Eastern Suburbs Sydney
Bondi tennis court battle hots up with grassroots activists on both side of the net
Bondi Protest Against Tennis Court Rezoning
But in Wellington Street Bondi, it is a different story. In the battle over the former Maccabi Tennis Club site, two distinct groups of locals are fighting each other over plans by new owner, Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe (F.R.E.E.) to have the site rezoned to allow a residential apartment block to be built where tennis courts currently stand. It’s local against local, community group against community group, in a hand and glove fight, over the fate of this land.
At the start of the “match” F.R.E.E. seemed to have the upper hand, they are well organised, have powerful allies, a large network of over 12,000 Eastern Suburbs members who were readily deployed to mount the case and F.R.E.E. uses a traditional weapon in grassroots lobbying, the argument of “community benefit”. F.R.E.E. want residential development to be allowed on the land so they can use the profits to fund the building of a community centre and say they do not currently have another source of funds if rezoning is rejected.
More recently local residents have galvanised against the rezoning mounting an equally passionate argument in defence of rare open space or recreational land in Bondi, one of the most densely populated suburbs in Australia and local Greens Councillor Dominic Wy Kanak has been at their side. Those opposed to the rezoning have likewise employed the argument of “community benefit” claiming that the residential development on this site would negatively affect the broader community but also argue that emotional arguments should be cast aside and the rezoning determined purely on planning grounds. To date, Waverley Council has supported this logic, with Council officers recommending against a rezoning and the Mayor supporting this position. Note: Sally Betts also suggested a compromise solution see related article http://www.streetcorner.com.au/news/show... - FREE’s tennis court rezoning proposal leads to alternative solution by Waverley’s Mayor
Both sides have their own websites, F.R.E.E’s http://www.free.org.au/home includes a petition while the Rescue Bondi site http://rescuebondi.com/ includes social media links and campaign letters which can be directly sent to Councillors expressing disapproval of the development plans. Rescue Bondi also has a Facebook Page http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=11... where locals can share information and express their views. On Streetcorner, an article self-published by F.R.E.E. has attracted more comments than any other article ever published on our Eastern Suburbs site, over 108 comments, with both sides making their case with vigour, though F.R.E.E. supporters outnumbered others.(link to article here http://www.streetcorner.com.au/news/show... ).
One Waverley Councillors told Streetcorner that she has been inundated with emails in relation to the rezoning proposal and next Tuesday night at the Waverley Council Meeting Councillors are set to face strong turnouts from both F.R.E.E and residents opposed to the development, some of whom will address the Councillors, before a final decision is made on the rezoning proposal.
For those locals not up to date with the background to the story, here’s some of the history of how F.R.E.E. came to own the former Maccabi Tennis Club site and how another controversial property development in Bondi, the Toga Group's controversial Hakoah Club & Hall Street complex and the new Hakoah Club in White City, fits into the picture. Feel free to let Streetcorner know if we have missed any of the important facts.
According to the F.R.E.E. website, F.R.E.E has 12,000 members, mainly in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney. The F.R.E.E. website explains that the influx of Jewish Russian migration to Australia from the 1970s until the late ‘90s, lead to the establishment in the 1980’s of F.R.E.E. by Rabbi Yoram Ulman in Bondi, to assist and facilitate settlement of the Russian Jewish community in Australian society.
F.R.E.E until recently operated out of the Hakoah Club in Bondi. The Hakoah Club, another community group sold their Hall Street community centre to property developer, the Toga Group. Toga is one of Australia's most successful privately owned development companies, established by Executive Chairman, Mr. Ervin Vidor. The Toga Group's retail, hotel and residential development on Hall Street was unamiously opposed by Waverley Councillors for being in breach of Council's planning controls but was approved by the State Government. The development was referred to an "Independent Assessment Panel" because of the sizable donations made by the Toga Group to the Labor Party meant that the Minister for Planning was prohibted from being the final arbiter on the development.
The Hakoah Club are now moving to the White City Tennis Courts site which they purchased in June this year for $13.5 million. This deal was in part masterminded by David Gonski, one of Australia's most influential deal makers and Chairman of the ASX, after Gonski was instrumental in securing part of the White City site owned by Tennis NSW for Sydney Grammar.
The Hakoah Club are building a Jewish communal centre on the Paddington site which the Hakoah Club President said “will be on par with the best Jewish Communal Centres around the world.” Upon securing the site, the Hakoah Club President Phil Filler thanked four groups for their assistance in helping to secure the deal, “life patron Frank Lowy, solicitor Carl Reid, JCA President David Balkin and Maccabi Tennis Club”. It is understood that the Hakoah Club development at White City includes more than ten tennis courts.
The Maccabi Tennis Club, who previously occupied the Wellington Street site, moved to the White City tennis courts in 2008.
No arrangement was made by the Hakoah Club to accommodate F.R.E.E either in the new multi-million dollar Toga retail and residential on Hall Street (F.R.E.E’s previous home) or in the new multi-million dollar community centre being built on the White City site. Instead, Eastern Suburbs developer Allen Linz, “released” at cost his ownership in the Maccabi Tennis Club site to F.R.E.E , who bought the site in 2009. Linz has not ruled out being involved in developing the site, albeit not as a commercial enterprise.
F.R.E.E now seeks rezoning of the Wellington Street Bondi site to allow commercial residential development to take place, the profit from which would be used to fund the building of a new F.R.E.E community centre.
F.R.E.E has announced that the Bondi Tennis club, who currently lease the Wellington Street tennis courts not operate on the Wellington Street site past June 2011 regardless of the success or failure of the rezoning proposal. It is understood that the members of this Club have been offered use of the tennis courts at White City.
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