"Without redemption": the worker's cottage on Victoria Road, Rozelle. Photo: Anthony Johnson
When a real estate agent’s own sales pitch describes a property as a “dank dwelling” and “seemingly completely without redemption” you might imagine a vendor would grab whatever they could get.
But a million-dollar offer wasn’t enough to convince the state government to relinquish an uninhabitable worker’s cottage on Rozelle’s busy Victoria Road, despite a pre-auction price guide of just $425,000.
As it turns out the very same cottage was the subject of lobbying by corrupt former Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid. It is now the subject of claims by a developer that the government is prepared to do whatever it takes to stop a controversial project ever going ahead.
In November 2010, only months before the Labor government was voted out of office, Mr Obeid, an upper house MP, attended a meeting with government officials specifically about the fate of the single-storey dump on Victoria Road.
Also at the meeting were league legend Benny Elias and his then business partner Ian Wright, who were desperate to use the site to provide access to the car park of their planned redevelopment of the nearby Balmain Leagues Club.
Documents obtained by the Herald show the meeting was organised by the office of then transport minister John Robertson.
The government had bought the dilapidated cottage in December 2009 for $554,000 to be used for a metro station at Rozelle. Only months later, the metro project was scrapped.
In late 2010, Mr Obeid’s lobbying appears to have been successful; Rozelle Village was given land owner’s consent to include the cottage in its development application.
But since that time, Rozelle Village’s high-rise plans have been killed off and its key proponents Mr Wright and Mr Elias have fallen out.
In April this year – just days before an independent planning authority delivered the fatal blow to the Rozelle Village proposal – the Victoria Road property went to auction, marketed as ‘‘the ultimate bargain’’.
‘‘Perhaps best considered to be currently the worst house in the busiest road, this extremely dilapidated terrace is nonetheless a truly breathtaking opportunity for those with vision and determination,’’ the advertisement said.
But on the night of the auction the property was passed in after Mr Wright’s wife Yuka made the top bid of $690,000, then offers of $925,000 and $1 million plus GST in the negotiations that followed. But the government decided not to sell.
‘‘One million dollars for a rundown, white ant-infested semi on Victoria Road and they wouldn’t accept it? Why not?’’ Mr Wright said.
Mr Wright claimed he was told if he wanted to buy it that night, he would have to pay $3 million. ‘‘They said there’s a special price for Rozelle Village,’’ he said. ‘‘It would appear that there was an agenda [...] to ensure that Rozelle Village wasn’t able to progress that development.’’
The real estate agent handling the sale, Paul Cooper, said he had never heard of the $3 million figure.
The Office of Finance and Services refused to answer a series of detailed questions about the aborted sale, other than to say the undisclosed reserve price was not met.
A 2010 government assessment put the value of the property at $520,000. ‘‘Negotiations for the sale of this property will continue with all interested parties, and details surrounding the sale remain commercial-in-confidence,’’ a spokesman said.
Mrs Wright subsequently placed a caveat over the property, claiming ‘‘the caveator has reason to believe her final post auction offer was greater than the reserve price’’.
The caveat also stated that the price range given to them by the agent was $425,000.
Rozelle Village, which owns the cottages on either side of 170 Victoria Road, has not ruled out lodging new development plans for the Balmain Tigers site and some of its neighbouring properties. It is also ‘‘continuing discussions’’ with prospective buyers, Mr Wright said.
Whether the Balmain Tigers ever return to the site is uncertain; in March the club took out an injunction to stop Rozelle Village, placing it into receivership over debts to the developer of more than $11 million.
The matter is due to return to court next month.