The Gold Coast City Council has recommended a Queensland court refuse a planning application its own councillors approved, in a backflip residents and experts say they’ve never seen the likes of before.
By Elise Kinsella
In April 2017 councillors approved the 27-storey Komune Hotel and apartment building (pictured left), that if built would become Coolangatta’s biggest building.
It was approved on the recommendation of council’s planning department.
“The height and architectural design of the development will create a legible landmark for the southern end of the Gold Coast to strengthen its status as a Major Centre,” city planners concluded in their report to councillors before the project was voted on.
“The proposal is in keeping with the future development aspirations of the City and complies with the elements of the City Plans Strategic Framework.”
But since then things have taken an unusual turn.
The case goes to court
The Gold Coast City Council backed out of its support for the building when a neighbouring body corporate appealed to the Planning and Environment Court.
University of Queensland planning academic, Laurel Johnson, said that is uncommon.
“It’s a case that I have never heard of before that a council would withdraw its support from its own decision to approve a development actually once in the court process,” she said.
Long-term Gold Coast resident Lois Levy, who has a petition before the State Government calling on it to tighten planning laws, said it was a unique situation.
“I would have to say in my 40 years living on the Gold Coast I have never heard of that before, it is quite unique,” she said.
“I don’t really know quite what to make of it.”
Councillor Gail O’Neill said council changed its vote of support to a refusal after getting expert advice.
“There’s quite a few reasons and it’s all planning reasons,” she said.
“The actual zoning for that area is 10 storeys in both the 2003 scheme, which the application was lodged against, and the new city plan, and this was 27 storeys.”
Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate said he agreed with Cr O’Neill.
When asked why the council made a submission to the court for the application to be rejected, when the Mayor and Area Councillor want it approved, he replied “I support Councillor Gail O’Neill’s comments.”
But to make things that bit more confusing, Cr O’Neill’s opinion is quite different to the council’s new position.
While the council made a 44 page submission to the court detailing all the reasons it believes the application should now be refused, Ms O’Neill said she still hopes the building is approved by the planning court.
“I certainly was happy with it, am happy with it and I would be over the moon if it was approved by the state planning court,” she said.
The case is still before Justice Michael Rackemann who will decide the matter.
In council’s submission to the court, written by barrister Ben Job and recently published online, it said “the proposal is more than four times the maximum density envisaged on the land”, and on that density a “more obvious and strong conflict than that which is involved would be difficult to imagine”.
On the building’s proposed height, council submitted to the court that “the proposal is stepping significantly outside the current building height provisions” and “this could result in a fundamental change in policy with respect to appropriate building heights in the immediate locality.”
What’s behind the change?
So why did council’s town planners hold such a different view when they recommended Komune’s approval last year?
Ms Johnson said staff turnover could be an issue.
“It could be that this is occurring because of a lack of long-term stability in the town planning executive at Gold Coast City Council,” she said.
“There has been a slight churn in the town planner, the city planner position over the last few years and this could be an outcome of that kind of instability at the very senior levels within the city.”
Cr O’Neill said that she is not aware of staff changes playing a role in council’s decisions on Komune, and said she is happy with the planning department..