St Joseph’s Church, St Albans

At Council last night we were presented with the application for the use of the restored St Joseph’s church at St Albans as an accomodation and function venue. We had originally considered this application before Christmas but it was felt that a site visit would be useful for Councillors to be able to appreciate the merits (and concerns raised) over the application. I was pleased to visit the site recently.

Steve Kavanagh, the owner and restorer of this beautiful and historic building really should be commended for his passion, hard work and creativity. When he took on the building, it had been a roofless ruin since a fire in the 1840s. Mature trees had grown up through the original roofline amid the crumbling stone. When the church was founded (building commenced in 1839), it was the largest sandstone building outside Sydney.

Councillors were presented with the need to balance the proposed use of the site as an accomodation and function venue with the understandable desire of near neighbours to the peace and quiet which is distinctive of the Macdonald Valley. I listened carefully to the concerns raised at the meeting.

I felt that the conditions of consent proposed by Council adequately addressed those issues. Constraints on the days and hours of operation, which side of the building on which outdoor activities could occur, and the installation of noise-limiting technology that physically cuts the power if certain levels are exceeded certainly demonstrated, in my mind, a willingness of the applicants to be a good neighbour. Similarly, issues about campers and parking appear to have been addressed through appropriate signage and the use of a bond for bookers of the venue.

The recommendation of Council staff was to approve the application, and my Liberal Councillor colleagues, Clr. Richards and Clr. Conolly, agreed with me that this was precisely the kind of sympathetic tourist development we need in the Hawkesbury (Councillors Tree and Calvert were absent). Regretfully the Mayor, Mrs Lyons-Buckett, all the independent Councillors with the exception of Clr. Rasmussen, and Labor Councillor Kotlash voted the application down and the venue will be directed to shut down as a function venue from May 2017. I am informed that bookings had been accepted through until well into 2018, and that up to 20 local businesses will now be denied the aura of economic activity that the venue encouraged (including other accomodation venues, function planners, caterers, celebrants and providers of transport).

It’s a bit rich, when we talk almost continually about tourism being the spine of our prosperity in the Hawkesbury, and especially in scenic areas like the Macdonald Valley,  and we have a historic and beautifully restored venue like this appearing in the national media (the kind of exposure money can’t buy) only to find some Councillors voting in this way. It’s a poor outcome, and it defies my understanding.

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8 thoughts on “St Joseph’s Church, St Albans

  1. Any activity that brings financial gain to “Forgotten Valley” is a positive, unfortunately it must be weighed against any imposition on local residents. I agree with the natural amphitheatre aspect of the Valley, noisy. As an alternative and to keep a business perspective, maybe a trial wedding with lower expectations could be considered to alleviate the noise and traffic concerns of neighbours, with them participating.

  2. An interesting opinion piece Nathan. The councillors who voted to limit the commercial activity of the premises to a tourist accommodation venue rather than a function centre ( not permissible in the zoning and having operated without any approvals for a long period of time) undertook very careful consideration including attending the organised inspection ( as opposed to going alone or not at all) where many topics were discussed, and also visiting and speaking to neighbours and existing tourism operators in the area. As with all applications and in line with our obligations as councillors we carefully examined all material in front of us, balanced it against the impact on the surrounding amenity and reached our conclusion.
    Mr Kavanagh is not restricted from operating his restored church as a business which enables him to fund his restorative works. He has approval to have a tourist accommodation facility and quite possibly people could get married there if they complied with the consent conditions and have a reception at another venue ( not an unusual setup). That could generate potential local benefits. He expressed a desire to avoid upsetting his neighbours and this solution should enable that.
    As is your right you may choose not to put an emphasis on impact on surrounding amenity and residents, compliance with zone objectives or suitability of site. That is your choice but we face these decisions, and whether it be a proposal for a function centre or provision of increased affordable housing in an area which might not want it, we are compelled to always consider fairly and be prepared to justify our decisions.

  3. Totally agree – this area needs more businesses like this to help boost the dying area economically. If all the measures are put in place and adhered to then this business should be allowed to continue. I have used this facility for a work function and hope to see it continue to be used as people need.

  4. It’s a complete travesty. As a qualified chef who lives and works locally at the Settlers Arms Inn, this area needs all the exposure and tourism it can get to survive as a village. Certainly the Settlers Arms Inn could not survive on only local patronage. We encourage any other businesses opening in the valley as it adds to the colourful tapestry which is reflective of the eclectic mix of locals. In my opinion we could learn a lot from the small towns of Victoria who encourage tourism and are lively, vibrant places to visit on weekends.

    Further more, the venue had been assessed for over a year and a half by council with the application recommended for approval. It is extremely sad that yet another idea has been quashed by a few in power who seem to have no understanding of the workings of a small town. Having grown up in the area, I’ve personally seen businesses shut down, an example being the local art gallery which not only was a terrific bonus for the town but exhibited local artists’ work.

    The voting down of St Joseph’s guesthouse is certainly a loss for our area. Not only for the potential brides and grooms and wedding guests. Certainly for apparently the only people who are employed by the guesthouse being a bus driver and cleaner but for all the locals.

  5. So, is this the Libs new way of doing things, don’t get their way through the normal processes, so they do a dummy spit on social media ?
    It’s a democracy Nathan and the view of the majority prevails. Your mob is in the minority. Get used to it !!

  6. Wrong decision… I’m with Tilly. The man that rebuilt that church should be rewarded by allowing the controlled usage as a tourist facility for the betterment of the forgotten valley… seems its needs are still forgotten.

  7. Its always interesting to read one side of a story. Maybe people should read what the Mayor has said about the comments.

    Mary Lyons-Buckett
    “An interesting opinion piece Nathan. The councillors who voted to limit the commercial activity of the premises to a tourist accommodation venue rather than a function centre ( not permissible in the zoning and having operated without any approvals for a long period of time) undertook very careful consideration including attending the organised inspection ( as opposed to going alone or not at all) where many topics were discussed, and also visiting and speaking to neighbours and existing tourism operators in the area. As with all applications and in line with our obligations as councillors we carefully examined all material in front of us, balanced it against the impact on the surrounding amenity and reached our conclusion.
    Mr Kavanagh is not restricted from operating his restored church as a business which enables him to fund his restorative works. He has approval to have a tourist accommodation facility and quite possibly people could get married there if they complied with the consent conditions and have a reception at another venue ( not an unusual setup). That could generate potential local benefits. He expressed a desire to avoid upsetting his neighbours and this solution should enable that.
    As is your right you may choose not to put an emphasis on impact on surrounding amenity and residents, compliance with zone objectives or suitability of site. That is your choice but we face these decisions, and whether it be a proposal for a function centre or provision of increased affordable housing in an area which might not want it, we are compelled to always consider fairly and be prepared to justify our decisions.”

    The mayor and another 4 councillors who took the time to speak to the immediate neighbours of the church that has been operating outside the law for the last 2 years. After hearing BOTH sides of the story all of these councillors voted against the church being used for WEDDING RECEPTIONS. Approval was given for the church to be run as a B&B and as the mayor said wedding ceremonies can be held there.

    The immediate neighbours are not against the church being used for a B&B or for holding weddings. We are not opposed to tourism.

    The problems occur and have been witnessed over the last two years whilst this function centre has been operating without any approval from council. The guests have been parking and camping on my land without permission. Yes sometimes I have granted that permission but when the owner of the church tells his guests that they can camp and park there, they assume he owns my land so they do not see a need to ask me. I have other guests of mine (including my daughter) who have been “ordered” off my land by the church owner’s guests because he has either given the impression or told them he owns my land and they can camp on it. A recent reply from a guest is “Yes I can confirm that Steve told me that it was fine to camp on the church cemetery. I have repeatedly asked about this and he has confirmed it several times” So he has operated illegally for significant financial gain, for the last two years without any regard for his immediate neighbours.

    On the question of noise. My most recent experience was 2 weeks ago when we had to turn off our music as it was competing with the music from the church and we could clearly hear that Kathy had caught the bouquet from 300m away. We have no direct line of sight to the church and there are probably 10,000 trees between the two properties. I wonder how loud it is at the ajoining property 50m away.

    The council workers have done a good job and collated all the relevant material for their recommendation BUT some of the studies are flawed. These can be all rad on the council website but for example the traffic report is based on a “small number of functions per year such as e.g. wedding receptions. For wedding receptions, it is expected there would be a maximum of 100 guests attending.” and “The potential traffic generated by the use of the former St Joseph’s church as a function venue was calculated on the ‘worst case’ scenario (100 people)”

    There have been way more people than that at functions held almost every weekend over the last two years and there are wedding receptions booked every week well into the year and into 2018 WITHOUT A CURRENT APPROVED DA

    So although there were to be conditions imposed we the immediate neighbours have witnessed the complete disregard for conforming with any rules previously (eg. applying for a DA in the first place) so why would the applicant conform with rules in the future.

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