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Inner West Side Story: Chelsea’s on King

Chelsea’s on King is a guesthouse in Newtown that has an interesting story.

Photos: Jennifer Yiu

Chelsea Kovic is at war.

She’s equipped herself with security cameras, a criminal lawyer, and a bunch of signs. She sleeps during the day and stays awake all night, keeping an eye out for vandals, thieves, and intruders on her property. She claims to have lost more than 20kg as a result of stress-induced health problems.  She’s been fighting for ten years, and has spent over $10 000 on her crusade.

The enemy? The owners of the local button shop, aided and abetted by Marrickville Council. The cause? A development application to renovate the front of her King Street property.

Since 2003, Kovic has been battling for permission to renovate and restore her home and business, Chelsea’s On King Guest House, to its original Victorian form. Her plan – which involves moving the building back from the current streetscape to create a courtyard out the front – has been the subject of complaints from several residential and commercial neighbours.

“Heritage is not solely about returning everything to its original form, but more about conservation of layers of history. This façade has been there for around 100 years and while it is admirable to restore the existing terrace behind, it should not necessarily entail removal of this façade…which would leave a hole in the existing building line on King St,” wrote a neighbour in a letter to Marrickville Council in 2004.

As a result of several similar complaints, the Council imposed a stop-work order on the renovation in 2006, making it a civil offence for a builder to continue working on the project.

Kovic is convinced she is the victim of a personal vendetta against her by her neighbours, and has mounted a fiery campaign in response. Since the order was issued, she has covered the contested façade in posters, staged protests, and run petitions on her own behalf.

“Jan, stop your lies to Marrickville Council about me. Liar, liar pants on fire. 2 neighbours have moved out because of me? Come on Jan, spit it out, WHO? Who Jan? Lucy, piss off out of Newtown, you both don’t belong here, piss off and give us all some peace here,” reads one of the signs that greet new guests to Chelsea’s On King. Others call for a boycott of the neighbouring button shop, demand that members of Marrickville Council be sacked for corruption, and ask for financial support from members of the community.

Kovic says that these posters have often been stolen, destroyed, or vandalised by her neighbours, and that she has had to install security cameras as a result. “And,” she says, “I can only guess as to whom [sic] keeps damaging my car, which I now park in different streets in an attempt to keep it hidden.”

“I sleep all day while people would be able to see anything going on, and then stay awake all night to work and look out,” she said.

And, while some might think that a decade-long battle over a renovation might not be worth it, Kovic says she’s not giving up any time soon.

“I discovered my inner reserves of strength by listening to the music of the Dixie Chicks and Pink and decided not to give up my fight as I believed in what I was fighting for.”

And they say that Sydneysiders are obsessed with real estate.