Developer committed to working closely with mosque to build basketball court
The developer behind a proposed multi-million-dollar mixed-use project in North Melbourne says he is committed to working cooperatively and collaboratively with a neighbouring community group, which has plans to build a basketball court behind their mosque.
Developer David Wardlaw, managing director of Orb Property Partners, which has a permit to build a $750 million complex including apartments on vacant plot of land to the north of a mosque and community centre on Boundary Rd, which is owned by the Australian Muslim Social Services Agency (AMSSA).
Mr Wardlaw said that while he didn’t agree with the current designs of the proposed basketball court, he had “never stood in their way at all, and we’ve helped them and agreed for them to build it from my land”.
Mr Wardlaw said he wanted to set the record straight after an article, published in The Age, appeared to “incite religious, racial antagonism between us and them which has never been the case”.
“It’s just nonsensical that we’ve had a bad relationship with the mosque, and that we’ve tried to do send them broke. I would say it’s the absolute opposite,” he said.
Back in 2014 after having met [AMSSA secretary] Adam Mohamed, I made two offers to them, which they were keen to explore. I offered to build them a new mosque or alternatively we would have agreed to purchase their land for $7 million.
AMSSA is a not-for-profit group that provides various religious, educational, social, and recreational services to the wider community and Muslims in particular.
It has operated the mosque, a former warehouse, since 2010.
In October 2019, the City of Melbourne approved a planning application for AMSSA to develop the area behind mosque with an indoor community hall that will accommodate a slightly undersized basketball court that can also be used as a community meeting space.
However, the case was taken to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) after Mr Wardlaw, and the Marcocci Property Group, with the latter owning land and a warehouse to the south of the mosque (which is understood to be redeveloped and become home to the University Food Group), argued the basketball court “will result in an underdevelopment of the land”.
However, VCAT upheld the council decision to grant a permit in July 2021, with VCAT member Alison Glynn stating the proposed development “provides a demonstrable benefit in improving facilities at a valued community service”.
Speaking candidly in interview with the North West City News in May, Mr Wardlaw said, “We’ve never had a problem at all other than objecting to a permit on a building which we didn’t think was a good outcome, but could’ve been changed to be a win-win situation”.
Mr Wardlaw said he had been more than willing to work together to contribute to the development of the mosque’s facilities and basketball court, with positive communication made between both parties through emails shown to this masthead.
“The minute they got a permit and came to talk to me, we’ve just engaged with them positively,” he said.
Mr Wardlaw conceded his “real beef” was with the City of Melbourne for having objected to his development (at 59-101 Alfred St), which initially included a plan to gift a 500-student school.
His application, for three 12-storey buildings and one eight-storey building, was ultimately approved by the state government in 2021.
“I was very unhappy with the City of Melbourne objecting to my permit saying that I had to provide for a road that would go through one of our buildings and then was going to go through the land where they had already agreed to give the mosque a permit for an indoor basketball court.”
AMSSA secretary Adam Mohamed said the land was not for sale, and the state government had given them a grant of $350,000 to go towards the development of the $1.8 million basketball court.
The remaining costs of the development is being obtained through community fundraisers and donations.
The Marcocci Property Group, which has been contacted for comment, also took the matter to the Victorian Appeals Board of Victoria, but their application was refused on March 1, 2023.
“It’s a very small project. We didn’t expect that from them [lodging an appeal at VCAT]; that upset us a lot really, but what can we do. We try our best to always be a good neighbours to our community,” Mr Mohamed said.
ASSMA is not only a mosque; it is a social hub for our community. It’s a very, very important place where they can socialise, and where our youth can also do recreational activities.
Mr Mohamed said he believed the Marcocci Property Group would now seek to oppose the basketball court plans at the Supreme Court.
In a Facebook post, City of Melbourne Cr Rohan Leppert, acknowledged AMSSA’s “community service mission is profound, and let us never forget the lifesaving role AMSSA played during the hard lockdowns”.
“The planning system in Victoria is not concerned with who owns private land, but rather how land should be used and developed. I will refrain from commenting on any current or disputed planning or building matters, but I do think it’s important to recognise that places of worship and community facilities are entirely legitimate inclusions in the mix of land uses in this area.” •