Woods Street icon to go

The former kitchen. Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS 243942_19

By Danielle Kutchel

Cardinia Shire Council has approved a permit for the demolition of the fire-damaged former post office building in Beaconsfield.

The property at 19-21 Woods Street – known in the community as the former home of restaurant OMy – was damaged extensively by fire on 13 November 2020.

The building was also water damaged from the efforts of firefighters to save it.

Its owners – an aunt-nephew duo – had asked for permission for the building to be demolished after spending thousands of dollars of their own money to review its prospects.

A report in March 2021 by The Anthemion Group concluded that the building could not be saved, and that very little of the original Edwardian building actually remained.

The property had undergone extensive remodelling and change since it was first constructed in around 1910, including a 1992 change that saw the removal of the original front-facing gabled part of the facade to make way for a new front wing.

Only a few parts of the original building remain, such as the timber block-fronted facade, windows, eaves brackets and doorcase.

The fire destroyed many of the building’s structural components, meaning any repair would essentially result in the building being demolished and rebuilt, a council report read.

Additionally, it has been further damaged by squatters, with the building’s leadlight windows smashed and evidence of drug use in the vacated building.

In April, prominent locals voiced their concerns about the proposed demolition, with Beaconsfield Progress Association president Graeme Taylor telling the Gazette there was “no reason” why the building could not be saved.

The application to demolish the building came before a council town planning meeting on 7 June, but a decision by the council on the application was deferred for two months at the request of mayor Brett Owen.

The decision was deferred pending a peer review of the March heritage assessment.

A council officer’s report, tabled at that meeting, noted that although the building “contributes to the Wood Street Commercial and Civic Heritage Precinct, it is not individually significant”.

The report further noted that the heritage overlay applies to the land on which the property is located, meaning the council could encourage future developers to construct a building that is “sympathetic” to the style of the precinct, and that uses salvageable materials from the fire-damaged original.

The issue returned to council earlier than expected, at the ordinary council meeting on Monday 19 July.

The officer’s report again recommended that the building be demolished, following an independent review of the site by Andronas Conservation Architecture which concurred with the findings of The Anthemion Group’s earlier assessment.

The independent peer review cost the council $2000, according to Mayor Owen, however he said it was “fantastic…to give council some reassurance”.

He described the fire as “devastating” and said it had caused “considerable damage”.

“I would love to have seen some scope to ask the applicant to restore that, but both the independent peer review and a consultant and even council officers say it’s not possible to do so,” he said.

At the council officer’s recommendation, an itemised list of items to be saved from the building would be provided, and a commemorative plaque would be installed to mark the spot where the building once stood.

Cr Owen moved an amendment to the council officer’s recommendation, that at least 14 days prior to the building’s demolition a heritage advisor be engaged to supervise the salvage and storage of the heritage-identified materials.

The heritage advisor must “hold suitable qualifications and experience” to satisfy the council, and must direct the storage of the removed materials.

Cr Owen’s amendment was seconded by Cr Tammy Radford.

The decision was carried unanimously.

The owners of the site, who wished to remain anonymous, welcomed the council’s decision.

They said they had been through a challenging nine months, with financial struggles off the back of Covid compounded by the loss of the building, and their savings now depleted.

The owners said the various assessments had proved there was no alternative but to demolish the building after the extensive damage it had suffered.

They suggested the community’s ire was misguided, as most people would not understand the extent of the damage or the minimal amount of original material remaining in the building.

They also criticised the council’s delay on making a decision on their demolition permit, which had contributed to the stress they had suffered.

The owners accepted the conditions placed on the permit by the council, which they had anticipated.

They expect it to be a “couple more months” before the building comes down, with potential objections to be raised by those in the community within the next 28 days prior to the permit being issued.