Hawkesbury Council bans business running weddings at restored Lower Macdonald church

WEDDINGS will not be permitted at a restored church in Lower Macdonald, after Hawkesbury Council refused to accept a retrospective development application.

Lower Macdonald man Steve Kavanagh restored the St Joseph’s Catholic Church on St Albans Road, Lower Macdonald, and over the past two years has used it as a place to host weddings.

Despite his efforts to restore the building and start up a business, Mr Kavanagh never applied for permission from Hawkesbury Council to run the business, and he attracted a lot of noise complaints from neighbours of the property.

The church was billed as the St Joseph’s Guesthouse and Function Venue online, and Mr Kavanagh said the restoration enhanced its heritage qualities.

Bookings ranged from $1000 to $1300 a night in a location that offered: “clear air, open skies, river and valley views, a rich variety of fauna and flora and lots of quiet.”

Mr Kavanagh put in a retrospective DA, but on January 31, Hawkesbury councillors voted to reject his proposal.

A number of neighbours spoke at the Council meeting, and said the noise from the weddings was far too loud.

Brian McCabe said he had a neighbouring property, where he liked the enjoy peace and quiet, however, the weddings disturbed this.

“I could clearly hear that Cathy had caught Selina's bouquet from 300 metres away [a few weeks ago],” he said.

Harold Wall said the natural shape of the valley was similar to an amphitheatre, which magnified any noise there.

Mr Wall also questioned the heritage values of the site.

“The building is a modern construction, using salvaged material as a facade only, as a building which did have some heritage value as a ruin,” he said.

Mr Kavanagh said he was willing to work with his neighbours, and had tried to take steps to reduce the noise, such as installing a noise limiter on the church’s entertainment system.

“I can't live with upsetting my neighbours,” he said.

“We are aiming toward little intimate weddings in the future after we had a big wedding a couple of weeks ago.”

Ian Burns-Wood who runs the Settler’s Arms pub said Mr Kavanagh’s vision was great for the local area.

He said business at his pub had improved tremendously since the weddings had started, and hoped it saw an influx of tourism into the area.

“Here we have a magnificent piece of infrastructure that could have enormous positive effects on the 11 other accommodation providers in the valley,” he said.

“We have also had large groups come to our pub before weddings and it has been a boon to us.

“This is the way of the future. Tourism is the only viable industry with growth potential in the valley.”

Mr Burns-Woods said he hoped the increase in tourism would lead to competition to his own business opening up.

Liberal councillor Nathan Zamprogno said this was the kind of sympathetic development the Hawkesbury needed more of.

“Macdonald Valley is an underappreciated gem in the Hawkesbury and we are fortunate to have it in the area,” he said.

“We talk frequently about the need for sympathetic development to boost tourism in this area and then we cruel and hobble any application of this sort at the first opportunity.”

Cr Wheeler said people visited the Macdonald Valley for peace and quiet.

“It is an E4 zone for a reason, we are not trying to stymie development, we are trying to stymie unsympathetic development,” she said.

While Mr Kavanagh was denied permission to run weddings, he was given permission to use the church as a bed and breakfast.