiance of Human Rights.

“The Minister’s decision, to approve DD068, was inconsistent with the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 as it sought to usurp to the executive branch of government a role that is the province of the judicial branch of government.”

They seek costs in defence of the application. The hearing into the pub’s future will continue in March.

Meanwhile, Kensington’s the Quiet Man pub will indisputably be demolished, with approval, to make way for the $12m construction of a nine-storey mixed-use block incorporating shops and 46 apartments.

Originally built in the 1880s as the Palace Hotel, the pub saw remodelling in the 1920s and 30s, and transition to being the Quiet Man in 1997. The current bar was designed and built in Dublin, transported and reassembled in the pub.

Developer Monolith International owns the property and submitted the development proposal. The pub operation will remain in business for at least the next year, while the plans are assessed and put into action.


Sarah Sands Hotel. ca.1900 Image: Courtesy State Library of Victoria