A bitter feud over a $23 million development at Whitebridge has erupted again, more than two years after an uneasy truce was reached between the warring parties.
In the latest skirmish, the developer behind Fettlers Whitebridge has been accused of “thumbing its nose” at a decision of the Joint Regional Planning Panel (JRPP), after it was blocked from adding a fourth storey to one of its buildings.
But the company, SNL Building Constructions, has defended itself against the criticism, arguing it is justified in seeking a review of the panel’s decision.
The early stages of construction on the village have now commenced, following a drawn out battle that began in 2013. It pitted the developers against hundreds of objecting residents, who argued the project was the over-development of an environmentally sensitive block.
Eventually a compromise was reached. The JRPP gave the development the green light in late 2015, but removed two top-floor apartments to lower the height of one of the buildings on Dudley Road from four to three storeys.
The overall size of the development was not to exceed 89 dwellings, the panel ruled.
However, in late January, SNL lodged a fresh development application with Lake Macquarie Council which would see the two apartments on the fourth storey reinstated.
The overall number of dwellings would rise to 91.
Residents reacted with outrage and disgust at the move.
The secretary of the Whitebridge Community Alliance, Lynden Jacobi, slammed it as a “direct attempt to overturn the JRPP determination” and a “slap in the face” for the community.
The JRPP ruling had not been a “happy outcome” for residents, she said, but they had been forced to accept it.
“We thought it was all over. We were told there was absolutely no ability for recourse for the community once the JRPP made its decision,” she said.
“It’s really disappointing that there’s this back door [for the developer] that the community has no access to.
“Our concern is as soon as you start allowing developers to find loopholes to weasel their way back to what their original plans were, it sets a precedent.”
Ms Jacobi added that the community did not wish to appear “petty” for objecting to only two apartments, but pointed out that the project was already over the 10 metre height limit.
If the additional apartments are approved, one of the buildings will be 4.2 metres – or 40 per cent – over the height limit.
SNL Building Constructions is undertaking the project on behalf of the land’s owner, Simhil Living Pty Ltd, a company jointly owned by developers Hilton Grugeon and Simon Livingstone.
SNL town planner Wade Morris pointed out the plans for the extra two apartments had originally been supported by Lake Macquarie council’s planning staff.
“We just felt there was good merit in the design and the additional two units were appropriate,” he said.
It’s really disappointing that there’s this back door [for the developer] that the community has no access to."Lynden Jacobi, secretary of the Whitebridge Community Alliance
“Reading through the panel’s decision, it wasn’t entirely clear to us the reason they were removed.
“We’re just seeking a new application to have it reconsidered by council.”
In the development application, SNL argued the variation to the height limit was appropriate, given it only affected a small part of the site.
It argued the building height was compatible with the “desired future character of the area” and was located on the southern edge of the site, where it would not cause overshadowing.
According to the DA, technical reports had concluded the building could support a fourth storey “with little to no adverse environmental impact”.
“It’s an effort to redistribute the floor space to achieve a better urban design outcome,” Mr Morris said.
Reading through the panel’s decision, it wasn’t entirely clear to us the reason they [the apartments] were removed."Wade Morris, SNL Building Constructions
“At the moment, it’s a pretty monotonous roof line. This will help with a better articulation of the roof line.”
Mr Morris said the company would “wait and see” how the community reacted once the public submission period closed next week.
“It will be interesting now that construction is underway and development is progressing, it’s an opportunity for people to better understand the nature and context of the development and how the units will sit within it.”
Lake Macquarie Labor councillor Barney Langford was stunned to learn of the proposal.
“I was flabbergasted on the part of the community,” Cr Langford said. “The people that have contacted me have been outraged by this.”
Cr Langford had been under the impression any changes to the project would require a modification to the existing DA, rather than a new one.
A resident, Gwen Smith, was also perplexed.
“We're all pretty tired of it, but it’s the principle of the thing,” she said.
Cr Langford has been advised the actions of the developer were “perfectly legitimate” under planning legislation, but said that had not quelled the community angst.
He intends to call the development application up before elected councillors for a decision, if staff should recommend it go ahead.
“I couldn’t work out how the JRPP had made a decision and somehow that decision could then be bypassed or added to or supplemented by putting in the DA,” Cr Langford said.
Mr Morris said that SNL felt it was a “cleaner approach” to submit a new application rather than modify the existing one, given construction was already underway.
“We’re not seeking to question any other aspects of the original approval,” he said.
“Putting this new DA in keeps it as a separate issue.”
Of 27 notification letters sent out by the council, only 12 were sent to households. Most went to businesses, while one was sent to a public reserve and one to the address of the developer.
Some residents were furious to only discover the DA as the public exhibition period was drawing to a close. They successfully applied for an extension of time, which will expire on March 9.
“The limited number of persons notified by Lake Macquarie City Council regarding this DA does not match the public interest in this DA and the impact of it on the local area,” one submission read.
Latest move is legal: council
Lake Macquarie City Council has dismissed concerns over the planning process surrounding a controversial development at Whitebridge.
SNL Building Constructions has lodged a fresh DA to add two apartments to a building that has not yet been constructed.
Residents queried why the company did not modify the existing DA, which would have seen the decision made by the Joint Regional Planning Panel, which previously blocked the additional apartments. Because the new application is worth less than $2 million, it will instead be determined by council.
A council spokesperson said both options were possible under planning legislation.
“The decision … sits with an applicant,” the spokeswoman said.
She said “adjacent and adjoining landowners” had been notified about the plans.
“Council staff will undertake a detailed assessment of the development application, for determination by full council.”