Job Warehouse dispute headed for VCAT

By David Schout

The redevelopment of a historic Bourke St building into a large-scale bar and restaurant is headed for the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) after developers were left frustrated by a 1am closing time limit. 

The O’Brien Group will contest City of Melbourne planning permit conditions for the venue, a restoration of the derelict Job Warehouse, that limits operating hours to 1am rather than 3am. 

It is set to face the council at a VCAT compulsory conference on June 21, where parties confidentially discuss ways to resolve their dispute.

The heritage-listed Job Warehouse building in the CBD’s east end, most recently a haberdashery business, was built in the 1840s and has sat derelict since 2012. 

In 2019, the O’Brien Group acquired a long-term lease of the site, and last year unveiled plans for a large bar and restaurant, open until 3am.

But late last year councillors voted unanimously to instead grant a planning permit for a 1am closing time and for maximum patronage of 673, rather than a proposed 957.

At the time, CEO Michael O’Brien said the huge costs involved with the project meant it would require a favourable liquor licence to lock in the venue’s future. 

“Due to the age of the building and its heritage status, the care, time and skill needed to restore this building is three times what it would normally be. To make it viable, we need a 3am licence,” he said.

The Job Warehouse has been described as one of the CBD’s “most high-profile eyesores”, and calls for its restoration have come from across the board. 

However late last year the council sided with over 100 nearby residents that had objected to the O’Brien Group proposal.

“This is a really difficult application,” Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece said in December. 

“It’s one of those balancing acts where on the one hand, the city is very, very keen to see a vibrant nighttime economy and is very, very keen to see investment in its nighttime economy and that’s what the O’Briens are offering. On the other hand, I think concerns that have been raised by large numbers of residents are very legitimate as well. It is notable to me that the apartment buildings on Liverpool [St] Lane are not new — they have been there for 30-plus years, and many of the residents have lived along the laneway for 30 years, or certainly well over a decade.”

The O’Brien Group’s portfolio of venues includes the Bondi Icebergs, O’Brien Icehouse in Docklands and the nearby Imperial Hotel.

When contacted by CBD News, CEO Michael O’Brien said the Group did not wish to comment on the upcoming VCAT hearing.

A council spokesperson said the decision to grant a 1am license was not unusual. 

“City of Melbourne councillors unanimously supported approving the redevelopment of the former Job Warehouse site last year, believing it will offer important economic benefits to the city,” the spokesperson said. 

“The 1am closure time approved by councillors is consistent with similar large-scale venues close to sensitive residential uses.”

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