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Cubby house disputes hit court

CHRIS THOMSON

EXCLUSIVE: Two neighbourhood cubby house disputes escalated today to the realm of a St Georges Terrace court room.

In the first cubby case, self-represented Steve and Fiona Hick squared off against two Town of Cambridge planners, and a planner hired by their rear neighbours, over conditions placed by the town on the Hick’s backyard cubby at Talgarth Way in City Beach.

cubby house perthIn August, oneperth.com.au revealed a local storm was brewing over the cubby after the Hicks’ neighbours raised privacy and compliance concerns about the backyard structure and adjoining pergola (pictured), which at the time had not received planning approval.

Mr Hick had built the cubby for his children Cameron (10), Peter (7), and Sophie (3) (also pictured). After council officers convinced him to lodge a retrospective planning application, the town recently ordered him to lower the cubby and shunt it away from his property’s back boundary.

He has long argued a simpler solution would be to go halves with his back neighbours, Kate and Andrew McKerracher, in a taller fence to replace the existing asbestos one.

Today, the McKerrachers sat in the back corner of State Administrative Tribunal Hearing Room 904 as their planner-for-hire Ben Doyle told presiding member Jim Jordan his clients would like to join the town as participants in the appeal proceeding that the Hicks have brought to court.

The Hicks told Mr Jordan they would let the McKerrachers attend a confidential on-site mediation at the Hicks’ house at 10am on November 6, at which the McKerrachers would be allowed to make a statement.

Mrs McKerracher in turn agreed to host the Hicks for an inspection of their cubby house from her backyard – on condition that the Hicks would be accompanied by appropriate people. Mr Jordan assured Mrs McKerracher the Hicks would be accompanied by a tribunal mediator, representatives of both sides, and more than likely Mrs McKerracher herself.

All agreed that after the inspections, the mediation itself would take place around the Hicks’ patio table.

At today’s hearing Mr Hick said he would likely argue that his cubby should never have been subject to a development application.

Council development manager Steve Rodic conceded the town had no specific policy about cubby houses, but that it was a general practice to require approval for structures such as the Hicks’ cubby which were raised off the ground.

In a twist, Mr Rodic told Mr Jordan that Cambridge town councillor Pauline O’Connor who had objected to the Hick’s pergola, but absented herself from voting when it came before council, had asked to be involved in the mediation –  in her capacity as a concerned neighbour, not a town councillor.

Mr Jordan agreed to this. Ms O’Connor will in turn be asked to allow the Hicks and the mediator to enter her back yard to view the pergola from there.

Cambridge’s eight other elected officials, including Mayor Simon Withers, will also be invited to confidentially caucus around the Hick’s patio table on November 6, as will town CEO Jason Buckley.

Despite sitting on opposite sides of the hearing table today, the Hicks shared a laugh with Mr Jordan and the town’s senior planning officer Jenny Bender as they departed the tribunal’s St Georges Terrace building together. Relations between the Hicks and McKerrachers (who later departed on their own) were not so convivial.

The Hicks’ dispute with Cambridge council was first brought to public attention by oneperth.com.au.

So was the second cubby dispute heard in Room 904 today between artist Genevieve Montgomerie and the Town of Mosman Park.

That disagreement, about a treehouse overlooking a laneway from Ms Montgomerie’s Jameson Street house, was the subject of a directions hearing that ran for 30 minutes from noon.

Ms Montgomerie was represented by planning consultant Joe Algeri who successfully argued for an on-site mediation session, against wishes expressed by planning consultant to Mosman Park council, Steve Allerding.

Mr Algeri argued that a range of site-specific concerns could only be addressed and a fresh perspective achieved from a mediation beside the treehouse.

There was no dispute between Mr Algeri and Mr Allerding that the tree house was the proper subject of a development application. Issues to be debated at the mediation include location, bulk, materials and finish of the tree house.

The mediation will commence at 10am on November 4 in Tregonning Lane. Mosman Park mayor Ron Norris, his councillors, town CEO Kevin Poynton and possibly a complaining neighbour will be invited to attend.

Since oneperth.com.au revealed Ms Montgomerie’s treehouse woes, the cubby has featured prominently on talkback radio and TV news.

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