Inner west late night institution the Sly Fox has faced the final stage of its development application regarding its trading hours.
The application yesterday went before an independent planning panel at Leichhardt Town Hall, who throughout the day looked at information from both sides, visited the site and considered submissions. This culminated in an afternoon meeting where a final decision was made, ending months of deliberations and disagreements between Sly Fox and the Inner West Council.
Sly Fox had applied to trade for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As previously reported by TheShout, the bar had been allowed these hours since 1998, when they received a temporary Development Consent. Council then permitted the continuation of these hours in 2016, as long as there was no amplified music after 3am.
This means the Sly Fox has had late night hours, including after 3am, for 21 years.
The Sly Fox application was at the end of the agenda yesterday, and heard seven submissions.
The first two submissions were in opposition of the application from local residents who have lived in the area for between nine and 12 years. These submissions described 12 families with varying ages of children as living in the vicinity, all of who objected to the 24 hour trading times.
Collectively, the resident submissions outlined issues with noise, rubbish, unsocial activity and the behaviour of patrons coming and going from the Sly Fox, including fights, urination, vomiting and broken glass.
One resident said: “We want to be able to enjoy our community, but we don’t want the Sly Fox to close, that is not the purpose of our objection.”
The rejection of the application would mean a significant reduction in the allowed trading hours for Sly Fox. However, the resident submissions rejected the Sly Fox’s claim they will need to shut down if that happened, calling it a threat to help the owners get what they want.
Next to step up to the microphone was a citizen from the general public speaking in support of the application. The student of music passionately made their submission about the importance of freedom for individuality, uniqueness and progress, in line with how the Sly Fox has become known for its support of local artists and a haven for the LGBTQIA+ community.
He said: “Experience has shown this space to be both useful and suitable to individuality. Any prevention of that liberty, is a step toward despotism.”
A planner from Urban and Co, the official applicant, said they endorsed the recommendation from the council to include a planning period, under different conditions. They proposed a trial period of 12 months, for operating hours to extend from midnight to 6am, Wednesday to Saturday and said: “The reasons being, the Sly Fox clientele and demographic who visit the premises are late-night traders, from 11:30 til 6am is the main period.”
The next submission was from one of the three owners of the Sly Fox, Kerry Wallace. Speaking about the history of the venue, Wallace said there have been little to no issues in the 21 years that the venue has had 24 hour trade, with no sound complaints in 14 months.
Expanding on the planner’s submission Wallace also described the key demographic of hospitality workers for the business and said: “It’s known as a late-night trading venue. If we only have three hours to trade, it will just shut. We’re not threatening people, it’s just the truth.”
A representative from the acoustic firm that tested sound levels in and around Sly Fox for the application also made a submission, describing the use of noise limiters and sound blocks that meet the requirements of council, and the Liquor and Gaming authority.
The final submission of the meeting was made by Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne, who began by tabling 2000 individual written submissions that were made after the notice period but before the preparation of council’s report and recommendation on the matter.
Byrne said that these included around 300 from the immediate vicinity, “some of these are very well written and respectful, from a broad range of people in the local community including LGBTQI community and I think they make for very important reading.”
After almost an hour of submission hearing and questions, the panel began their deliberations, needing to retire for 30 minutes to discuss.
There was a lot of material to consider, but what would be allowed to influence the decision was considerably less than what was received. Throughout the meeting, the issue of what was relevant was brought up a number of times.
The panel of four was comprised of people with considerable history with town planning, and because of this, was very aligned with upholding procedure. Throughout the unique history of the Sly Fox, usual procedure had not been followed, with the 24 hour trading trial from 1998 lapsing without consequence and then maintained with the support of the council in 2016.
But the panel referred many times to the fact that this support from 2016 was never made official in a development consent.
Another aspect that didn’t sit well with procedure was submissions and documents that “weren’t relevant” under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. On multiple occasions the panel referred to the legitimacy of receiving input from the public via the internet, despite over 2000 of these submissions happening through the council’s official website and features.
This same scepticism is also evident in the council’s development assessment report they provided to the panel, which described the 2000 online submissions being “ostensibly” in support of the application.
The report gave more weight to the 14 submissions that were received during the notification period, discounting the online support with wording that alludes to the idea that the submissions were not necessarily true.
At the time of deliberation, 2085 online submissions were made to council, with around 7000 signatures on an online petition in support of the Sly Fox application. Sly Fox said there were 12 submissions received in total in opposition of the application.
In the development assessment report, Inner West Council had recommended the Sly Fox trading hours close at midnight. The report also indicated extended hours until 3am, Monday to Saturday excluding public holidays, for a four year trial period.
The planning panel’s final decision was to accept the council’s recommendation of a midnight trading licence and an extension to 3am on a trial basis, however, the panel shortened this trial time to a two year period.
Sly Fox owners have said throughout the application process that if this decision happened, they would need to close. No official word or reaction has come yet about the future of this Inner West institution.