Is the Fremantle/Italian Club/Hesperia Redevelopment MOU Dead Or Alive?

In June 2019, the City of Fremantle, Fremantle Italian Club and Hesperia (formerly Fini) signed a Memorandum of Understanding – or MOU – for a redevelopment project over land including the site of the worn out, old Italian Club near the intersection of Marine Terrace and Norfolk Street, Fremantle.

There was something in the MOU for everyone, according to the MOU.

Under the MOU it was anticipated that Hesperia would acquire the freehold in the redevelopment project area from the State in order to undertake the project. The redevelopment project contemplated by the MOU included a boutique hotel, residential apartments (potentially), including components for seniors or aged living, active spaces for community activity, a multi-storey car park, and commercial and community uses. Both Hesperia and the City would be pleased with such outcomes. And Hesperia was to provide the Club with a new clubhouse, parking and facilities at no cost to the Club or the City. The Club would be pleased.

However, the MOU automatically terminated in June last year, 2022, ‘36 months’ after it was made, under a termination clause in the MOU.

And, as we understand it, the MOU has not been renewed.

However, other things seem to have been happening in planning and development terms in the vicinity of the proposed redevelopment project area.

First, in July last year, a visionary Master Plan was released by the Minister for Planning and Ports, Rita Saffioti, linking Norfolk Street, Fremantle with Fishing Boat Harbour and flagging the creation of a vibrant new public space.

Now, as of last Wednesday, 12 April 2023, the City of Fremantle, through FPOL – the Finance, Policy, Operations and Legislation Committee – has resolved to investigate the amendment of the Metropolitan Region Scheme – the MRS – to rezone the Fremantle Italian Club site and adjacent areas to introduce, it seems, a City Centre zone that would be capable of incorporating the very same project, or one very much like that contemplated by the 2019 MOU – but without a new MOU being in place.

Perhaps there are some other arrangements in place between the parties to the terminated MOU that we are not aware of, but if there are we will look forward to learning of them. They are certainly not mentioned in the Agenda papers for last Wednesday’s FPOL meeting.

What we do have, however, are last Wednesday’s resolutions of FPOL, which are –

We also have the Council officers’ report to FPOL which recites pretty much what we have laid out above – namely, that, in recent years, the City has ‘established an intention in strategic planning documents, to extend Norfolk Street through to Mews Road’, to allow for a logical connection between the Fremantle City Centre and Fishing Boat Harbour.

Here’s some of the artists’ impressions from the Master Plan exercise announced last July.

The officers in their report to FPOL point out that under the current MRS Parks and Recreation Reservation, the City could, with WA Planning Commission approval, consider pursuing the extension of Norfolk Street over the current Council carpark in this area and the Italian Club could expand, ‘as sporting and social clubs and community groups and associated car parking’. The City wouldn’t need to amend the MRS if they were to consider that.

However, the officers immediately go on to promote a different idea, ‘as proposed by the Italian Club and Hesperia’, which would see Norfolk Street extended towards Fishing Boat Harbour and presenting these ‘opportunities’ –
* ‘Re-position highly underutilised State land at no cost or risk to the State Government, delivering key urban, public and landscape spaces to the community.
* Creation of jobs throughout both the project delivery and long-term operational phase (hospitality, tourism).
* Creates residential housing diversity and density, which will increase the permanent population of the Fremantle Town Centre, supporting local business and the Fremantle economy.
* Delivers a generational and City shaping project in this primary Western Australian tourism and recreation destination.
* A reimagined Italian Club which will provide a modern, engaging and sustainable club facility that will foster significant community engagement amongst the Italian community and wider public.
* Extension of the Esplanade Reserve public open space, which will provide additional community engagement and recreation opportunities.
* Critical extension of Norfolk Street to unite the Fremantle City Centre with the Fishing Boat Harbour, in line with the City’s longstanding Freo2029 and Masterplan for the Esplanade Reserve

Here’s how the rezoned site could look like after MRS rezoning and redevelopment, as depicted in a before and after image supplied by Hesperia to the City and included in FPOL’s Agenda papers, which in the after image appears to include all or most of the components contemplated by the 2019 MOU.

The officers also point out that land to be used as Residential and Commercial, on the site, outside of a cultural club and car parking, would also require a change to the MRS Reservation, as well as a subsequent Local Planning Scheme amendment.

So, the officers propose an MRS amendment from Parks and Reserve to City Centre zone in the subject area, retaining the Parks and Reserve reservation over the northern portion of the carpark (Lot 2038 on DP 216961 Reserve 40766) abutting Esplanade Park, to facilitate all this happening. And FPOL appears to have acted on that basis.

To change the MRS reservation, the officers explain, requires a request to the WAPC. In making the request, a case need to be made for the amendment by providing sufficient planning justification.

The request would therefore require background documents, assessments and investigation which may include –
• Context analysis
• Heritage Assessment
• Indicative concept plans
• Noise and or vibration report – due to site’s proximity to the working harbour
and railway
• Climate response – e.g. to Sea Level Rise and increased temperatures
• District Water Strategy
• Traffic Impact assessment
• Strategic transport assessment including assessment of different modes of
• Environmental assessment • Land tenure arrangements • Bushfire (potentially).

If the MRS amendment is progressed, a Local Planning Scheme amendment would be required, the officers confirm, to allocate land uses, density code(s) and built form requirements under the City’s Local Planning Scheme No. 4. As a result, it would be prudent to draft this amendment to the Local Planning Scheme, they say, early in the MRS amendment process to make a commitment to the built form planned for the area.

Additionally, the officers say, as part of the MRS amendment request, the City would need to undertake preliminary community engagement with stakeholders including landowners, surrounding residents, service agencies, DPHL, and WAPC on the amendment idea and principles.

Well, even though the 2019 MOU is terminated, it seems the intent of 2019 MOU is still very much alive, and being pushed along as a result of last Wednesday’s FPOL resolutions.

We can’t help but but wonder why this has all happened without an MOU in place as previously was the case, or whether the moving parties behind the current FPOL resolutions – the City, Fremantle Italian Club and Hesperia – are in fact planning to sign an updated MOU soon setting out their various commitments to a redevelopment of the area?

While the officers, in their report, mention the old MOU, apparently in support of the proposed rezoning, and the fact it is now terminated, they say nothing about any new MOU in relation to the redevelopment of the site.

We will watch with interest to see whether the MOU is dead or alive.

* By Michael Barker, Editor, Fremantle Shipping News


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