• Tony Bosworth

Kurrajong Heights locals vow to fight modern $7m pub set for build in heritage precinct

A packed meeting last night – Sunday – at Kurrajong Heights Bowling Club as around 50 locals heard how a proposed $7m modern pub, open 7 days a week, with pokies, VIP access for gamblers, and a potential clientele of 300-plus customers per night could totally destroy the heritage and ambience of the tight-knit community.

The project sees a four-storey building - if you count the underground car park - with the pub dwarfing and shadowing surrounding buildings, many of which date from the 1800s.

There would also be 9 cabins for people who wished to stay overnight or for longer periods.

The project has been put forward by Bashir Merhi, who is director and sole shareholder in Balma Projects Pty Ltd.

Bashir’s father is Tony Mehri who owns Merc Capital Group. That company also owns a large tract of land at The Islands further down the hill and intends to develop there too, though no DA has been put in yet for what could be a very sizeable development.

Mr Mehri senior told the Post last week he would be happy to answer questions about both the pub and The Islands developments. We are waiting for him to come up with a time, and we will persevere.

Locals argue the pub doesn't fit in with heritage buildings - artist's impression

If given the eventual go-ahead by a planning panel – Hawkesbury Council cannot make a decision because any projects over $5m in cost have to go to a panel - the pub will sit on vacant land at 27 Douglas Rd in amongst a variety of heritage buildings, including Lochiel House which it will overshadow.

The DA before Hawkesbury Council reveals what is essentially a very modern-looking four-storey building, says local Jeremy Braithwaite, who along with well-known resident Andrew Waterhouse have been at the forefront of organising initial community resistance, starting with the Sunday evening meeting.

They, along with several others in the community – including leading local heritage architect Graham Edds - have been through the DA with a fine tooth-comb and it was clear at last night's meeting that they didn’t much like what they found.

Gambling and pokies

Mr Braithwaite told residents some 20 car park spaces are reserved for VIPs, leading straight into a planned gaming room area.

“This is anonymous access and a quiet area away from the public area. I can’t understand how anyone can bring that into Kurrajong Heights,” Mr Braithwaite said.

Another artist impression of the outside of the planned new pub

There is additionally potential in the pub plans for 18 poker machines, with as many as 22 possible.

“Our people do not gamble,” said Mr Braithwaite, pointing to the fact the only two other premises in the Heights with pokies are the Archibald Hotel and the Bowlo itself, with a grand total of 13 machines between them, and both are near the bottom of the list of NSW profitable gaming machine venues.

Large number of potential customers

In a report about parking attached to the DA, it says 300 people could attend the new pub at any one time at its peak, and with only 75 car parking spaces, said Mr Braithwaite,” at 300 persons, we will be seeing 160 cars parked in our streets”.

He added that his analysis more likely sees a potential for 500 people to be regularly coming into the premises, which could see up to 300 parked cars in Heights’ streets.

“We have no footpaths or street lights,” he said, pointing to safety issues for that many people.

Artist's view of one of the proposed 9 cabins

As many as 149 people are projected to gather in the outside areas of the pub too, which would lead to a lot of noise, he said, in a “precinct where the majority of buildings were built in the 1800s”.

“We have really got to think about how we protect our heritage of our area. I think this is worth preserving.

“A concrete monolith surrounded by a picket fence does not fit,” Mr Braithwaite said.

Law and order was also an issue, he said, with a minimum 28-minute response time for police.

“We really have got no help if we get rowdy, belligerent people in our streets in the middle of the night.”

He also highlighted water supply and sewage concerns, which would see multiple truck movements every week, as well as traffic increases and concern over safe access.

Heritage architect Graham Edds pointed to Hawkesbury Council’s planning strategies which included, “looking to retain the character within the landscape”.

“This is a major large scale development,” Ms Edds said, and he suggested it could not be supported under the planning guidelines for the area.

Independent Hawkesbury councillor Mary Lyons Buckett, The Greens' Danielle Wheeler, independent Les Sheather, and the Small Business Party's Eddie Dogramaci turned up at the meeting, the latter saying he was prepared to be chained to make a point - though it wasn't clear what he might be chained to.

Another view of proposed cabins on the Douglas Rd site

Federal MP Susan Templeman sent her apologies, saying she couldn’t attend because she would be in Canberra, but she did underline her strong support for locals.

Ms Preston urged the community to engage with the developer - Mr Braithwaite told the Post on Sunday evening the MP had also stressed to him that he should talk to Mr Mehri - while Cllr Wheeler offered her vocal support to locals, alongside the promise of a joint motion to be put before Council with her colleague, Cllr Lyons Buckett, firmly against the project, but she warned,

“You are taking on a big business, a very big business”.

Just part of the crowd at Kurrajong Heights Bowling Club on Sunday

MP Preston said she believed it was important locals talk to the developer to see if they could find common ground. She added that the reality was something would be built on that plot of land so it was important to engage with the developer to try and get an acceptable outcome for everyone.

Locals will now set up a small working group to help put forward more submissions before the June 9 deadline – there are currently 19 submissions, all of which are against the pub project.

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