Police Investigate Suspicious Fire at Historic Westmeadows Home, Marked for Redevelopment

Hume City Council subsequently unanimously rejected the permit application in May, before ZZQ Investment Trust successfully challenged the council’s decision with VCAT.

The property, once the headquarters of the Broadmeadows Shire, was in fair condition when ZZQ Investment bought it for approximately $1.7 million, with the wood floors, patio doors and roof intact.

The living room of the Westmeadows house when it was up for sale in 2019.

The living room of the Westmeadows house when it was up for sale in 2019.Credit:realestate.com.au

The condition of the house has deteriorated in the past year: almost every window was smashed, wooden planks came loose from the floor, doors were pulled from the hinges and the grass grew to knee height.

Community members wrote several times to Stanley Zhou, head of ZZQ Investment, encouraging him to install fences to deter unwanted visitors.

When temperatures reached 34 degrees around 3 p.m. on Dec. 30, neighbors gathered near the property as thick plumes of smoke billowed from the roof.

It took 20 firefighters 45 minutes to bring the fire under control. A search of the site afterwards found no residents.

The living room in September, months before the fire at the building.

The living room in September, months before the fire at the building.

A police spokeswoman told The Sunday Era that fire investigators considered the fire suspicious.

“An investigation into the circumstances is underway,” she says.

Mr. Zhou’s attorney, Neil Young, said vandalism in the property was the work of young people and that the home and outbuildings are otherwise in the same state of repair as when his client bought it. The Sunday Era does not suggest that Mr. Zhou had any involvement in the fire.

The exterior of the house was damaged by the fire on Thursday.

The exterior of the house was damaged by the fire on Thursday.Credit:Wayne Taylor

“The fire has only caused costs and inconvenience for [Mr Zhou]“due to the resulting Hume Council safety regulations,” he said, referring to the council instructing Mr Zhou to install fencing on the site since the fire.

Kaylene Wilson, a community campaign coordinator against the planned hotel, said many local residents were devastated to learn of the damage to the building and would like to see it repaired.

“We were against the hotel because it will deprive the area of ​​its charm, it’s an unappetizing design and there was almost no consultation with the community,” she said.

“It was heartbreaking then to see the historic building fall into disrepair. I burst into tears when I saw the fire. The municipality must ensure that the developer rebuilds it exactly as it should have been.”

Fencing and tape had been put in place on Thursday, but hadn't been there before the fire on December 30.

Fencing and tape had been put in place on Thursday, but hadn’t been there before the fire on December 30.Credit:Wayne Taylor

Some community members were also outraged by a Facebook comment posted by Hume councilor Jack Medcraft after the fire. “Well, I’m sorry to say it looks like the whole building will be torn down as it doesn’t look good structurally and would cost a fortune to rebuild,” he wrote.

In another post, he wrote, “This place would not have burned down if the original decision to approve the application had been made.”

Smashed windows of the bluestone outside of the house in the months before the fire.

Smashed windows of the bluestone outside of the house in the months before the fire.

Cr Medcraft told The age that if the municipality had originally approved the permit, construction would have already started, meaning the building would have been secured. Cr Medcraft was among the councilors who voted against the plans in May, but appears to have changed his mind.

In another comment, he wrote, “the owners are now awaiting CCTV footage and the report of the arson,” leading to allegations from community members that he was in contact with ZZQ Investment.

Hume councilor Jack Medcraft, whose comments have infuriated locals.

Hume councilor Jack Medcraft, whose comments have infuriated locals.Credit:Scott McNaughton

Cr Medcraft said he was a friend of Mr Zhou and “had dealt with him before” because Mr Zhou owned a property in Sunbury.

‘I have no other involvement than to know the man personally. I want the best for the city and that includes knowing who and what started the fire,” he said.

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City building inspectors have inspected the property and advised councilors that the building can be salvaged.

Cr Kurt said the house’s dereliction was the result of a failure of planning laws because the council had been powerless to force the owners to protect the site.

“It’s unimaginable that the site of a $13 million development was not properly secured by the owners,” he said. “Had it been done that way, the fire probably wouldn’t have started.”

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