Port Stephens councillors have ignored planning staff recommendations and concerned residents by voting on Tuesday night to approve a nine-storey, mixed-use development at the corner of Yacaaba and Donald streets in Nelson Bay.
The councillors voted 9-1 in favour of the development known as the 'Manta Ray', which comprises basement carparking, ground floor commercial space and 56 residential apartments to a height of 30.6 metres, which is above the current building code.
The Local Environmental Plan specifies a 15 metre limit, however, the council at a meeting last September endorsed a 28-metre building height for the subject site.
The council determination is still under consideration by the Department of Planning.
Cr Giacomo Arnott voted against the DA. He had the support of the Tomaree Residents and Ratepayers Association (TRRA), who feared the new building height would set a precedent.
By approving the DA, "future applicants will be able to argue a 'pattern of abandonment" in the Nelson Bay town centre, which would make it very difficult for council to enforce any height limits", said TRRA president Geoff Washington.
"Apart from the clear breach of the height limit, there are other grounds for refusal of this DA," he said.
"The staff report downplays the significance of criticisms from the independent design panel, and under-reports the clear majority opposition to high rise from the 175 submissions received on the DA."
Mayor Ryan Palmer said the council wanted to encourage quality projects in line with the approved strategy and the much-needed revitalisation of the central business district (CBD).
"In 15 years Nelson Bay town centre has not seen any new development apart from the Woollies site where Coles once stood. The revitalisation of Nelson Bay calls for such developments, in conjunction with an improved public domain, more parking and pedestrian access," Cr Palmer said.
The planners report states that the development "would result in a large capital investment in the local economy and will create a number of short and indirect long term employment opportunities".
"The overall aesthetics of the development are of good quality ... and the development will result in the activation of both Donald and Yacaaba streets. However, the development exceed the 15m height limit by 15.6m, resulting in increased impacts, primarily in respect to overshadowing. As such, the impacts of the development upon the built environment are considered unacceptable," the report states.
Mr Washington said that approval of "this bulky tower block" would effectively abandon the council's height controls, and make even the council's proposed 28m limit for this site unenforceable.
"The report rejects the applicant's argument that council has already effectively abandoned its height controls by approving a number of variations in Nelson Bay, including the 32 metre Ascent Apartments on Church Street, also in a 15 metre zone," he said.
"Despite gaining approval in 2017, this development has not commenced, remaining a hole in the ground with an idle crane.
"The Nelson Bay Strategy states that an important characteristic of Nelson Bay is that it provides the ambiance of a relaxed coastal town and expressed concern that the proposed Manta Ray development, and the precedent its approval would set, would destroy this character."
Manta Ray applicant, Anchor Property Group, has been in discussion with the council since plans were first lodged last June.
The land was purchased in September 2017 for $1.75 million as a deceased estate and has served as a council car park since 2014.
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