FIRE, floods, a barrister, an architect, town planner and an estimated $500,000 in a millionaire’s legal costs are all wrapped up in a spat between Cessnock City Council and Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley.
Hotelier and Sydney-based cosmetic surgeon Dr Jerry Schwartz claims he has wasted the sum in his bid to have a temporary marquee at his Pokolbin hotel approved by council for function use.
The marquee was already on site when Dr Schwartz bought the hotel in 2014 and was used for a wine festival however because of the hotel’s intentions to host other functions, he says council advised him to seek a development application for it to be used as a temporary structure.
The hotel’s DA for the marquee was knocked back and the two parties had a mediation session in the Land and Environment Court late last year.
Dr Schwartz says that at that meeting he agreed to pull down some temporary residences on site for construction workers if council would grant the DA, however he claimed council had “reneged” on the agreement weeks later.
He claims their rejection of the DA hinged on the marquee being at risk of both flooding and fire, however consultants he used did a report that countered the flooding claim. He then hired other consultants to prove the fire risk was not enough to block the DA, adding that in high temperatures any functions would have been moved to the main hotel.
The matter was scheduled to be heard in the the Land and Environment court in March over two days in Singleton court, Cessnock court and then in Sydney.
Dr Schwartz says that a day before the hearing, the council’s solicitors contacted his lawyers and advised that approval would be granted provided a string of conditions regarding the fire risk were met.
“We were going to do that anyway, based on what our consultants said, and they basically realised they would have a lot of trouble proving us wrong,” he said.
However, Dr Schwartz claims that council “surprised” his team of lawyers by requesting a “contribution” of $435,000 toward a food venue on site in order for the DA approval.
He said his team calculated the contribution should be no more than $15,000, however council said they would not go below $34,000.
“So not wanting to pitch straws and have more legal expenses I agreed to pay that sum on the morning of the hearing and therefore settlement was reached prior to the hearing,” he said.
Dr Schwartz believes he has “wasted” half a million dollars for the outcome, which he said should have been approved from the start.
A spokesperson for Cessnock council said that it had reached agreement with Dr Schwartz through court conciliation “without proceeding to a costly full hearing”. The spokesperson said that had Dr Schwartz provided the relevant flooding and bushfire reports to allow for a full assessment then council “would have been in a position to consider granting consent without costly court action.”
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