The owner of a former orphanage ravaged by successive fires says he has plans to develop the surrounding site with a multi-storey apartment block.
John Ferrara's comments on the old Saint John's orphanage property in Mundy Street come amid two further outbreaks in three days.
On Saturday, a rear unoccupied caretaker's cottage caught fire, sparking a quick response from NSW Fire and Rescue and the RFS. Inspector Dean Campbell said despite arcing powerlines connected to the structure, the blaze started in the house's main section where there was evidence squatters had been living.
At 1am Tuesday crews were again called to reports of a fire in the orphanage itself. Station officer Darrell Law said nine personnel took 90 minutes to fully extinguish the small outbreak.
"For anyone to go inside that building is a safety hazard. It is not structurally stable and crews had to be mindful of that," he said.
Mr Law could not comment on the cause but told The Post that Fire and Rescue NSW had previously presented its concerns that people could easily access the building and injure themselves. The council ordered Mr Ferrara to erect security fencing and put other measures in place following an inspection several years ago. Sections of the fencing have since been pushed down.
Council general manager Warwick Bennett said council staff regularly monitored the property but had not done so for three or four months.
They were arranging an inspection this week to check what measures were required to render it safe.
"We are in constant contact with the owner regarding safety and security; it's an ongoing discussion," Mr Bennett said.
"We can legally require it to be made safe and if the damage is such that the structural integrity is compromised, we can issue a demolition order."
But Mr Ferrara said he would prefer not to demolish the remains of the 1912 EC Manfred designed building. He bought it and the surrounding 2.5 hectares for $450,000 from the Catholic Church in 2000 but major fires in 2015 and 2016 destroyed much of the structure. Intruders have lit several lesser fires inside since.
"When I buy something it's because I love it," he said.
"Every time there is a fire it's like putting a knife in my heart. It's just stupid."
Mr Ferrara said he'd spent thousands of dollars on re-fencing after sections had either been stolen or damaged. Intruders had also cut chains to access the property.
He acknowledged that with his current development plans, authorities could require demolition first.
However he's proposing to build up to 150 residential apartments on its perimeter in a "six-storey" building. Mr Ferrara said an architect had drafted plans for the units, which would include some penthouses, and 400 car spaces in three storeys of parking.
The state government would decide the "$70 million to $80m development."
"It would be something better for Goulburn. We always do things with Goulburn in mind," he said.
Mr Ferrara told The Post that regional planners had advised the project might not be consistent with the former orphanage and demolition could be necessary. Nevertheless, he wanted to keep as much as possible.
Mr Bennett confirmed that the owner had met with council planners but they were only high level discussions with little detail at this stage.
"We're seeking more information on the size and scope of the building," he said.
At the same time, Mr Ferrara has placed the property on the market for $7.5 million. The ad, with Peter Mylonas Property Solutions, spruiks a 2004 approval for 75 retirement units, named Glebe Gardens.
It is marketed as having "extensive outdoor recreational areas, commanding views over the city to the surrounding hills, some existing infrastructure, (with the) existing building for demolition."
The retirement village never went ahead and Mr Ferrara subsequently subdivided the land for a general residential development. This did not proceed either after the council required a conservation plan for the former orphanage. This was never furnished.
Asked why the property was on the market, given the recent proposal, Mr Ferrara said he wouldn't sell unless offered "a large amount of money."
Mayor Bob Kirk said he'd had ongoing concerns, even before the fires, about the old orphanage's appearance but the council's powers were restricted unless it posed a safety hazard.
"My observation is it was secured as required but it is not being diligently maintained," he said.
"The general run of the place leaves a lot to be desired. It is unsightly, a risk and a blight on the horizon and I hope the owner takes some responsibility for it."
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