THE owners of a vast West Perth block have won approval to demolish the existing buildings and build a Bunnings warehouse.
The decision stymies attempts by local creatives and Vincent council to rejuvenate the ‘Pickle District’ into an arts hub.
The state government’s Development Assessment Panel greenlit plans from the block’s owners Anita Percudani and Loretta Ricciardi for the $25.5 million redevelopment south of Newcastle Street, with Bunnings to be the major tenant alongside a childcare centre and a half dozen assorted retail tenancies.
Because the project is valued higher than $10m, the WA government takes the decision out of the local council’s hands. The council’s only representative on the DAP, Susan Gontaszewski, voted against the development but was outvoted by the three state-government appointed members.
The developer’s application said the project would “positively contribute to the vitality of Cleaver Street and Old Aberdeen Place”.
But of 330 public submissions to the DAP, 309 opposed the plans.
One opponent was Jon Denaro, chair of the Pickle District Town Team, a group of locals that’s been driving the area’s rejuvenation in recent years.
“The ramifications are that the Pickle District arts precinct has been gutted,” Mr Denaro told us after the decision.
He said the district was “unlikely to recover from this”.
“This is the only arts precinct in WA. [It] took 15 years to get to this point.”
Vincent mayor Emma Cole attended the DAP meeting to make a presentation against the project, saying the area’s a burgeoning arts hub that should be nurtured.
“The Pickle District has become a place of diverse mix of creative industries,” Ms Cole said.
“Art galleries, event venues, artist and design studios, a photographic and film studio, and creative businesses; a place where an iconic annual art event is taking place, and as such has become an arts hub for Perth.
“This is not easily recreated. It is a place that has a strong identity and is authentically creative. There is a thriving town team of volunteers – also known as The Pickle District – which has helped shape this place.”
The Bunnings is a biggie at 7,335sqm, far larger than the compact format Bunnings stores in Subiaco (3,800sqm), East Victoria Park (2,400sqm) and Osborne Park (1,900sqm).
Ms Cole said a smaller Bunnings might be more welcomed, and had discussed with the applicants “whether something very innovative and different could be delivered that would meet in the middle – a lower scale Bunnings with an integrated and substantial floor space for creative uses – even a live music venue.”
Ms Cole said Vincent council was currently working on a “Pickle District Planning Framework”, a planning document that would set out their vision for the area to encourage more creative businesses to move in.
A draft is planned to be ready by April 2023.
If that draft was already out, under planning rules it would count as an aspirational document that could be “seriously entertained” by the DAP and might present a stumbling block to the big hardware barn’s approval.
“We were six months from a master planning process from City of Vincent where we were going to be in a great position to steer development,” Mr Denaro reflected.
Instead the development was allowed under existing planning rules, which he calls “really old guidelines … totally out of date and did not reflect what has been going on”.
After we reported on the plans in June (“In a Pickle,” Voice, June 25, 2022) the developers did chat to some tenants and make changes to the plans, incorporating spaces for the existing tenancies to move back in once the building was complete.
But gym owner Nicola Hibbert from Inner City Fitness told us at the time a multi-year hiatus involved too much uncertainty for a small business to wait out, and approval would likely herald the end of her time in the Pickle District.
This week Ms Hibbert told us the decision was “disappointing,” but not surprising.
Her lease has two more years left on it, but a redevelopment clause can see her moved out with six months notice when the owners want to start construction.
“We hope we will see out our lease, which is two years, so we can recoup money spent on the business, and hopefully find somewhere else within the six months notice they give us if it comes to that.
“It will be sad for the area. It will no longer feel the same, and will look just like every other place in Perth.”