ASPIRING Continental hotel developer Julian Gerner is “working very closely with Heritage Victoria and the council over the hotel’s preservation and restoration as an attraction for Sorrento”.
Mr Gerner was speaking at a hearing on 23 June to discuss his group’s proposed purchase of the hotel’s off-street car park at 23 Constitution Hill Rd.
Acquisition of the $1.8 million block – bought by the council in 1968 and currently providing 18 car spaces – is a crucial factor in the Continental Development Group’s multi-million redevelopment of the 120-year-old property.
The 900 square metre block was an informal gravel car park until 2003 when a special charge scheme was approved by Mornington Peninsula Shire for resurfacing as a car park. The scheme also included construction of the council car park off Morce Av, Sorrento.
All commercial properties in the Sorrento business area contributed to the cost of construction of both car parks.
The block’s sale – as well as a planning application to redevelop the hotel and relevant approvals from Heritage Victoria – are contentious matters raising hackles all over Sorrento. Mr Gerner told the meeting the car park would create access points off Constitution Hill Rd, improve traffic flows and create an extra seven car parking spaces, for a total of 25.
He said buildings on the car park would be “kept very low level so as to not overdevelop the area and to protect aspects from Constitution Hill Rd back to the hotel, including the aspect line from the residential development looking towards the ocean”.
Mr Gerner said the block would provide access to underground parking with 58 spaces for hotel guests and residents.
The hotel is licensed for 920 patrons. It no longer offers short-term accommodation, with patrons parking in the public car parking area and street.
The car park sale is being opposed by Nepean Historical Society and Nepean Conservation Group, whose Wayne Chamley said the shire had made “a terrible error” in its handling of negotiations.
“I would like to know the sale process,” he said. “If the current value is $1.8 million, can he [Mr Gerner] put in a bid for $2 million?”
Mr Chamley said the application “needed to be contested [by the two groups] for the benefit of council officers into the future so they understand what the leniency is in these decisions about developments over council land”.
“It needs to be contested to clarify for stakeholders.”
Nepean Historical Society says selling public land to a private owner is “undesirable and unnecessary”.
President Joy Kitch said members were concerned about providing public parking on private land over the long term and that the sale of the land “without a long-term plan for parking is short sighted”.
“Even if covenants and restrictions as to the use of the land can be written into the terms of sale, we can take no comfort from past experience that these would continue to be enforced in the years to come,” she said.
The society is also against the sale of a public asset without public tendering.
Council officers say selling the car park “would facilitate a better development outcome of the Continental Hotel and that the funds realised could be reinvested in other capital works projects”.
Chamber of commerce vice-president Marc Clavin said an anonymous letter dropped under Sorrento traders’ doors overnight Wednesday was “given about two seconds’ consideration … because it was unsigned and unnamed”.
The two-page letter, seemingly from a disgruntled trader, warns of “significant, detrimental impacts upon business activity” caused by a loss of car parking after the hotel’s 920 guests take up all available spots in commercial areas.
The writer warns that underground car parking spaces in the redeveloped hotel “will be grossly insufficient” and that holiday renters, wedding guests staying overnight and business guests staying three or four days mid-week, will fill all vacant spaces in the town’s commercial area.
Anticipating lost car parking spaces in the long term, Mr Chamley said: “It does not matter what is designated [in planning conditions] in the future: the fact is possession is 9/10ths of the law.
“If the public do not know there are car parking spaces under the new building, then they will not use them and, eventually, it will be seen to be the possession of the hotel residents or day trippers.”
Council officers will report to the next council meeting on issues raised at the hearing. The council expects to make a decision on the sale of the bock on 25 July.