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New bar for Spencer St causes controversy

Spencer Fowler Steen

The City of Melbourne has approved the sale of alcohol at a future bar and restaurant in West Melbourne despite 50 objections to the application which initially sought to open  until 3am in a residential area.

At a Future Melbourne Committee meeting in November, councillors unanimously endorsed the service of liquor at a bar under construction at the iconic Sands & McDougall building at 355-369 Spencer St between the hours of 10am to 11pm.

Applicant Schmidt & Pang Architects, acting on behalf of the budling’s owner Avari No 18 Pty Ltd, is refurbishing the site with end-of-trip facilities along with a bar and café in the central courtyard.

But locals voiced 50 objections to the initial plan, including that the bar was inappropriate given its proximity to residential properties, its late operations until 3am, noise, fear of anti-social behaviour, increased traffic, and loss of privacy.

Objectors also raised concerns over their secure parking being threatened, impacts on investment properties within the building, queuing outside the venue, the risk of tarnishing the building’s reputation and potential issues for an education facility on level four.

In response, the City of Melbourne said it had assessed each objection and found that although there were several residential properties nearby, the bar was acceptable because there were already several licensed venues in the area.

The council also endorsed the amended operating hours limited to 11pm instead of 3am.

Regarding noise complaints, the council said sound would be limited due to no live music currently being proposed.

Objectors also raised concerns over potential anti-social behaviour by patrons, especially along McDougall Lane.

But the council stated there was no entry from the bar onto the lane, and anti-social behaviour would be limited by the scale of the proposal and by a yet-to-be-approved venue management plan.

In response to objections over a waiver of parking spaces and bike facilities for the bar, the council hit back saying given the walkability of the site and proximity to public transport, the likelihood that patrons would drive was limited.

The council also said the bar was unlikely to disrupt privacy for residents given the bar would be on the ground floor which was currently only used for commercial offices.

Along with the use of the land for the sale and consumption of alcohol and the waiver of parking and bike facilities, the permit will also allow the applicant to paint part of the outside of the heritage building.

The previous owners of the six-storey Sands & McDougall building listed it for $75 million last year after canning plans to pursue a 190-room mixed-use hotel project, according to media reports.

Built in 1888, the 7363sqm building housed the Melbourne publishing house, known for its annual directories of Melbourne, Sydney, and Adelaide •

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