TRUE OPINION: Real, successful criminals – scoundrels who’d happily divest you of your possessions in the most pitiless manner imaginable – rarely carry bags marked ‘swag’, and have their faces covered by a stocking mask. These days, crooks wear suits, have letters after their name and, to all extents and purposes, purport to be respected members of the community. Nowhere is this more evident than in real estate development.
Once upon a time, Australian inner city living was confined to those who, by dint of cultural background, lack of funds or, more often than not, both, were not welcome anywhere else. In Sydney and Melbourne in particular, the inner city was regarded as crowded, cramped and uncomfortable, a polar opposite to that famed Aussie dream of owning your very own quarter-acre block.
Changed days; more and more people are striving to move back into the vibrant, trendy locales of Paddington and Newtown, Richmond and Collingwood, realising that whilst the outer suburbs can certainly offer you space, in space, to quote the movie Alien, no one can hear you scream.
Builders and developers, never slow to recognise the financial possibilities in building tall buildings with small rooms, have duly responded and any casual visitor to our major cities can testify to the fact that, these days in Sydney or Melbourne, you’re a hundred times more likely to see a mechanical crane than the avian species of the self-same name.
Another acknowledged facet of real estate developers of course, is their innate ability to turn a silk purse into a sow’s ear by dispensing with all sorts of unnecessary detail, such as abiding by planning rules and regulations, appreciating the finer aspects of sensitive, symbiotic design and installing window frames that don’t fall out when you shut the front door.
This – build ‘em high, build ‘em cheap – approach is especially well illustrated in a development which has recently been fully signed off by a local council in Inner North Melbourne, despite the fact the project could only be more incomplete if its soundtrack was Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 10, (Unfinished).
Built by a company called the Angelo Group, under the aegis of patriarch Steve Angelo, aka Stelios Angelodemou, the property in Smith Street Collingwood, is an 8 storey 80 apartment development, described, mystifyingly, in the company’s glossy blurb as ‘pure, bright living in the halcyon of inner-city Melbourne’. Neighbours of the project – many of whom are second generation locals – have described this assertion and its vapid misuse of the word ‘halcyon’ as typical of the developer’s expertise in one pithy observation: criminal.
Over the course of three years, according to harassed residents, the Angelo Group has regularly flouted working hours, noise and rubbish disposal rules and any notion or basic regard for anything other than the fast buck, making a mockery of their website stated ‘core values’ of integrity, honesty and respect. Furthermore, officials of the company have been so regularly summoned to Melbourne’s Magistrates Court for numerous violations and transgressions, unpaid bills, broken contracts and the perpetual rumour of darker financial irregularities, they might as well have been offered a season ticket.
The non-completed – to everyone but Yarra Council – development, designed by a city architect so disillusioned with the level of corner cutting imposed by the builder, they have washed their hands of the entire project, has been described as “the ugliest building in Melbourne”, redolent as it is of a style regarded in architectural circles as ‘brutalist’, but better known to the layperson as ‘Post War Dresden’. Raw concrete facades, stark, unrendered walls and grey as a sick sheep paint jobs; ‘brutal’ it certainly is.
According to residents, some of whom have been forced to report the builder’s infractions on a daily basis, Yarra Council has enjoyed a hugger, mugger relationship with the developer; as one local explained – “Council are doing the hugging – the builder is the mugger”. The Greens controlled council have a stated aim of high density living, despite recent reports suggesting that, in actual fact, apartment dwellers consume more energy, use their cars more often and are in general, not as environmentally sustainable as previously thought. Still, at least Yarra will no doubt console itself by counting the increased rate revenue.
In addition to the various building breaches, locals, many of whom asked not be named for fear of reprisal, itemised a number of intimidatory tactics practised by the builder and his staff – most of whom have been imported from overseas. After complaining about constant cement discharge in the gutter for example, one single parent was told to ‘piss off’ by the developer, Steve Angelo aka Angelodemou, a figure who, by all reports, is to charm what Craig McLachlan is to women’s rights, Melbourne’s very own Donald Trump-alike, minus the absurd hairstyle and the unfathomable popularity. ‘Angelodemou and his workers do exactly as they please’, the local woman said. ‘They seem to have total impunity. The only thing he doesn’t do with confident aplomb, it would appear, is build.’
Nevertheless, despite the harsh but accurate photographic evidence of a building which despite its obvious shortcomings comes with a hefty price tag of $500,00 per minuscule apartment, the Angelo Group has already been given the green light on their next project in a nearby Melbourne street, proving incontrovertibly, that Yarra Council are an understanding and compassionate administration most forgiving of sheer, naked incompetence.
As long, of course, as the price is right.