30 May 2023

Yass Council orders burnt-out remains of Commercial Hotel to be demolished

| Sally Hopman
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The old Commercial Hotel at the height of the 21 May fire. Yass Valley Council has ordered its demolition. Photo: Fire and Rescue NSW.

The Yass Valley Council has ordered that the old Commercial Hotel, badly damaged by fire on 21 May, be demolished in the next 14 days due to the precarious state of the building.

The demolition order follows a structural assessment report which indicated that the main street hotel, which dates back to the 1840s, was in an unstable condition and required demolition. It has been in an increasingly derelict state since closing in 2005.

One of the town’s most popular watering holes in its prime, the Commercial Hotel was bought by Canberra developers Andrew Turnbull and Anthony Barrie in 2021 with plans to develop the site.

More than 40 firefighters attended the early-morning fire on 21 May, managing to stop it spreading to adjacent properties. It took emergency crews more than six hours to extinguish the blaze, with an exclusion zone established because of fears the walls could collapse.

A specialist Fire and Rescue NSW aerial pumping truck was also called in so the fire inside the two-storey building could be attacked from above.

READ ALSO Man accused of Yass hotel fire granted strict bail due to ‘enormous risk’ posed by mental health issues

Describing the blaze as “suspicious”, fire investigators were at the scene on the afternoon of Monday, 22 May.

The following day, Sydney man Shyhiem Whilliams was arrested in Yass. He appeared in Queanbeyan Local Court on Friday, 26 May, accused of setting the Yass hotel on fire. He was granted strict bail over concerns he could harm himself while in custody.

Mr Whilliams appeared via audio-visual link from the Goulburn Correctional Complex for the bail mention after he was ordered by Goulburn Local Court to be taken to and detained in a mental health facility for assessment.

Burnt out hotel

The remains of the Commercial Hotel after the fire. Photo: Sally Hopman.

He was charged with damage by fire to property worth more than $15,000. No pleas were entered.

The police prosecutor on Friday (26 May) opposed bail, stating Mr Whilliams had been on bail at the time of the alleged offending and had been given a chance to be “dealt with under mental health [orders]” before, but “[that’s] failed to address his criminality and criminal behaviour”.

However, Mr Whilliams’ defence lawyer submitted that his client had been off medication for an unmentioned mental health condition and was “unwell”.

Mr Whilliams’ case is next scheduled for mention on 21 June.

Yass Valley Council said in a statement on Tuesday, 30 May, that it would continue to work with the owners to ensure the demolition work would start as soon as possible.

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